Today's Gospel reading (Luke 13: 10-17) makes clear that God's desire for everyone is freedom and wholeness. Sometimes we miss God's liberating actions because we are caught up in justifying ourselves and the systems we have built to organize our lives.
In the case of Jesus healing the woman bound by her illness on the sabbath, God's action to free her shocked the leaders of the synagogue, who had already crafted all of their legal boundaries and arguments about what was to be done in God's holy sabbath time. They were more invested in their orderly social norms than in the freedom of the woman Jesus healed. The leaders failed to see what God was doing because they had already figured out their answer to what God expected of them on the sabbath, and were not willing to have this thought pattern and conversation interrupted.
I see that happening with many issues related to liberation and social justice in our own time. We seem to be unable to get past what we are expecting to see, and we are more interested in defending ourselves than in healing. This week's conversation in the news and in the church about the 400th anniversary of enslaved Africans landing in Virginia has been this sort of moment, where it seems like different camps are having a conversation that needs to be interrupted by Jesus speaking freedom to us. A history as long as ours is with slavery and racial oppression has a lot of thought patterns and arguments to be broken into by God. When it comes to talking about the economic, social and legal effects of slavery in the US, we can't simply repeat the historical arguments. We need to allow God in Jesus to speak a word of healing that might offend us. We must not talk around the issues, as the leader of the synagogue does by not addressing Jesus' action, but speaking instead to the crowd about the general sabbath prohibition on work. We as Christians, especially in majority-white congregations, have an obligation to speak a word of healing and reconciliation, and also to listen to our brothers and sisters descended from enslaved persons, who are telling us that social structures continue to oppress them in ways that we can change.
I have felt and heard from others, resistance to having a conversation about concrete steps to address the social effects of slavery. Maybe that's because God's healing action has to start with us, and we don't want to admit that we need it. Perhaps we who are descended from slaveholders or those who benefited from the social and economic structures of slavery and segregation might reflect on whether we are resistant to examining the past and its effects because we are protecting our images of the social order. Are we open to God's action to heal us and our relationships? Are we stifling a conversation about race and the ongoing effects of slavery because we prefer to talk about something else, like the leaders of the synagogue who focused on the sabbath rules rather than the freedom of the woman who came to worship? I think efforts like today's bell ringing at 3 pm to remember the first enslaved Africans brought to Virginia and to reflect on how we might work to transform the legacy of that human action, is important, and I invite you, with our bishop, who reflects below, to join in discerning where God is acting for peace and freedom in our ongoing work to dismantle the legacy of slavery. Make a beginning, begin to heal, and praise God for God's healing work with us.
In Christ’s peace,
Other responses and reflections on the Day of Healing, which we will mark at 3 pm on August 25th with the tolling of our church bell:
Bishop Susan Goff has written a reflection on the subject called Remembering our Past, Committing to God’s Intended Future.
Tuck invites you to look at the New York Times’ 1619 Project, a series on the legacy of slavery, for context and further reflection. The Washington Post and other outlets have also done good series in response to the 400th anniversary of the landing of enslaved Africans in Virginia.