"Hypocrites!" This is certainly not a label that any of us would dare lay claim to. The evil of hypocrisy is a popular theme in our Lord’s lessons to his followers. Today’s gospel, along with Paul’s letter, serves as an important reminder of Jesus’ instruction on how to live a life as a true disciple of Christ, with harmony between word and deed.
Luke tells that while teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath, Jesus encounters a woman who had been crippled for eighteen years. Described as "completely incapable of standing erect," we can only imagine this feeble and downtrodden woman in such agony that she was incapable of standing upright. She is not given a name. In fact, according to Luke’s account, she herself does not even ask for healing. And yet so significant is her plight, Jesus immediately frees her from her bondage of suffering.
Forever on the lookout for an opportunity to persecute Jesus, the synagogue leaders admonish Christ for his brazen act of curing this woman on the Sabbath, a clear breach of Jewish law. For shame! How sinful of him to perform this supremely good act on the day we are supposed to be honoring God with rest! Of course, our Lord knows that curing this sick woman takes precedence over the letter of the law-a lesson lost on the synagogue head. Christ does not mince words when he points the finger at these leaders, "Hypocrites!" These are the same men who would lead their animals to water on the Sabbath without a second thought and yet they would leave this woman to suffer because of improper timing? Jesus recognizes that it is in fact fitting to "set free" this woman on the Sabbath day.
In healing her, Jesus also makes a point to name her as a "daughter of Abraham." Abraham is the father of Israel. In a holy covenant, God promised Abraham that through his descendants, all the nations of the world would come to be blessed. Here standing before these scribes and elders is a daughter of their father, Abraham. Is she not then, also an heir to God’s promise and their sister? And if this simple, crippled, nameless woman is a daughter of Abraham, then is not the least among us also a worthy child of God?
This question is answered definitively in Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians where we are given the blueprint for a Christian life: "be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ. So be imitators of God . . . and live in love . . . ." We are told to be nothing short of Christ-like in our treatment of others. But how often have we refused forgiveness to our neighbor out of anger, stubbornness or spite? And yet, how many more times have we gone to our Father with the hope of being forgiven for some truly detestable acts? Perhaps we have more in common with the hypocrites of Luke’s gospel than we would care to admit.
Society looked at the woman in the gospel story and saw "bent," "incapable," and "crippled." Jesus looked at her and saw "daughter." Let us look at those in the world around us and see our brothers and sisters as our Father does-as sons and daughters created in His image and likeness and heirs to God’s great promise of salvation.
Marlo Serritella is on staff at the Holy Cross Province Development Office in Chicago.