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. (NRSV) The Gospel of Luke is a favorite among many Filipino Christians. Two of the best loved parables of Jesus are in Luke, the Samaritan in Chapter 10 and the Prodigal Son in Chapter 15. The Roman Catholic Church’s Preferential Option for the Poor is grounded on this gospel. The UCCP particularly loves Luke 4 (and Matthew 25). Lest we forget, the gospel that Jesus was anointed to proclaim is good news to the poor. And Luke is the best source for understanding the challenge of this gospel that takes the side of those whose only hope is God, of those who need God the most.
Critical parts of Jesus’s mission are to proclaim release to the captives and to let the oppressed go free. Both mean the same thing: liberation! Our reading for today is Jesus doing his mission of liberation. In Jesus’s response to the leader of the synagogue (verse 15) he mentions three characters who are all bound and have to be released. The ox and the donkey are both tied. They have to be released in order to get water. If they are not released, if they do not get water, they might get dehydrated or worse, die. The woman, whom Jesus calls a daughter of Abraham—which incidentally is the only time in the whole Bible that the description is used—is also bound. Satan has bound her for 18 long years. Medical experts who have studied this passage say that those were 18 agonizingly painful years. Whether she had tuberculosis of the spine, spondylitis ankylopoietica, osteoarthritis of the spine, or osteoporosis of the spine, she was in terrible pain. Every single day. She had to be released. She had to be set free.
My friends, the exchange between Jesus and the synagogue leader is not about good and bad. It is about good and good. How do we choose? Justly. The synagogue leader was saying: you can heal her any other day except today. He was arguing: what is one more day of suffering to someone who has already endured 18 years of agonizing pain? That’s 6570 days of pain. What is one day more? Jesus, on the other hand, was saying: why do I need to heal her any other day when I can do it today! For Jesus, suffering is suffering. Why wait for tomorrow when we can stop it today! The synagogue leader’s opinion is justice delayed. Jesus’s retort was justice right now! The woman despite her agonizing pain, despite her suffering went to the synagogue regularly. Did you think for one second that her pain rested during those Sabbath days? Did you think her suffering stopped while she sang, chanted, and studied the Torah? Do not forget this, ever: suffering does not have Sabbaths. Oppression has no rest days. Evil does not rest.
Do you think the suffering, humiliation, and discrimination that Palestinians experience as they go through Israeli checkpoints twice a day stop during Sabbath? Do you think the daily average of 45,000 people, half of them children under 5, who die in the Congo, stop because the killers behind the world’s worst genocide have to go to church on Sundays? Do you think our Lumad sisters and brothers get Sundays off from the displacement, dispossession, and militarization they experience from the AFP, CAFGU, and private armies of mining corporations? Do you think the pains, the suffering, and the diseases that afflict close to a billion of the world’s children caused by malnutrition, poverty, and hunger cease every time they attend mass or praise and worship? Suffering does not have sabbaths. Oppression has no rest days. Evil does not rest!
Thus, the struggle for life, for liberation, for wholeness, for abundant life for all has no rest days as well. This is why Jesus always healed on the Sabbath. This is why he proclaimed release to the captives and set the oppressed free on the Sabbath. This is why we are challenged to do the same! My friends, today is the day of liberation. Of course, we can wait for tomorrow but tomorrow might be too late. Proclaim release to the captives! Let the oppressed go free!