The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents 

Pentecost XIV: what do you see?

​From the days when women were first ordained Priests comes this story:

A woman was called to serve as Rector of a substantial, historic parish. The Church Wardens and Vestry extended a unanimous call, as is customary, but only after considerable debate within the Vestry. Some members of the Vestry had reservations about a woman serving as ordained leader of their Parish. In the discussions leading to her call, they voiced their opposition to the ordination of women in general and therefore to this woman in particular. But the majority prevailed and she was called. 

Shortly after her arrival and institution as Rector, the Church Warden encouraged one of the resistive Vestry Members to get to know better their new Rector- perhaps in an informal setting where both might be more relaxed. The Vestry Member agreed, and invited their new Priest and Rector for a day of fishing.

Both skeptical, and neither wanting to stake too much on the day, the Vestry Member and Rector were tentative as the trip began. Throughout the morning, however, each tried to engage the other in conversation, and slowly the conversation became easier, moving from polite to interested to perhaps even slightly cordial. Each became less self-conscious as the morning wore on, and as the day warmed and the fish started to bite, both became much more happy and relaxed. 

Around 1pm, a strong gust of wind carried the Vestry Member’s hat off his head and into the water. The Rector calmly stood, stepped out of the boat and walked across the water. She picked up the hat, and walking back to boat and climbing aboard, she returned the hat to the Vestry Member. The fish kept biting and the pace of the afternoon quickened as more and more fish were caught and iced-down. They came in, cleaned the fish and finished the day together well. 

The next Sunday the Church Warden asked the Vestry Member how it had gone. He replied, “Fine. But she can’t swim.” 

As with all humor, the reason this is funny is because it re-casts truth in a way that we can hear it. 

We count it a sign of maturity to embrace a firm opinion about something. We identify virtue in remaining steadfast in what we’ve decided, and changing one’s mind in many cases is viewed as a sign of weakness. Possessing such opinions, our poorly formed boundaries tempt us to give them whether they’ve been asked-for or not...but that’s another story. 

Sometimes our opinions are formed from painful experience, and we do not trust subsequent good experience to modify those views.[1]  Other times, we take comfort in feeling as though the big issues are settled; we take comfort and we can manage ourselves and order our lives based on such settled, established “rules,” and revisiting them is annoying and inconvenient. From that annoyance and inconvenience we often take the next step and say that such changes are not merely inconvenient, but illegal or morally erroneous.[2]  Still other times it is personal preference or taste, and because we like what we like, we resist being further informed in any way.[3]  And in any case, subsequent experience pointing toward change in our established, routine beliefs is almost always received as disconcerting, if not as an outright threat.

We become often wrong[4] but never in doubt, and like it that way. The tragedy of such cock-sure confidence is the blinding and deafening of one’s self to the possibilities of growth, learning or being blessed by new data and experience. 

The Pharisees, like the reluctant Vestry Member in the story, have decided what they know, and they like it that way, and defend it: 

 “Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment." When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day."[5] 

Witnessing a miracle, they still grasp for any defense that protects their understanding of things. Clutching, clawing, not hearing themselves, and having no sense of how pathetic and ridiculous they appear/sound, they’ll put up obstructions to anything that invites a new reality. What is it in people that will do anything to protect their settled World view, going even so far as to malign, refute or ridicule something wonderfully miraculous and extraordinary?!?  

Fear. Raw, naked faear. Jesus makes them accountable for this behavior: 

"You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?"[6]                                                      

The tiresome absurdity of the Pharisees’ remarks is confronted, and “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.”[7] 

If the Pharisees see that their observance of the Law is enlarged in a holy way by what they’ve seen- if they see that they are mistaken- it’s not recorded . I imagine their internal embarrassment is painful. They aren’t willing to offer humble, courageous testimony about their changed hearts or opinions; this is so for most people, and the pathetic truth about folks is that when they are silenced by such goodness, they still turn away muttering “Yes, but...” On a good day, you might hear from one-in-a-thousand, “Perhaps I was mistaken.” That is accurate as far as it goes, but it isn’t an apology for harm caused by that mistaken opinion. And when was the last time you heard the voluntary remark: “I apologize for the pain my mistaken opinions have caused.” The World would be a very different place if even a few more people had the spiritual courage and emotional maturity to speak this Truth with humility and Grace. 

Paraphrasing Drucker: “Pharisees do things right. Jesus does the right thing.” Jesus does the right thing by healing this woman, no matter what day it is. His rebuke suggests that the Sabbath is in fact especially appropriate for manifestations of God’s healing Love.

Sometimes we can’t get out of our own way, can we? Pogo was right: “We have met the enmeny and he is us.” 

Love you. See you in Church. 

FBC3+, 21 August 2016, being The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost


[1] An opinion like: “...having seen the damage termites do to wooden siding, only vinyl is acceptable, no matter what advances have been made in pest control...”

[2] Such as “...the 1928 Book of Common Prayer is THE book, and anything else is linguistically cumbersome and theologically bankrupt...”

[3] Like “...the 1932 Packard Twin Six sedan represents the acme of what an American-made automobile is, and all others are tepid imitations...”

[4] ...most of us never really believe ourselves to be wrong anyway...the longer this goes on the harder it is to grow, and we eventually lose the ability to say at all, never mind mean it “I’m sorry,” “I was wrong,” and “Thank you.” We begin circling our own drain without recognizing it, desperately hoping that even while we grow more and more rigid, fractious and apart from others, our opinions will continue to matter to them.

[5] Luke 13:10-14  NRSV

[6] Luke 13:15-16  NRSV

[7] Luke 13:17  NRSV