Luke 13:10-17: Liberty and Captivity on the Sabbath

The gospels are filled with paradoxical contrasts. We see sinners forgiven and the righteous condemned. The poor have blessing but the rich have woe. Those who mourn will be happy and those who are happy will be sad. Jesus comes and blows our categories out of the water, those people who we thought were good are bad, those who we thought were alive are dead, those who we thought are hated are loved. When it comes to who is a good person, who is the person who is accepted by God Jesus turns our categories on their heads, the first shall be last and the last first. It is often the case in the gospels that we see a clear contrast between two types of people. At first we think that we know who the good guy and who the bad guy is, but Jesus subverts our understanding of things with the truth. Think of John 3 and 4. There we have side by side the two extremes of the social spectrum. In John 3 we have Nicodemus, in 4 the woman at the well. He is a Jew; she is a Samaritan. He is a leader in society, a Rabbi; she is a social outcast. He is religious and moral; she is a lifestyle sinner. In these chapters we see that she is converted as Jesus speaks the truth to her in love; but Nicodemus leaves confused, though he does convert later. There are many surprises as Jesus breaks social conventions to minister to her, and go with her into her village, and as she finds salvation but a religious leader does not. Another famous example is when Jesus is invited to eat at Simon the Pharisee’s house, John 7:36-50. Jesus is feasting with the religious leaders and an immoral woman, probably a prostitute comes in, weeps over Jesus feet, wipes them with her tears, and Jesus pronounces that her sins are forgiven. This is followed by the parable of the moneylender and the two debtors. One has a large debt and the other a small one. Jesus uses this illustration to highlight that this woman has indeed been forgiven and this is demonstrated by her love and gratitude where Simon is not forgiven at all. The usual hero of the story turns out to be the loser or the villain. It is the same with Jesus parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The despised tax collector leaves justified because he is willing to confess his sin and call upon God’s mercy. God is willing to forgive him though society is not. But the Pharisee is self-righteous and rejected by God.

In our message today we have another contrast, another twist another changing of our perspective so that we can learn gospel truths. We come to Luke 13:10-17 and there are two contrasting characters in our story. A woman and a man, someone despised and someone respected. One is set free and the other is shown to be in bondage.

Let us remind ourselves of the context before we begin. Things have become very tense. Jesus has warned this generation of a pending judgement from God and the deep need to repent or perish. Jesus has pointed His finger at the people of God and told them that they are sinners, that they are worthy of judgement, that they need salvation. Despite their religion and morality, despite their Jewishness and heritage they are in danger of judgment if they do not stop rejecting Jesus as their Messiah and repent of their sins and turn to Him for forgiveness. The last section closed off with a frightening parable, the parable of the barren fig tree. The message was clear, Israel is being given their last chance to repent before the axe falls. This lays an important foundation to understand the portion before us.

We find ourselves once again in the synagogue, this will be the last synagogue miracle in Luke’s gospel. We find ourselves on the Sabbath day. Sound familiar? It is supposed to. Jesus has done several miracles on the Sabbath. Jesus heals the man with the unclean spirit in 4:31-37; then He heals Peter’s mother-in-law 4:39; He heals the paralytic who is lowered through the roof 5:17-26; the paralyzed man at the pool of Siloam, Jn. 5:1-17; the man born blind, Jn. 9; the woman who was bleeding, 8:44, among others. All of these miracles were criticized and rejected. The Jews refused to believe that Jesus was the Messiah and judged Him on the basis of their own man-made rules. Jesus rebukes them and tells them that He is going to give them yet another chance to repent and so He is now doing more miracles on the Sabbath and we will see if they will give a different response. Will we reject Christ despite His ongoing overtures towards us? We will see that the miracle will polarize the crowds, there will be those who rejoice but there will also be those who continue to reject. There will be those who are bound who are set free, and those who think themselves free who will be revealed to be bound.

We will look at these verses under two headings, a captive woman freed; a free man bound.