A TIME TO SET FREE – Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 16, Year C; Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (RC)

August 21, 2022

Revised Common Lectionary
Jeremiah 1:4-10 or Isaiah 58:9b-14
Psalm 71:1-6 or Psalm 103:1-8
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17


Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Isaiah 66:18-21
Psalm 117:1, 2 (Mk 16:15)
Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13
Luke 13:22-30

NOTE: Today is one of those rare Sundays on which the ecumenical Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) and the Roman Catholic Lectionary for Mass share no common Scripture readings. The following reflection is based on readings from the RCL.

Sabbath observance is a cornerstone of Jewish life, practice, and identity.

In the book of Deuteronomy when Moses delivers God’s sabbath command, he makes no reference to God resting on the seventh day of creation. Instead, he speaks of the sabbath as a reminder to a people once enslaved that they had been set free by the power of God: “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day” (Dt 5:15).

On the sabbath, no one is to engage in work—”you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you” (Dt 5:14). The sabbath tradition is about more than rest—it is a day to remember God’s power in freeing the Hebrews from slavery and to put God’s justice into practice in the treatment of workers and foreigners in their midst.

Significantly, the incident recounted in today’s Gospel reading takes place on the sabbath. As Jesus was teaching in a synagogue, he caught sight of a woman who was stooped over and unable to stand up straight, a condition that she had lived with for eighteen years. He called out to her, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment” (Lk 13:12). Then as he laid hands on her, she stood up straight. By touching her, he liberated her not only from her physical ailment but also from her social isolation.

The leader of the synagogue was “indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath” (13:14). Not only did Jesus call out his hypocrisy but went on to connect this healing directly to the spirit of the sabbath. He declared that the woman was “set free from this bondage on the sabbath day” (13:16), just as their ancestors had been freed from slavery in Egypt.

Earlier in Luke’s Gospel, in a confrontation with religious leaders, Jesus had declared himself to be “lord of the sabbath” (6:5)—a bold claim. Yet he was hardly the first to criticize distorted sabbath practices. Writing hundreds of years before Christ, the prophet whom scholars refer to as Third Isaiah wrote this: “If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth” (Isaiah 58:13-14).

The great twentieth century church historian Jaroslav Pelikan once observed, “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.” The story we hear today is a reminder that religious institutions and their leaders can sometimes get it wrong by falling into an unhealthy traditionalism. Practices and teachings that are passed down and codified can over time become disconnected from their authentic, life-giving meaning and devolve into rigid rule keeping.

The Jewish people received the gift of the sabbath as a sign of liberation and a reminder to offer the gift of freedom to others. As followers of Jesus, we have likewise received a living tradition that includes teachings and practices to strengthen us in our discipleship. We must always return to the Source, the One who died and rose to set us free, to evaluate how to embrace traditions today. Do teachings and practices burden us by their rigid applications, or do they empower us to live the compassionate love of Christ that brings healing and freedom?

A Hymn for Today: “I Know the Lord Has Laid His Hands on Me”

What joy and wonder the woman in today’s Gospel story must have felt when she was able to straighten up and see the world in front of her for the first time in eighteen years. Jesus not only spoke a word of physical healing but by touching her he crossed a boundary and healed her from social isolation. This Negro spiritual invites the singers to celebrate the ways in which Jesus has touched the poor, the sinners, the sick—all of us who stand in need of his healing.

Oh, I know the Lord, I know the Lord,
I know the Lord has laid His hands on me.
Oh, I know the Lord, I know the Lord,
I know the Lord has laid His hands on me.


Did ever you see the like before?
I know the Lord has laid His hands on me,
King Jesus preaching to the poor.
I know the Lord has laid His hands on me.

Oh, wasn’t that a happy day
I know the Lord has laid His hands on me,
When Jesus washed my sins away?
I know the Lord has laid His hands on me.

Some seek the Lord and don’t seek Him right,
I know the Lord has laid His hands on me,
They fool all day and pray at night.
I know the Lord has laid His hands on me.

The Lord has done just what He said,
I know the Lord has laid His hands on me,
He’s healed the sick and raised the dead.
I know the Lord has laid His hands on me

Text: Negro spiritual

Image Credit: Moses Receiving the Law; Jesus Healing a Woman, sarcophagus, 3rd or 4th cent., Vatican City. Direzione generale dei musei

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

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