[Lectionary texts are Numbers 21:4-9, 21-35 and Luke 13:10-17]
This week I want to demonstrate a process of prayerfully interacting with the Scripture text. I want to differentiate this from Bible study. We will focus only on Luke. The questions in Bible study include what does the story tell us about Jesus and His ministry. On a second level we can compare Luke to the other Gospels and discern what Luke is trying to communicate. Commentaries would be needed to provide other information which is pertinent (and not readily available to us). Thirdly, we bring it into the "Church" context (the faith of the Body of Christ) and lastly we would analyze it for our own purposes. Other disciplines (social sciences, theology, mission, etc.) would be vital tools for deeper knowledge and insight. Prayer and the Holy Spirit would be included as well.
This is not a Bible study model but a prayer model. It is asking what God is saying in this particular collection of verses. [fyi, I am using the RSV so a different translation will be different in places!]
Pray. Seek God, open your heart, thanks and praise are best. Open to the Holy Spirit. Ask the Father to speak into your heart in the Word.
Read Luke 13:10-17
1. Read and Summarize
My initial reading is this is a conflict story. Jesus healed a woman. I notice He initiated it--He saw her, He called her, He declared her free and He put His hand on her. She stood up straight and praised God. The leader of the synagogue was agitated and began reminding people that the Sabbath is a day of rest and they should be healed on the other six days. Jesus seems perturbed and calls them hypocrites who take better care of their animals than they do God's people. It ends with a declaration that Jesus shamed His adversaries this is contrasted with the people rejoice at what He can do.
[here it is easy to move in the direction of Bible study. How widespread was this attitude? Why would Jewish leaders be led to this sort of thing? What about the actual healing itself? What are contemporary parallels?]
The questions that jump out at me:
+ How does this inform my understanding of the "healing protocol"? Is God saying sometimes He starts it?
+ What is my response to God's gracious saving/healing work in my life? Are there things I need to be praising and thanking God for?
+When am I the 'adversary' of Jesus, blocking ministry because my personal beliefs are out of line with His? Who is trying to cut me off from His healing word and touch?
+ Where are my priorities out of line (animals over people)? Where am I blind?
Pray. Holy Spirit guide and open us!
2. Read and 'circle' key words. This is more about what jumps out at you. Remember it is a talking with God thing not a Bible study/teaching thing...
For me the words that I heard most loudly were
* a spirit of infirmity
Having done that the Blueletter Bible (on line) is my resource to see what these words might mean and where else they appear (once again there is a temptation to slide into Bible study and lots of analysis!)
"spirit of infirmity" is a weakness/illness caused by a spirit. Luke has this language four times. Matthew once, and there it is connected to the Isaiah quote (He bore our infirmities). This reminds me that the healing is Jesus doing just that--spiritual warfare to take away our illness and weakness. It also reminds me that illness is multi-dimensional (physical, spiritual and psychological) and I have to be aware of the 'spirit of infirmity' bending me over double (Early this morning I went to the hospital today and literally saw a man walking to his car bent over double).
"hypocrites" literally means stage actor and is a word Matthew uses much more than anyone else. This causes me to ponder the tendency of humans to "act" a part for the world. We put "our best face" on and convey "an image" so that we are well thought of. Jesus was a big advocate of being genuine. My own hypocrisy is under the spotlight in prayer now...
"shame" catches my attention because in my studies I have learned that this is a shame/honor culture. The idea of shaming his opponents is part of why Jesus died. The enemies of Jesus are competing with Jesus for honor. The leader has shamed Jesus by his critique but Jesus' answer turns the tables. His clever riposte brings Him honor and status (as a prophet) and brings God honor (as He is the Son). While we have shame in our culture, shame is different from guilt (just as being unclean is different from being sinful). It is hard for me to grasp the serious nature of honor/shame in the middle eastern view, but I can think about feeling shame. I can also pray over the conflicts in my life and ask am I standing for God values or asserting myself? I can pray over my debates and arguments.
Pray again. Read
3. Broader Context
What is going on in the whole chapter? Just before this there was a question about victims of evil. Jesus seems to negate that bad things are a punishment from God, but He then turns the event into a reflection on eternal death if one fails to respond to God. "Something worse" is in store for those who walk the wrong path. Then the story today. Then a couple of Kingdom parables (God starts with the small things) ending with another warning about salvation and eternal loss. In this context perhaps Luke wants us to understand the healing as a "grain of mustard seed" (a small thing) which is the Kingdom of God breaking in. But the presentation of the kingdom is an invitation/demand for response. All over this chapter we see salvation and eternal loss contrasted. In our story today the woman is healed/saved and the leader appears to be headed into oblivion for failing to see the Lord Jesus as God's offer.
Pray, listen to Holy Spirit, respond.
*What is God teaching me here? How does this impact my thinking?
*Am I called to do something? Or stop doing something?
The three areas of prayerful reflection may take us somewhere most unexpected. That is fine. It is why we prayed over and over for the Spirit to guide us. This approach to prayer is very focused on listening and opening to God. It would also be hard to do in less than ten or fifteen minutes. I hope it is useful. I will be guiding our class in this on Sunday.