It’s all a matter of perspective. This idiom is one that I frequently have to repeat to myself when I perceive someone else’s viewpoint or actions as illogical or, well, in my humble opinion, idiotic. It’s all a matter of perspective.
The things that frame our expectations, and influence how we interpret what we see and what we experience are all bound up in perspective. Perspective is created by the things we experience, or have been taught; perspective includes things that we have come to assume and believe are true, and based on our interpretation of events.
As we read today’s Gospel text, we read it through our own particular lens of perspective. For many of us, that lens is the lens of grace. It’s how our faith has been formed.
We have been taught that God is a God of grace and healing, always more willing to give than we are to receive, always more forgiving of us than we are of ourselves, always more just than we can ever understand, always full of grace while we get stuck on rules and mores.
We see what a wonderful thing Jesus did for the woman in the synagogue that day. This poor, bent-over woman. Afflicted and deformed, bent over like this <demo>, her entire world probably consists of an area roughly seven or eight feet square –at most; on the ground, right there in front of her.
Imagine yourself in this position; you can’t really look up or back. Your field of vision is limited pretty much to this, <gesture on floor in front of you > for eighteen years.
In that time, if you had an infant he grew up, went through school, learned to play an instrument, maybe became an athlete, and you stopped being able to look him in the eye when he was about eight years old.
Bent over you would have remained through two common cicada cycles, and four American presidential elections and four sets of winter and summer Olympic games.
Eighteen years would mean you have been bent over since the year 1998 - when Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky were a “thing” in the news; the Good Friday Peace Accord was signed in Northern Ireland; and Serbs battled ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
You have been bent over since Shakespeare in Love, Saving Private Ryan, and Life is Beautiful were big winners at the Oscars, and Armageddon had the biggest box office sales for the big screen.
In eighteen years, you haven’t been able to look up to enjoy a cloud-filled sky, or a painting hanging in a museum, and skyscrapers are simply distorted reflections in puddles. Your frame of reference, your world, has been very narrow; very limited.
Perhaps it is hard for you to imagine being physically bent over for 18 years.
Back in the synagogue Jesus notices the bent over woman. The woman thus imprisoned for eighteen years. Following the voice of a man she probably could not even see, she hears his words, “you are set free,” and she is! Suddenly, she goes from this, <bent over> to this!
This woman goes from being burdened and imprisoned within her bent body, to being liberated, able to stand tall, look around, see the people around her – look people right in the eye; able to raise her arms like this <arms raised > to praise and glorify God.
Whatever evil spirit or infirmity caused her deformity flees and leaves behind a woman full of gratitude and praise to God for her restoration! Such a miracle! Such amazing joy! Such wonder!
As nice as this healing is, however, not everyone is pleased. The leader of the synagogue in fact is quite indignant, and he wants everyone else to be stirred up, too.
But before we judge him too quickly let’s check this out.
Our perspective judges this healing as a miracle and therefore as cause for rejoicing. The leader of the synagogue sees this Sabbath healing as a travesty against the rule and order of a commandment.
Remember that the Sabbath has two origins in Scripture. We find one in the story of Creation, where God rested on the seventh day and declared that all creation should similarly have a regular time of rest and renewal.
Then in Egypt, the slaves never, ever had a chance to rest. Following the exodus, the command and promise of rest was extended to everyone – rich or poor, adult or child, human or animal, God made the time of rest the commandment we know of as Sabbath, to safeguard the welfare of all.
Let’s assume the synagogue leader is simply defending what he understands to be lawful – work (including this work of healing) should not be done on a day mandated by God as a day of rest. Period.
It is all a matter of perspective, right? The man’s perspective was that the law was, quite literally, carved in stone and that was that.
Jesus’ perspective and teaching was that the law was intended to serve God’s children and draw them more deeply into the abundant life God wills for them.
The leader of the synagogue may have been trying to uphold the law and order that undergirds the life of faith as he understands it. He is not wrong.
Jesus, however, places the health and well-being of the individual above the principle of law and order. For Jesus, life trumps law, and of course, Jesus is not wrong. There is a place for law and order and it is important for life in community. However, the law must take into account the human heart and need.
If we think about the events in our world today, we can see the tug-of-war between battling perspectives at work. We have heard a lot of perspective-laden statements this year, each gaining traction and seemingly at war with each other:
· Black Lives Matter is a statement raised to protest the indiscriminate, unwarranted, and growing frequency of racially motivated victimization persons of color, particularly black men; to say that Black Lives Matter is not wrong. People of color continue to be bent over under the burden of discrimination and bigotry, suspicion and racial profiling. Healing will require each of us coming to understand the perspective of those who live the experience of colored skin.
· Others respond: All Lives Matter; they are not wrong. It is true that all lives do matter – and Jesus would certainly support this statement, but not as a distraction from the fundamental sin of racism. In healing the bent-over woman, a person of no account in the social hierarchy of her time due to her sex and her disability, Jesus was once again defying social as well as religious convention in applying mercy to one of the “least” in his society. For Jesus, all lives truly do matter.
· Let us not forget the more recent cries of Blue Lives Matter, and of course the voices crying out this mantra are not wrong. For those bent over under the heavy weight of the responsibilities of law enforcement, of serving as first responders, of putting their lives on the line every time they put on a uniform, or respond to an emergency call, or run into a burning building, or heroically act on behalf of others, they carry a burden few of us can fully appreciate, including the trauma associated with their work.
It is all a matter of perspective, and our perspective is formed from our experiences and the messages that are ingrained in us from a lifetime of teachings and from new learnings we have absorbed.
But Jesus came to give us a new perspective – one that is shaped by grace and love. Because the truth is, that God has gone way out on a limb here, sending Jesus to set us free from the things that bend us over, not to bend us over with more things. Jesus constantly announces the coming kingdom in words and deeds that run contrary to the expectations of society – to the people of his time, and truthfully, to the people of our time as well.
Jesus alters perspectives as he speaks with a Samaritan woman (a thing no decent Jewish man would do). He eats with tax collectors and sinners, he challenges the status quo. Jesus heals those who are far, far from possessing “lives that matter” to anyone else. He raises up the bent-over ones, that they might stand tall and know the abundant life he offers.
In her keynote address at the ELCA Grace Gathering last week, Liberian peace activist and 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee said, “Injustice for one is injustice for all.”
By the same reasoning, when one of us is bent over, none of us can truly stand tall or walk straight. We are each burdened. None of us can truly be free when there are any who are suffering, imprisoned, unable to stand tall.
The thing is, God, through Jesus Christ, gives us a new perspective: God created humankind to live full, meaningful, free lives. God finds even the most bent-over one lovely and loved, without condition, without caveat, without ceasing. However, the love of God doesn’t make things that bend us over disappear overnight. But it does remind us that this is not God’s will for us. God longs to untie us from our burdens, to straighten our backs, to make us whole and holy people. And that desire is life-changing.
We have divine permission, no, a divine commandment, to treat one another with the same love and respect that the ancient Israelites gave to beasts of burden: setting them free on the day of rest, and leading them to water <font> and to food <table>.
Today we get to experience both blessed water and holy food. We will witness the baptisms of Garrett and Grayson, and recall God’s enormous gift of unburdening, life-giving grace transmitted through the sacraments, through water, and the simple elements of bread and wine. As you come forward to the table in a little while, I invite you to dip your hand in the water of the font. Splash around a little. Bless yourself using the sign of the cross, and hear Jesus’ words to you, “you are set free!”
It’s all about perspective. Let us pray that our perspective and view are daily shaped by God’s grace and mercy, forgiveness and love, that our hearts may be opened to know God’s meaning and will for the mattering of all lives.