Jeremiah 1:4-10/ Psalm 71:1-6/ Luke 13:10-17
Compassion and Humility
Purpose of Law
These days, since I have been watching a show about a lawyer, I get to reflect on law more than usual. The thing about the law is that, although it is invented for the benefit of the people who live with each other as a society, it does not always do good to the people it is designed to serve.
Not all laws are good; some laws are evil because they allow bigotry and discrimination. There was a time when black Americans were legally not allowed the same rights as white Americans. Interracial marriage was illegal too. Gay and trans people could legally get fired from work or evicted from their landlords. In my home country, we have been fighting for 17 years to pass the anti-discrimination law. Spoiler alert: it hasn’t been passed yet.
Of course, the fact that some laws are evil is not a good enough reason to become lawless. However, we should work towards making sure our law serves people better, because the law should protect people instead of sacrificing people for the sake of the law.
Healing on the Sabbath
Jesus was a pioneer to promote this seemingly obvious truth. There are more than one stories in the gospel in which Jesus teaches that people are more important than the law.
The ancient Jewish scholars were often so serious about the law that they became enslaved by it. They often attacked Jesus for breaking the Jewish law.
Today’s gospel story is one of the many stories of Jesus breaking the Sabbath law to heal people. This gave his many haters a good excuse to attack him: “Hey, you shouldn’t do any work on Sabbath. Healing is work. You’re a bad Jew.” Whenever this happened, Jesus responded the same way, by teaching them that people are more important than the law.
When his disciples plucked heads of grains on sabbath, being hungry, he responded to the haters by saying, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath.” In today’s story, he says, “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?”
God’s Reign of Compassion
God’s reign that Jesus taught throughout his public ministry is based on compassion towards other people and all God’s creation. God’s principle of compassion supersedes the written law.
Law was created for the benefit of humans and so was sabbath, which was created to give humans a day of rest. For those who serve the law, this act of violating the sabbath law gets in the way of justice, but for those who serve humans, acting on their compassion for others is much more important. Making and observing any law should be based on respect and compassion for God’s creation.
Compassion and Humility
Compassion is the most important value in God’s reign, but there is a quality that underlies compassion; it is humility. We show compassion because we see others with a humble heart.
Jewish leaders knew the law very well but didn’t have compassion because they didn’t have the humility to think of others as precious children of God who need help, healing, and equal rights and dignity. They had knowledge, power, and social status. They considered themselves better than others, which is a typical sign of lack of humility.
God Chose the Child Jeremiah
Think of the child Jeremiah being chosen as a prophet. He was a child and didn’t think he was capable. God chose this child like Aslan chose the children in the Narnia series. It is because children don’t consider themselves capable of all.
Along with humility, they are also vulnerable creatures. They need protection and guidance. It is with this humility and dependence that they can rely on God’s help and guidance. God said to the young Jeremiah, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.”
Being a Child in Spirit
God wants us to be childlike (but not childish). It is from being childlike that we can humbly depend on God’s care and guidance.
The prayer based on Psalm 19 that I say before preaching is an expression of that humility. It is an acknowledgment that although I am the one speaking here, I want the words coming out of my mouth to be God’s. Humility and compassion are closely connected.
God wants us to be like a child in spirit. It makes us confess, “God, although I am all grown up and well educated as a human, I am still your child and cannot fully understand you. I may think my judgments are good and I know what is good and right, but I also know that my knowledge is nothing compared to yours, you who created me. I need your help and guidance.”
Let us become like children and pray like today’s psalmist. “God, you are our mighty fortress and a bulwark never failing. We seek refuge in you because you are our rock and stronghold. You are our hope and trust. Therefore, take care of us, teach us, help us, and guide us.” Let us be God’s beloved little children, depend on God in all things, learn God’s compassion, and live as the disciples of Jesus to continue his ministry of compassion and justice.