Relearning to dance.

Homily 569 – 25 APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
November 26, 2023
Epistle – (224) – Ephesians 4:1-6
Gospel – (71) – Luke 13:10-17

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

This woman’s infirmity maybe seems strange to us.  Eighteen years of being bound by Satan, bent over, unable to stand.

Maybe like in the movies, when the evil character extends their hands and forces the protagonist to bow to them against their will.  At least that’s what I imagine.  Jesus alludes to this, telling us that Satan had bound this woman for 18 years.

Imagine, having this crippling condition for 18 years.  How many of us could endure that?  And yet, we would, most likely endure it.  Not only did this woman endure it, but she still tried her best to participate in the life of the community.  She apparently was a regular at synagogue.  She tried to be a good Jew.

We all are this woman.  Whether we realize it or not, we are all bound with a spirit of infirmity, trapped by Satan.

Anytime we think to ourselves, “Why can’t I be more like Christ?  Why is Christianity so difficult?” we need to recall this woman, and the others we find in the Gospels being healed.  We are bound by the evil one.

I read a book one time called “Teaching the Elephant to Dance.”  It was a book on management, but the premise was on the way elephant trainers learn to control elephant behavior.

The trainers would bind the elephant’s legs by chaining them to a post that the elephant couldn’t break.  This was done at a very young age.  The elephant learned that they can’t escape, and so they quit trying to escape.  After a time, the post was no longer required.  Just the feeling of the chain around the ankle of the elephant was enough to keep this powerful, mighty creature from escaping.

The untethered chain was sufficient to control the behavior.

Humanity has been chained in a similar manner as this elephant.  We are bound by the evil one, through infirmity as this woman, or through our well-meaning parents and friends who encourage us to accept the restrictions that society, the world, places on us.  To accept the standards of society about what is good, and what is evil, and what is appropriate and what is inappropriate.

Rather than question our chains, we surrender our freedom, and remain the subject of the evil one, even though there is nothing holding us back.

The leader of the synagogue in this account was one such person.  As was his job and role, he encouraged the people to follow the law – don’t seek healing on the Sabbath, as that is work and transgresses the Torah, the Law of God.

Jesus called him, and those like him, hypocrites.  Seems harsh.  With the benefit of hindsight, we can wholeheartedly agree with Christ’s actions here.  But in the day, this was revolutionary.  It was true – but revolutionary.

What Christ said, in effect, is that the leaders, nor the people, really understood the purpose of the Law.  The purpose of the Law was to facilitate healing, not inhibit healing.  The purpose of the Law was not to condemn us to separation from God, but to restore us to God.

The Law was and is the first step on a process of reconciliation.  The sacrifices made in the Temple were not what reconciled us to God, they simply enabled us to repent.  The sacrifices of the Jewish Temple were for forgiveness, so that we might repent.

That we might change, and crucify ourselves, instead of glorifying ourselves.  That we might be restored to communion with God, rather than rejecting God in order to please ourselves and make ourselves comfortable.

That’s an interesting idea – has anyone ever succeeded on that path apart from God?  All the examples I can think of, people who are wealthy and have every luxury and comfort, are still not comfortable – they still desire more.

Yet, many who have very, very little – a shelter, some clothes, food to eat – are quite comfortable, even though the world says they can’t be.  They are comfortable not because of what they have but that they are content with what they have.

Now that is a counter-cultural idea for our day.  Our entire society, our economy, our relationships, are not built around family and love of others, but on having more, quicker, bigger.  Without our consumerism, which is the worship of Mammon, the economy (we are told) will fall apart.

Just as I’m sure the leader of the synagogue feared that life would fall apart if they somehow placed the Law beneath something else, like mercy or love or even just decency.

What Jesus does here, in pointing out the hypocrisy of the synagogue, is to say to them, and to us, that society won’t fall apart if we ignore the status quo.  In fact, society will become perfected, because our priorities will be in order.

For those who are addicted to the world, to its viewpoint and standards, indeed the world may fall apart.  For those of us called to follow Christ and to join ourselves to God through Christ, our world will be perfected.  We will finally shaking off the chains that keep us bowed to the ruler of this world.

In order to do this, though, we will have to become counter-cultural.  We will have to pursue mercy and love and righteousness, not money and power and status.  And like Christ, we can have no sympathy for those who choose to acquire money and power and status.  We call out their hypocrisy, even when we see it in the Church – even when we see it in me.

We will be defined by our love, and our mercy, not our social paradigm, not demanding the obedience of society to the Torah of this world.

We can remind ourselves that we are free, and like this woman, and the elephant, relearn how to dance.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.