Signpost for Sunday August 21, 2016: Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17.
Two of the readings describe encounters which changed lives.
A question arises out of the first: did Jeremiah have any freedom of choice? From the contents of the reading, taken out of the wider context of the book, it would appear not. He would probably have been familiar with the idea of a God choosing someone before birth. Perhaps being brought up as a priest, in Anathoth just north of Jerusalem, had accustomed Jeremiah to the idea that he had been born to serve the Lord, and the idea is not uncommon elsewhere (it crops up in Isaiah and several times in the Psalms) and the encounter that he records is a confirmation of that fact, but there was much more to it than he had envisaged. He was alarmed at the contents at the start of the message, not apparently because it was a word from the Lord, but because it was an appointment he thought he was to young to fill. To be a messenger to nations, to destroy and to overthrow, to build up and to plant, would not be an easy thing for him to start, but the message itself set him free to do it. The encounter, through the strength given to him, gave him the freedom to act in adverse circumstances.
The second encounter, between Jesus and a number of people in a synagogue in an unspecified place, was again about choice. There were four sides to this encounter: Jesus, a woman with severe, chronic, disease, the opponents of Jesus, and the remainder of the crowd who were there. It has been suggested that the woman was suffering from spondylitis deformans, a disease which leads to rigidity and permanent deformation of the spine. From what I have managed to find out, the underlying causes of the disease are not known, though the symptoms are known. In a society which could recognise injury, poison, bad food and some other causes of disease I suppose that the description of the cause of this disease as a demon was as good as any other. In the story Jesus does not rebuke a demon, but deals with the effects of the disease, describing the woman who has been bound by satan (the adversary) for eighteen years. The destruction of the works of the adversary and the construction of a people of God was the work of Jesus. In this case it explicitly destroyed bondage which had persisted for eighteen years, giving freedom to live a different life.
But there is also a conflict here between two different ways of deciding on proper actions. One was based on rules, You shall not work on the sabbath, therefore, on the sabbath, you should not expect someone to heal you. The other is based on doing the right thing, growing out of who you are. The imperative comes from within. The law sets minimum standards of behaviour, but the behaviour generated from within, as the life of Christ develops leads to life and freedom.