Set Free

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free…” Luke 4:18 NLT

Luke 13:10-17

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Today’s scripture got me thinking about Atlas[1], the god from Greek mythology.  Atlas was a Titan, and, as the story goes, Titans ruled the universe. Zeus, the son of one of the Titans, rallied the Olympians and went to war with the Titans. The Olympians won, and Zeus punished Atlas by making him carry the world on his shoulders for eternity.[2] That’s a very long time.

I’ve really been looking forward to talking with you about Atlas, because Atlas jokes hold up really well.[3]  Did you know Atlas won worker of the year?  For never dropping the ball.

There are lots of sculptures of Atlas holding up the world, but in Greek mythology, his punishment from Zeus was actually to hold up the heavens, which are sometimes called the sphere of heaven, hence the confusion. Actually, holding up the sky sounds like a much greater burden.[4] Instead of having the weight of the world on his shoulders, he had to carry the weight of the universe.[5]

Do you sometimes feel like Atlas?

The woman in today’s Bible story is bent over like Atlas. What if that’s because of the burdens she’s had to carry?

In today’s Bible story, Jesus says that it is Satan who has kept this woman in bondage for 18 years, an invitation to see not just the physical but also the emotional, spiritual, and philosophical burdens we carry, and the burdens we impose.

[6]

The woman, like all of us, was carrying the burdens of history, of our ancestors.  The consequences of our actions can be far reaching, in both good and bad ways. Family behavior patterns get passed on from generation to generation. So do faith traditions, prejudices, and social status. These can be a blessing or a burden.  We see this in the words God said when he revealed himself to Moses in Exodus 34:6-7 CEB

[7]

The Lord passed in front of him and proclaimed:

    “The Lord! The Lord! a God who is compassionate and merciful,
        very patient, full of great loyalty and faithfulness,
      showing great loyalty to a thousand generations,
        forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion,
        yet by no means clearing the guilty,
        punishing for their parents’ sins
        their children and their grandchildren,
        as well as the third and the fourth generation.”

The effects of our actions are not just on the people who are here today, but also on the people who will live in the future.  For example, it has been almost 150 years since the end of legalized slavery in the United States, but we’re still dealing with the repercussions, partly because the mistaken idea that people of color are inferior and therefore ok to treat differently has been engrained into our systems and culture and still continues today.  That’s why Jemar Tisby, in his book The Color of Compromise, says that we should see the phrase Black Lives Matter as a lament, a cry for help, a way “to express indignation and even outrage about the experience of suffering,” and an opportunity for us to mourn with those who mourn, as the apostle Paul tells us to do in Romans 12.[8]

That’s one of many ways we carry the burdens of our history. What other kinds of burdens do we carry?

What are some of the types of burdens that you carry?

Being a Caregiver [9]

Caregivers bear the burden of caring for their children, their parents, their spouses, or other family members. Those in caregiving professions like doctors and nurses, counselors and pastors, carry the burdens of the people for whom they care.

The woman in the story would probably have been caring for her family – cooking, washing, making clothing, taking care of children.

Expectations[10] can be another kind of burden, as we try to fit into roles and expectations that others have defined for us.  The man in this picture is wearing a hat like the one in the Harry Potter stories, the sorting hat, that decides which of the four dormitories (or “houses”) each new student will live in.  When Harry is wearing the hat on his first day at Hogwarts, he is wrestling with the perceived expectations of the different houses.  Will he live up to the legacy of his parents and become a member of the house of Gryffindor, or does he have devious tendencies like many of the members of the house of Slytherin?

Expectations can be a burden we don’t realize we are carrying. We may be so used to behaving a certain way or doing what is expected that we don’t even think about it. How would you be different without those expectations?

Traditions[11]

Traditions can be a joy or they can be a burden.  Traditions become burdensome when they no longer serve the purpose for which they were created, or when we continue them because someone in authority says we have to do them, whether we want to or not.  Is worshipping God a joy or a burden for you?

