Homily given by Dcn. Michael on the 13th chapter of Luke’s Gospel
Have you ever wondered how you would look if you could see the burden of the sins you were carrying? Have you ever thought about how much sin you have accumulated throughout your lifetime and how much it weighed? We often think about sin as being something invisible and if there is no outward appearance, no one, including ourselves, has any idea of the weight that we are carrying. It is like the woman in today’s Gospel lesson, who is so weighed down by the extent of the “demons” that she has been carrying on her back that she cannot even lift her head. This is the question that we are asked to consider today: What is the weight of our sins?
One of the themes of the 13th chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel is “Repentance.” In the opening verses of the chapter, we see Jesus discussing two current events: The killing of Galileans by Pilate and the collapse of a tower in Siloam that killed 18 people. The conventional wisdom of the time was that those violent deaths were God’s judgment upon the victims, and due to the nature of their demise, those who were killed were somehow worse sinners than the rest of the population. Jesus corrects this mistaken notion by claiming that the victims of disasters are no greater sinners than anyone else, and He adds: “but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (v. 5). In other words, if you do not repent of your sins, you too will meet an untimely and terrible death, because as we all know, the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). But the death which Jesus is speaking of is not one of the body, but a death of the soul; a worse type of death because it means the eternal separation from God.
The effect of sin upon the human body as displayed in the Gospel accounts may vary greatly. In today’s Gospel lesson, the woman is bent over and unable to raise herself up. In St. John’s Gospel, when Jesus healed the sick man at the Pool of Bethesda, again on the Sabbath, He told the man, “Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you” (John 5:14). In both cases, the people were ill due to some demon that was causing a visible, physical infirmity. The invisibles in that they were living with was causing them great visible pain and suffering.
Something we witness in the Gospel accounts of healing of demonic influences is that in all those situations, the person receiving the healing never asked to be healed. It was as if the sin made the sufferer blind to the extent of their suffering, or at least unaware of how or Who could restore them to physical health. In today’s lesson, the woman never asked to be healed. It was as if Jesus randomly picked her out of a crowd of people to be used as an example. Likewise, with the man at the Pool of Bethseda; he too did not directly ask to be healed, but rather was the benefactor of Christ’s mercy. But in both situations, we can see that there is a greater purpose behind Jesus’ actions. As Jesus demonstrates, the debilitating effects of sins goes far deeper than simply a physical infirmity. As in today’s Gospel, the sufferer needed spiritual healing, and she needed it immediately, even if it meant breaking with the conventions of her society.
Jesus understood the extent of the women’s suffering, even though she and the religious officials did not. The ruler of the Synagogue where Jesus was teaching that Sabbath day, would have everyone to believe that somehow miracles needed to take a day off. “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day” (v. 14). In St. John Chrysostom’s homily on this Gospel reading, he claimed that the reason for the ruler’s indignation was due to envy: Jesus possessed a level of love and holiness that the ruler could never achieve. By a simple touch, Jesus was able to reverse an illness that consume this poor woman for 18 years. Oddly enough, the only fault the ruler could find in Jesus was that He had the audacity to heal the woman on the Sabbath.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus referred to the woman as a “daughter of Abraham,” indicating that she was Jewish and thus may have worshipped at the same Synagogue where Jesus was preaching. For the previous eighteen years, she may have been faithfully attending the Sabbath services, seeking relief from her seemingly incurable affliction. Maybe during the eighteen long years she received the same response from those in religious authority as in today’s reading: “Come back when it’s more convenient.” It was a Sabbath day, after all, and I am sure that the ruler of the Synagogue was probably very busy and did not have much time for the troubles of one bent-over woman when he had to perform his prescribed duties for God. But this is the attitude that caused Jesus to declare him a “hypocrite.” The very person who should have shown mercy on the woman and been among the first people to praise God for the miraculous healing, instead chastises the Healer for not doing it in the “right way.” The ruler would have the people believe that God is somehow bound by limits of mere humans. The ruler should have instead joined with the woman as she glorified God for the miraculous healing.
It is obvious that the ruler of the Synagogue did not know Who it was that he was criticizing, for the ruler was suffering from an even greater infirmity than the woman: that is, he was suffering from spiritual blindness. He did not see the extent of the weight of the spiritual burden that the woman was carrying, but due to his own hypocrisy, he alsocould not see the weight of his ownsinful burden. For he too was bound by a demon, and due to his position within the Synagogue, many more people were possibly affected. And while the physical ailment of the women could be relieved by the touch of Christ, the condition of the religious leader could only be cured by a change of will. Only when he was ready to see his own hypocrisy and repent could he then be “touched by Christ” and healed as well.
But what does all of this have to do with us today? We know that we can receive forgiveness of our sins, but do we truly take advantage of the opportunity to seek that forgiveness? Or have we become so use to living in sin that repentance becomes more of an abstract thought rather than a necessary part of our walk as Christians? It is possible to convince ourselves that certain, little sins are not that big of a deal. After all, no one is really hurt when I curse someone under my breath for his poor driving habits. Or even when I take that long, second glance at a pretty model in clothing advertisement. And who is really being hurt when I have a melt down due to something I read on the Internet? If I decide to drink a little too much over the holidays, it’s my headache and no one else’s, so who is being hurt? These are the little things that can easily be dismissed because we believe they are “victimless sins”; but in reality, these small acts all add up to our accumulated burden that we carry with us. It is only by taking advantage of the sacrament of penance, confessing our sins and showing true sorrow for our transgressions, can we begin to shed the heavy load we carry. It is that “touch of Christ” that we receive through the prayers of absolution during confession that make us whole, in a sense “re-baptizing” our souls so that we can stand up straight again. We should therefore never wait to take advantage of the sacrament of confession to unload the sin burden that we all carry. We should not wait until it becomes so heavy that it causes us to stoop so low that we feel we cannot look up into the face of our Savior for help.
As our Gospel reading this morning points out, nothing—especially not the hypocrisy of others—should stop us from receiving the spiritual healing that Christ has to offer us. It is alwaysthe right time to lose the burdens that are weighing us down and preventing us from living as sons and daughters of our merciful, loving Father. We are all carrying a heavy load of sin, whether we can see that load or not. While our bounding by Satan may not be as obvious as in today’s Gospel, it is still there, and it is important that we all take this morning’s message seriously. Life can be tough enough without the weight of unforgiven sin weighing us down. Maybe the weight we need to lose this Advent Season is not just around waist, but on our souls as well.