Message for Sunday 25 August 2019: “Reject Hypocritical Religion”

Luke 13: 10-17 reveals a poignant lesson from Jesus’ synagogue preaching. An afflicted woman arrived during Jesus’ sermon and disturbed the cherished order of service. Instead of putting the woman in her place for disrupting the service, Jesus demonstrated compassion through the healing power of God’s love.

One of the synagogue leaders became indignant at the healing and denounced it as violating the Sabbath. What a bitter irony. The legalistic moron leading the synagogue condemned Jesus and the woman because he felt that they had transgressed a traditional interpretation of the Jewish Law. Fans of law-based religion whine all the time when they elevate religion over righteousness, and in doing so violate God’s intentions.

Jesus’ response to the hypocritical leadership echoes through history: “But the Lord answered him and said, ‘You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham . . . be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day? When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame . . . ‘ “ (Luke 13: 15-17a). Then as now, God confronts religious hypocrites repeatedly, and from today’s lesson people of faith can learn from Jesus’ example.

There was an Old Testament prohibition against working on the Sabbath, but the problem is what constitutes work. Only on the surface was the synagogue leader’s opinion even remotely valid. A strict reading of the Law might lead to the conclusion that doing much of anything on the Sabbath other than sleeping or sitting with your hands folded is forbidden (depending on how crazy-rigid is the interpretation). Jesus destroyed the synagogue leader’s viewpoint by citing the man’s hypocrisy. Jesus rightly called out faulty reasoning as nothing more than a ruse, a cover-up intended to mask the spiritual poverty of an unloving, hypocritical mind.

In winning his argument with the synagogue leader Jesus gave an example of “work” on the Sabbath. He cited how people regularly untie an animal (such as a donkey) and lead it to water. In working with an animal even for drink, a person could be guilty of breaking the Sabbath. Because of the monetary value of animals, people were less likely to question taking care of their property even if they were violating the Sabbath. How much more should Jesus be free to heal someone than to water a donkey?  Jesus brilliantly emphasized how any rule-based religion is doomed by its own contradictions. The conclusion is that the synagogue leader was a profound hypocrite.

Jesus desires each person of faith to have an open heart and mind, aware of the real and potential inconsistencies within the usual way of doing things. What might we and those around us be doing wrong but that goes unchallenged and unnoticed? The hypocrisy Jesus exposed was such that the synagogue leader was upset with healing a sick woman whereas common practice was to work for animals because they were valuable property. Jesus’ elegant, simple logic exposed the peril of the synagogue leader’s soul. The synagogue leader was more concerned with keeping his animal well than with healing a person. A human is more precious than any costly animal, and any act of healing a person—Sabbath or not—should never be hindered despite what the Law seems to state.

When you examine history and the way many religious organizations are run you’ll find the same problem as with that synagogue leader. Churches, temples, synagogues—all are variously led and run hypocritically. It is as if there is a fatal thinking inherent within many forms of formal, institutionalized religion. The act of orchestrating and administrating a faith tradition risks a diminished spirituality. Sure, certain policies, processes and procedures can be variously defended as helpful yet none are substitutes for spontaneous acts of “disorderly” love. We must take care that we don’t elevate religious officiousness and judicial, legalistic reasoning over doing the right thing. Religion is supposed to serve humanity; humans are not supposed to serve religion. It’s amazing that so many people twist this truth and become slaves to ruinous religious rules.

Life’s tough, filled with sick people, thirsty donkeys, and all sorts of messy situations. The gist is that God wants followers to be flexible and allow exceptions, even to supposedly timeless traditions and religious rules. People become experts at religion and yet fail at faith. This is why we must continually ask themselves who and what we are serving. God is ready to heal people despite the cries of critics, Sabbath or not. Are you ready to receive God’s blessings at any time and in any place, even if violates all expectations?

–Reverend Larry Hoxey

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