Keeping Up Appearances
Eugene Peterson in his contemporary version of the Bible (The Message) attempts to portray the Kingdom of God that Jesus has come to proclaim from his perspective. His interpretation of this passage describes a woman twisted and bent over with arthritis for eighteen years. If you have arthritis, you know that can feel like a life sentence as you gradually lose your mobility. Peterson says that Jesus declared her to be free after laying his hands on her. In response, she stands up tall and begins to praise God for her miraculous healing. This account depicts an exciting moment for the woman who has been plagued by a spirit (illness was determined to be caused by evil spirits in Jesus’ day) and Jesus had power to remove the crippling spirit. I want to rejoice for the woman who is now able to walk upright pain free, but the Pharisee at the synagogue on the Sabbath, where Jesus was teaching was angry because Jesus had cured the ailing woman on the Sabbath, the day set aside to worship and glorify God. Indeed, the healed woman was doing her best to praise God for healing her from her infirmity. The Law given to Moses clearly states that for six days God’s children should work but on the seventh, no work should be done in order to honor God and to rest as God rested from the work of creation on the seventh day. Religious leaders saw healing as part of a doctor’s profession and practicing one’s profession on the Sabbath was prohibited. The synagogue ruler could not see beyond the Law to Jesus’ compassion and pushed Jesus’ button of intolerance. Jesus became angry at the Pharisee’s interpretation of the Law and called him a hypocrite, challenging and shaming all Pharisees present for their willingness to lead their livestock to water in order that they might not perish on the Sabbath, but it was forbidden to attend to the needs of a precious human, created in the image of God, a daughter of Abraham (a sister in the Jewish faith) and to not minister to her in her time of need. In the Kingdom of God all should show compassion on other people and work to meet their physical, emotional and spiritual needs. Those who had come to hear Jesus were delighted, joyful at all the things he was doing. Jesus did not say, “I have solved your problem.” He did not suggest that he cured the ailment. He only says that he set her free from her infirmity. Jesus’ words gave the woman the confidence and assurance she needed to stand up straight. Her life was transformed. A tiny bit of faith can make a profound difference! This account of Jesus reminds me of the television sitcom, “Keeping Up
Appearances,” a British sitcom depicting the attempts of eccentric, social climbing Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced “Bouquet”), who desperately wants status and recognition beyond her middle class station in life, to be more affluent and influential in her community (like the Pharisees). In one episode the church vicar sees to it that Hyacinth is assigned to cleaning church toilets at a work party–retaliation for her repeated attempts to humiliate the other women. The Pharisees were so hung up on interpreting the Mosaic Law so that they would be needed as learned advisors, that they lost sight of their responsibility to be compassionate teachers and guides toward living a godly life. From Jesus’ perspective they had ceased to serve God appropriately and effectively, and without humility.
The church today is under great scrutiny by the younger generation, gen-Xers, the early twenty-thirty something folks. At presbytery last Saturday, a presentation was given by a younger, Christian college professor, Dr. Amy Jacober of Trinity (Friends) Church. She attempted to tell those who had come to hear her speak that young people have not lost their faith. They sometimes feel trapped by the legalism of the church that professes to engage in Christian praxis. She went on to say that young people are hungry to believe in a God who listens to their needs and gives them the opportunity to compassionately serve those in need around them. They are frustrated by the multiple rules shrouding the processes to help others. The Book of Order detailing our Presbyterian form of government is grounded in Scripture and build around the marks of the true Church. It is in all things subject to the Lord of the Church. In the power of the Spirit, Jesus Christ draws worshiping communities and individual believers into the sovereign activity of the triune God at all times and places. As the Church seeks reform and fresh direction it looks to Jesus Christ who goes ahead of us and calls us to follow him. United with Christ in the power of the Spirit, the Church seeks not [to] be conformed to this world but [to] be transformed by the renewing of [our] minds, so that [we] may discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2). The Book of Order states: We seek a new openness to the sovereign activity of God in the Church and in the world, to a more radical obedience to Christ, and to a more joyous celebration in worship and work.
These statements from our Book of Order were inspiring to me when Ruth Langford came to me on Thursday with a letter detailing a meeting she had attended at Kellis High School with the vice-principal and representatives from other area churches. The administration at Kellis would like churches like ours to provide Christian guidance to students who desire it. The school would like us to pray for Kellis and its students’ needs, and are requesting folks from area churches to show up for games and activities, to be recognized by the students. The Peoria Youth Pantry workers will be invited to participate in these activities, if they choose, and will have badges provided. The idea is that the students who have no one to care about them will know that people from our church are there to support THEM. This project is being coordinated through the counselor who is working with the Youth Pantry. She wants to come to Peoria Presbyterian Church to convey to you what the Pantry has meant to her students in crisis, what we have accomplished and how we can further our program. The school needs tutors to come to the school to work with kids and the times and locations can be worked out through the vice-principal.
What an opportunity and invitation for the Church to participate in the life of a public school. God has great plans for us to meet people in crisis on their turf and on terms different than what we might determine to be the NORM or the Law. We have the chance to make a difference in the lives of young people who are thirsty for God’s love and compassion, to touch their lives, re-kindle their faith and make God an active reality in their lives through our support.
We do not have to “keep up appearances” and go by rules that stifle Christian compassion. The door to the Kingdom of God is being opened to blaze new trails and to introduce young people to a living God who cares for and about them, via the hands and hearts of Jesus’ contemporary followers. Are you willing to walk through the gate and offer yourself in service as one of Jesus’ faithful adherents?