The cost of silence

Pentecost 14 – 2016

Luke 13:10-17

Marian Free

In the name of God who confronts evil and asks us to do likewise. Amen.

A couple of years ago I had two unpleasant experiences within a week. The first involved a cyclist who, having abused a driver who was waiting at the lights, tried to engage me in supporting him. So far as I could tell the driver had stopped exactly where he/she was required to stop and the cyclist was simply fueling a rage that somehow justified his existence. That is, if he was right and someone else was wrong he was somehow more – I don’t know – righteous or smarter than the other. There seemed to be no other point to the exercise other than the cyclist’s building himself up in his own eyes. Had I allowed myself to be involved I would have further justified his sense of self-righteousness. As it was I had the feeling that regardless of my lack of support he would spend the rest of the day feeling pleased with himself that he had got the better of someone. A little later that week I was walking the dog. As required, I had my plastic bag with me and made sure that I collected the dog faeces as we went. A car full of young men drove past and, as they did, they yelled out the window to the effect that I was causing offense. Again I didn’t engage but reflected that, like the cyclist, their outburst had less to do with me and more to do with their own need to make themselves feel as if they were in some way superior to myself.

Some use conflict to inflate their egos, others encourage conflict so as to bring a matter to a head, to enable them to deal with an issue and move on instead of pretending that nothing is the matter and allowing resentment or irritation to fester unchecked.

Then there are some who seek out conflict, not because they feel powerless or are lacking in confidence, but because they are seeking to bring about social change, to right wrongs, or to confront oppression and injustice. Such people have a conviction about what is right and are not afraid to challenge those who a perpetrating wrongs – even if their confrontational approach will lead to rejection, imprisonment or worse. Among such people we can count Mahatma Gandhi, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Nelson Mandela and many, many others. They seek conflict, not for the sake of conflict, but because they believe that there is a need to expose the evils of their day and feel that they must name what is wrong even though they know that it will lead to division.

Some people thrive on conflict. They seem to seek it out because it makes them feel more important or as if they have more control in lives in which they feel they have little status or power. Such people not only seek out conflict but, like the cyclist and young men, create conflict – either by pushing others until they react or by seeing offense where none was intended. Others use conflict to bring unresolved issues into the open, and yet others feel they have no choice but act in ways that are bound to put them into conflict with the establishment.

I suspect that Jesus was a little bit of b and c. That is, Jesus was keen to bring unspoken tensions (for example around the law) into the open and at the same time he was so confident in his role as God’s messenger that, even though arrest and crucifixion appeared to be the likely outcome, he refused to compromise or to soften his message. So far as Jesus was concerned, restoring God’s intention for God’s people meant freeing them from the burdens that had been placed upon them and interpreting the law as a means of liberation rather than as something that was restrictive and overwhelming. No wonder that Jesus came into conflict with the religious leaders of his time. He was challenging a way of life that had come to be taken for granted and at the same time he was undermining their authority as those who interpreted the law for the people.

Almost from the beginning of his ministry Jesus has insisted that an interpretation of the Sabbath law that leads to harm rather than good is a misinterpretation of God’s meaning (Lk 6:6f). Like all practicing Jews, Jesus attends the synagogue regularly. However, instead of leaving well alone and maintaining the social norms, Jesus invites division. Early in his ministry, Jesus threw out a challenge: “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?” According to today’s gospel, Jesus is now beyond asking. It clearly makes no sense to him to allow a woman to suffer another moment when she could be set free today. Jesus points out the double standard of the religious when it comes to interpreting the law. It is permissible to save an animal from distress but not a human being!

Jesus cannot remain silent and nor can he hold back his healing power. He must do what he feels he is called to do even though it will cause offense and even though it will heighten the conflict between himself and the establishment.

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus’ conflict is not only with the religious leaders. Luke tells us that Jesus is engaged in a bigger and far more dangerous conflict – that between Jesus and Satan, or the conflict between the material and the spiritual worlds. Before Jesus even begins his ministry the forces of this world try to throw him off course in the desert. When Jesus proves too difficult a target, Satan departs until “an opportune time”. Now, mid-way through the gospel Jesus preempts Satan’s next strike, by freeing the woman whom “Satan has bound for eighteen long years.” Both on a human level and on a spiritual level, Jesus is inviting conflict, bringing discord into the open where it can be recognised and properly addressed, not allowed to deepen and grow. Jesus is not afraid to name what is wrong and to identify the true enemy. Despite the fact that this will deepen the opposition to him and his ministry, he will not be deflected from his goal or compromise his values.

Many of us avoid conflict. We do not want to cause trouble. As a consequence, we fail to see the unhappiness that can result when we fail to address those things that cause hurt to ourselves or to others. Jesus had no such problem.

Dare we remain silent if our silence means that the evils of the world are allowed to continue unabated?




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