The End of the Reign of Goody Two Shoes, Or, Start Breaking Some Rules
What a scene we have in our gospel text today! I love it!
Jesus is teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath, and everything is going great.
The leader of the synagogue seems to be on board—it’s nice to have a guest speaker who brings a little prestige to your local congregation.
But then a woman in need shows up to spoil the party.
Can we be honest with ourselves for a moment here? Have we ever felt uncomfortable when someone clearly in need, someone who definitely doesn’t fit in with our crowd, shows up at worship?
I’ll confess to my shame that I have.
But Jesus, instead of dismissing or marginalizing her, or even waiting until after the sermon to take her aside and care for her, brings her right into the heart of the worship service and heals her.
The crowd loves it.
The leader of the synagogue is furious. But notice that he doesn’t quite have the guts to confront Jesus himself.
Instead, Luke says, “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.’”
Rather than reminding Jesus of the rules and thus risking a confrontation with a clearly powerful spiritual leader, he tries to intimidate the vulnerable people seeking out Jesus’ care.
Jesus creates the confrontation anyway.
He calls the man out as a hypocrite, 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.”
Okay, so here’s the thing you should know about me. I am a professional Goody Two-Shoes.
I spent the entirety of my childhood, teenage years, and the vast majority of my adult life following the rules.
I’ve always been a good girl. I’m on time, I’m nice, I never wear white shoes after Labor Day, and I always send thank you notes.
If there is a box to be checked to get approval, I check it.
If there is a social custom to be followed to adhere to etiquette, I follow it.
The best I could do for my rebellious phase as a teenager was cop an attitude with my parents every now and then. I was so boring I never even drank before I turned 21.
I’m the prim and proper, teacher’s pet, snot-nosed Goody Two Shoes you loved to hate when you were in school.
But the thing I’ve begun to realize as I’ve studied the gospels over the years is that Jesus is not a Goody Two Shoes. Jesus is a red-hot rebel.
He is the furthest thing you could imagine from a well-behaved, quiet, respectable follower of order and decency.
Jesus is a rule breaker, as this story illustrates with vivid clarity.
If the rules don’t work, he breaks them.
And childhood patterns set down early, like my rule following, are hard to shrug off.
But if the gospels are to be believed, to follow Jesus means to quit following all the rules. Jesus is a rule breaker, and therefore as his disciples, so are we.
So let’s think about what that might mean.
First of all, being rule-breaking disciples does not mean descending into some sort of petty adolescent tomfoolery, dismissing the good rules that govern us just to be wild and crazy.
We’re not going to stand up and say the 10 Commandments don’t matter anymore because we’re rebels.
No, we have to observe how and why Jesus breaks the rules, and which rules he chooses to break.
Jesus’ rule-breaking is always in the service of life and health and love and flourishing, and that’s where we’re going to see the chance to break rules in a way that starts to bring in the Kingdom of God.
Once you start to think about it, you’d be amazed at how many rules we follow, and most of them are unwritten and unspoken. They govern practically our every waking moment.
The way I see it, there are two categories of rules we could break that would help us be better disciples.
The first are the rules of convention that we could break to have more fun, like we talked about last week. And here I mean things that give you the private sense of rebellion and amusement that doesn’t hurt anyone.
So, for example, just for kicks, I might wear those white shoes after Labor Day.
If you want to take it up a notch, break a rule of convention not by not observing it, but by upping the ante in a really fun way. So instead of sending a thank you note, I might send a thank you singing telegram.
But the other category of faithful rebellion is the great big rules of society, the kinds of rules Jesus broke.
It sounds scary at first, but we can start small.
So one rule our society continues to insist on despite obvious structural inequalities is that everyone pays their own way, and bootstrapping hard work gives everyone a fair chance to get ahead.
We might break that rule this week by paying for the next person in line’s coffee at Starbucks.
That might lead us to break the rule by giving to an organization assisting migrants at the border.
By the time Jesus gets through with us, we might be engaged in some truly radical gospel solidarity work, all because we were brave enough to follow him and break some rules.
Think about the rules that govern your self-image, especially the negative ones.
