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Sunday Message Supplement for 21 August 2022: “Reject Hypocritical Religion”

The Bible verses for today’s message: Luke 13:10-17

There’s a poignant lesson from Jesus’ synagogue preaching. An afflicted woman arrived during Jesus’ sermon and disturbed the cherished litanies. Instead of putting the woman in her place for disrupting the service, Jesus demonstrated compassion.

One of the synagogue leaders became indignant because he felt that Jesus’ actions had violated 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 it is they who violate God’s plan.

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 teaches us to confront religious hypocrites.

There was an Old Testament prohibition against working on the Sabbath, but the problem is what defines 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 anything on the Sabbath other than sleeping or sitting with your hands folded is forbidden. Jesus destroyed the synagogue leader’s viewpoint by citing the man’s hypocrisy. Jesus rightly called out the leader’s faulty reasoning as 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. Jesus called attention to how working with an animal even for a 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 and impossibilities. The conclusion is that the synagogue leader was spiritually blind.

Jesus wants us 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 said it was okay to work with animals because of their value.

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 managed you’ll find the same problem as with that ancient synagogue leader. Churches, temples, synagogues—all are subject to bad reasoning inherent within many forms of formal, institutionalized religion. The act of orchestrating and administrating a faith tradition is by nature an imperfect exercise that requires constant scrutiny.

Certain organizational policies, processes and procedures can be 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 judgements 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.

The gist of today’s message is that God wants followers to be flexible and allow exceptions, even to supposedly timeless traditions. People become experts at religion and yet fail at compassion. This is why we must continually ask ourselves who and what we are serving. The great news is that each of us can be ready to receive God’s healing even if violates bystanders’ expectations.

–Reverend Larry Hoxey

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