In today’s story, Jesus is challenging the traditions related to observing the Sabbath, the day of rest that God commanded. It had become a day with so many rules to follow.  The Jewish leaders are upset that Jesus has healed this woman on the Sabbath, and they make a big deal about it, announcing to the whole crowd that people should not come looking for healing on the Sabbath.  They say, “Come for healing on the other six days of the week.”  The irony here is that the woman Jesus heals didn’t come asking for healing.  It was Jesus who decided to call her over to himself and heal her because he doesn’t want her to suffer even one more day.[12]

Theologian Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder says that Jesus sets a new standard for the Sabbath.  The tradition said that only live-saving work could be done on the Sabbath.  Jesus’ new standard is meeting human needs.[13]

The first time that Jesus taught in a synagogue, in Luke 4, he told us that this was his mission. Luke 4:18 says:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed.”

Throughout the gospels, we see Jesus doing what he said he would do, proclaiming freedom, helping people see, setting people free.

Today’s story isn’t the first time Jesus is in conflict with the other rabbis.  In Luke 11 one of them got upset that Jesus hadn’t done the traditional hand washing before he ate, and Jesus responds with a series of reprimands about the ways the leaders put unnecessary burdens on people because of the law. He says, “You load people down with impossible burdens and you refuse to lift a single finger to help them.” (Luke 11:46)

Maybe Jesus is intentionally reminding them of that conversation when he uses a beast of burden in his challenge to them in today’s story. “Hypocrites! Don’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from its stall and lead it out to get a drink?” (Luke 13:15)

Untying a knot was considered work, and therefore not legal on the sabbath, and yet they could untie their animals.  If they could release their animals on the sabbath, why shouldn’t Jesus release this woman from her bondage. The religious leaders were more concerned about doing things the right way than they were about doing things that would help people.

Jesus set the woman free from her bondage, using the same word that Pilate would later use when he asked the crowd which prisoner they wanted him to set free.  Shall I release Jesus or Barabbas?

The Jewish leaders may not have been able to cure that woman like Jesus did, but they could have been celebrating with her instead of chastising her for being healed on the wrong day.

Where do you see yourself in this story?

  • Are you a burden bearer? Or are you a burden giver? Or maybe both?
  • Or are you one of the onlookers in the crowd?  If so, who are you cheering for?
  • Or are you someone on the edges just trying to stay out of the way?

To all the burden bearers, Jesus says:

Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.

Jesus sets us free from the burden of guilt by giving us forgiveness.

Jesus sets us free from the burden of being alone by promising to be with us always.

I think one of the reasons we get disillusioned with this promise of freedom is that we aren’t always very good at letting go. We take the burdens back, or we trade one burden for another.  But also because we aren’t meant to do this by ourselves.  We’re to help one another.

Which takes us back to Atlas, holding up the heavens for all of eternity.  Except that he does get to take a break. Hercules needs Atlas to help him in his own quest, and so Hercules and Athena hold up the sky for awhile so that Atlas can go get something for Hercules.

Some burdens can be shed entirely, but others can’t, and they become much lighter when others help us out.

 Gal. 6:2 Carry one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.


[1] By Biatch at en.wikipedia – Own workTransferred from en.wikipedia, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17961804

[2] https://www.theoi.com/articles/atlas-holding-the-world-story/

[3] https://upjoke.com/atlas-jokes

[4] https://www.worldhistory.org/Atlas/

[5] https://www.thoughtco.com/greek-god-who-carried-world-shoulders-117215

[6] http://ourecuador.blogspot.com/2010/04/

[7] Photo by Peter Law on Unsplash

[8] Theologian Soong-Chan Rah in his book Prophetic Lament, as quoted by Tisby, Jemar. The Color of Compromise (p. 179). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

[9] Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

[10] Photo by emrecan arık on Unsplash

[11] Photo by Mohammed Gadi on Unsplash

[12] William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, (Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox Press, 1956), p.183.

[13] Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder, True to Our Native Land, pg. 165.

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