When I started looking at this bible passage, I thought I knew what it was about…but then…. 

On first read this story in Luke 13: 10-17 is about Jesus healing a bent-over woman, or the religious leaders missing the point about Jesus’ ministry. It is.

But preparing to preach on this passage, I was struck by how this is also about privilege.

I’m not an expert on Privilege, but this is as it struck me, reading this passage afresh.

What’s going on in this reading depends who you are. If you are ‘the woman’ (I am sorry that we don’t know her name), this story is about healing and freedom, identity, and restoration to community and equality.

If you are Jesus, this story is about those things and also about yet again having to defend himself from people who repeatedly show that they just don’t understand.

If you are the religious leaders, this story is about how you queried and ‘set right’ this upstart young rabbi who seems to take delight in flouting rules, and given that he is so popular with people and can command a crowd, you just can’t have him behaving like this. Their country is occupied, their religion – which is also about their identity – is tolerated providing it keeps to ‘its place’.

As I started writing my sermon, I was thinking about this and then it struck me – you have to be in a place of privilege to cite the rules in this situation. Someone bent over and in constant pain and social exclusion isn’t going to start a debate about the Sabbath rules when you’re offering to set her free from pain and enable her to be back into her place in the community.

Whatever their own troubles, the reason the religious leaders are focusing on the fact that Jesus has healed this woman on the wrong day, is because they can. If they understood what it was to be in constant pain and excluded for 18 years, they would just have rejoiced with her.

People in a place of privilege can choose whether they engage with suffering/abuse/neglect/racism/homophobia/discrimination. Because it doesn’t affect them.

People in the midst of war can’t choose whether to be affected by war – they are – it’s their daily struggle and daily life. In a similar way, people who are affected by racism, homophobia, discrimination, abuse, and hatred, can’t just choose to be unaffected and effectively ‘walk on by’ unmoved – these things are part of daily life and the daily struggle many people live with.

So if I am not these people, I can be unaffected. I have a choice. I don’t have to care, I don’t have to listen, I don’t have to campaign, I don’t have to try to change anything or speak up. Because it doesn’t affect me.

This is a glimpse of what privilege is about.

I recently came across this quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin:

“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”

If we want justice, we have to stop letting our privilege get us ‘off the hook’ – of course we can’t fight everything all at once, but we could start by standing up for justice, we could start by speaking up next time someone is discriminated against, or signing a petition, or not laughing at the racist joke (and not making the racist joke).

Another point from this gospel reading: Jesus calls ‘the woman’, ‘daughter of Abraham’ – he is making clear that she is part of the covenant community, part of God’s people. She isn’t even just ‘this woman I’ve just healed’; she is ‘family, community, part of the same faith as you and me’.

This woman who has been disregarded in their response so far, is accorded the same status as any other Jew – here she is, ‘daughter of Abraham’ – equally God’s own.

Jesus used his privilege as a man, an educated teacher, as someone in whom was the fullness of God, to lift up someone bent over, to set her free from her affliction, to heal her, to restore her so that she could look other people in the eye, and to make clear that her identity is ‘child of Abraham’, which in this context is equivalent to saying, ‘child of God’, because the children of
Abraham are God’s people.

So Jesus doesn’t just help her out of her place of pain and exclusion, he makes clear that her identity is equal.

Part of using our privilege is not only to lift people up, to set people free, but to make clear that we are all equal, to help make society and our own communities those which enable everyone to be equal, to be equally heard and equally able to contribute and be supported. No patronising ‘helping’ will do. If I ‘help’ you, I am the benevolent giver and you the grateful receiver. If I ensure somehow that you are lifted up and set free, and make clear that you are equal and so am I, we are free to be siblings before God, for you to speak up and be heard in your own right, to disagree with me and to make your own way. You won’t even owe me anything, because you shouldn’t have been in that position in the first place.

I started out thinking that the sermon’s message was going to be, ‘look around your community – who is bowed down? Trapped? Stuck? Treated as ‘less than’? how can you lift them up, stand with them, speak up so that others will listen to them?

It is about that, but the gospel is teaching us so much more. Wanting to be like Jesus isn’t about being a ‘nice’ but about challenging the world we’re in, confronting injustice, confronting, and using, our own privilege and becoming people who are about God’s Kingdom where love and justice reign.

For everyone. 

Which could be costly – society and the economy work better for people with privilege if they keep that privilege – their (our) lives are easier, more comfortable in every way. If we really all understand everyone as equal, and live like that’s true, it will change us and change the world. 

 

by Ruth Yorke 

I’m very happy to receive kindly phrased feedback that can help me learn… happy to review things if you think I’ve made a mistake… learning and keeping on learning is a joy (even if it’s also a  challenge…) 

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