“I’m not as smart as most other people and so I have to hide my opinions so I don’t look stupid.”
Break that rule this week. Share something with a friend and really open up your thoughts and what’s on your mind.
Here’s one most women and many men carry around: “My body isn’t right. I’m too fat, too thin, too old, too bald, too young, too sick, too limited in mobility, and I have to hide it.”
Break that rule this week. Feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in your every cell and walk around in joyful gratitude for the beautiful miracle that is your physical self.
The woman in our gospel story who needed healing broke her rules about her body enough to bring that body to Jesus. We could do the same.
We’re just getting warmed up now. Let’s break some more rules.
Let’s break some church rules.
Here’s a rule I’ve been noticing at Emmanuel: “This church has been through too much change and conflict in the past few years to take on anything new.”
I think we should break that rule.
How about this one? “Episcopalians can’t address racial equity and justice because they’re too white and too rich.” Let’s chuck that rule for sure.
“I can’t answer a new call to ministry because I’m just too busy and there’s always somebody else to pick up the slack.”
Now that’s a legit rule for some of us, but others of us need to rebel against that one right quick.
So we’ve been thinking about the rules that we could break that could change our lives, but what kind of rules could we break that would help others?
What could we do to emulate Jesus who, in his words, enabled “a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, [to] be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day”?
We need look no further than our own house to break some rules that are keeping us bound.
Here are two: “There’s no such thing as a compassionate Republican,” or, “Democrats don’t believe in freedom and personal responsibility.” We should probably break those rules.
Here are some more rules I’d love to break: “We’re never going to make any progress on solving gun violence, and we’re never going to be able to have a real conversation about abortion.”
Isn’t it amazing how many rules we let control us?
It’s not just individuals who have been bound up by Satan for long years like in our story, it’s entire nations and societies.
But let’s bring it back down to the concrete and the individual, and plan some rule breaking for you to do this week.
First rule on the chopping block: “Church committee meetings are tedious, long, boring, contentious, and no fun.” Let’s break that one immediately.
A lot of people have this rule: “Although I’m ashamed to admit it, I sometimes feel awkward in conversation with people with challenging disabilities and so I avoid it.”
You could fill in the blank there with who it is that you avoid—people from different cultures or who speak a different language, people with a lot of money, people with no money, people who practice a different faith.
What rules govern your comfort and how can you break them immediately for the sake of new and deeper relationship?
I’m just scratching the surface here of the potential of rule-breaking as a spiritual practice of discipleship.
If we got serious about breaking the rules that keep our systems of poverty and injustice intact, we might really start to see what the Kingdom of God looks like.
That’s the kind of rebel Jesus was.
And being the original Goody Two Shoes that I am, I need a lot of help and encouragement to learn to break rules as boldly as he did.
But I am convinced that if we started breaking rules in small ways that led to breaking rules in bigger ways, we could change the world. So let’s quit being such good girls and boys and learn to be rebels.
And here’s the rule I need you to break more than any other.
When it comes to spirituality, the top level of your mind and soul are filled with basic Christian orthodoxy and solid theology.
You know in your head that you are loved by God.
But for many of us, way down deep in the bottom of our hearts, there is a little voice that doggedly follows a damaging and powerful rule that undermines all our efforts to grow.
And that rule is this: “God could never love the real me. I’m not good enough.”
I need you to pray and pray and pray for the Holy Spirit to help you chip away at that rule until it is pulverized and destroyed forever.
The world needs for you to do that, because your healing will make you capable of giving your life away for love.
And that is the methodology for changing the world. That is exactly what Jesus, the original rebel, did for us.
Because what is the greatest and most universal rule of all?
That when death comes, we are all taken, and there is no road back. Death is the end. It is the final chapter. It swallows us all into the abyss.
And Jesus broke that rule.
He broke it forever and always, and led us into the glory and joy of the Resurrection.
From rebellion to resurrection, that is the gospel life.
It sounds scary, and it sounds amazing.
So I ask you to carry this question with you this week: what rule can I break today for the sake of love?
Jesus, our disobedient Savior, will join you in breaking it.
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