Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.
Before I start I do have a few announcements: “The sermon this morning is titled: ‘Jesus Walks on the Water.’ The sermon for next Sunday is: ‘Searching for Jesus.’” “Next Thursday there will be tryouts for the choir. They need all the help they can get.” “Don’t let worry kill you. Let the Church help.” “Thursday night will be a potluck supper. Prayer and medication to follow.” “A bean supper will be held on Tuesday evening in the church hall. Music will follow.” “Weight Watchers will meet at 7 PM at the Presbyterian Church. Please use large double door at the side entrance.”
I’m sure you figured out that those aren’t really our announcements, but they are announcements that have appeared in church bulletins. It’s amazing how one misplaced word here and there can cause such a big deal. In fact, we are all aware that it is often the little things that will either make or break a situation.
Elmer Bendiner in his book the “Fall of the Fortress” tells the story of a B-17 bombing run over Germany during WWII. The mission ran into a barrage of flak from Nazi antiaircraft guns. That was not unusual, but on this particular occasion their gas tanks were hit. The shells should have exploded on impact and knocked aircraft out of the sky, but didn’t. When the plane landed, the crew discovered that the plane had been hit – not once, but eleven times. The miracle: none of the shells had exploded.
After some investigation, the Captain of the flight learned that the shells had been extracted from the wings and fuel tanks and sent to the armorers to be defused. Curiously the armorers told him that Intelligence had picked them up. They could not say why at the time, but the Captain eventually sought out the answer, because when the armorers opened each of those shells, they found no explosive charge. They were clean as a whistle and just as harmless… all but one.
The one contained a carefully rolled piece of paper. On it was some handwriting in Czech. The Intelligence people scoured the base for a man who could read Czech. Eventually, they found one to decipher the note. Translated, the note read: “This is all we can do for you now.”
That was all the Czech, who were forced labor at a Nazi armory, could do to help the war effort – not pack the shell with explosives, but that “one little thing” saved the crew of that mission. I have to wonder how many more that never even knew.
One little thing. All it took was one small stone from young David’s sling to bring down Goliath. One simple touch from Jesus to give sight to the blind. One voice crying in the wilderness to make known the coming of the Lord. One little bite of an apple to damn all of humanity. It often only takes one little thing to make or break a situation. Those little things are important, but while keeping our eye on them, we can’t lose site of the big picture either.
It is this – so focused on the details that you miss the big picture – that Jesus encounters quite often. On one occasion, the Jewish leaders were complaining that the disciples were not keeping the purity laws by not washing their hands the proper way before they ate. Another time the the disciples picked some grain on the Sabbath and the scribes and Pharisees were right there to point out that they had once again broken the law. At that time, Jesus said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’”
In today’s Gospel, we run into the same problem, which reminded me of the time I went to see a tele-evangelist, Jesse Duplantis. Yes, I’ve seen some of these programs. It seems that at the end of each service there is a time to come forward and be healed or blessed. However, Rev. Duplantis had the healing service up front. He said, “There’s no point in you sitting all the way through the sermon feeling sick and tired if I can heal you now.”
In our Gospel, the woman who had been sick for eighteen years comes to Jesus. It’s the Sabbath. The Law of Moses says, “You shall do no work on the Sabbath.” Yet, Jesus heals the woman. The leader of the synagogue was “indignant.” He says, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” Jesus responds, “You hypocrites!” – There’s no point in this woman sitting all the way through the Sabbath feeling sick and tired if I can heal her now.
From the disciples washing their hands to the healing of this woman, Jesus is saying the Jewish leaders, “You are so wrapped up in the little things that you’ve missed the big picture. You remember to wash your hands, but you fail to honor your Father and your Mother. You don’t lift a finger on the Sabbath, but you have forgotten to love the Lord your God with all your heart, body and soul.”
Did this way of applying the Law hurt them in any way? Yes. Jesus, God Himself, walked among them and they were so hung up on the little things that they didn’t notice. They were so concerned with proper hand washing or whatever, that they failed to understand his teachings or to even recognize the miracles for what they were. All these little things blinded them and ended up souring their relationship with the Lord.
A young child went on a long road trip vacation with his family. In order to pass the time he decides to look for the license plates of all fifty states. At the end of the trip you can ask him if he saw Old Faithful. “No,” he says, “but I did find Delaware in the parking lot.” Did you see the Statue of Liberty, “No, but can you believe someone was there from Oregon.” It might have been fun, but look at all the wonders and glories he missed. Look at the time he missed with his family. He became so obsessed with one little thing that nothing else mattered.
The Pharisees and the scribes did the same thing in the time of Jesus. They were focusing so intently on minor details that they missed all the glory and wonder that was taking place around them.
Do we fall into the same trap? Consider this: Granma, in her will, leaves Jenny her heirloom brooch. Sister Betty also wanted that brooch, but because Aunt Jenny got it, Betty and Aunt Jenny become angry with one another and don’t speak for ten years. What was more important, the brooch or the relationship. The brooch. Right?
Little Sally picks up a toy that little Johnny had been playing with half an hour ago but hasn’t looked at since; however, when little Sally picks it up Johnny pitches a major fit and the two are fighting. Good thing adults don’t act like that.
You all know of situations like these and you may have even experienced it yourself. One little – and I might add, often stupid – little thing comes between two people and the relationship sours almost instantly, taking years to repair if ever. In the mean time, look at all the damage and all that has been done.
We can act the same way in our relationship with the Lord. Like the Pharisees and scribes, we can get hung up on small things. We then place a value on it that supersedes the value of our relationship with God. Or, like little children, we scream, “Mine!” I want this and I don’t care whether God says I can or even should have it. By doing so, we set God in a backseat position to our own will and desires. The result: Our obedience toward God falters, we distance ourselves from the relationship with Him, so that we don’t have to respond to Him, and ultimately the relationship sours – not because of His attitude toward us, but because of our attitude toward Him.
Sometimes little things are truly important and significant, life changing even, but sometimes the little things are just that – little things. When in doubt, ask God to help you discern which is which. He will. If we do this, we will realize the difference between what is important and what is not. We will discover the difference between our own self seeking desires and the desires of our Heavenly Father.