Luke 12:49-56 "Not Peace but a Sword"
Luke 14:1, 7-14 "Great Banquets Are Never Easy"

Luke 13:10-17 "Following the Unwritten Rules"

Theological controversies are seldom about the issue creating all the drama onstage, but about unspoken agendas that remain offstage.  The real issue stays in the shadows because if it would look ugly under brighter lights.  Here is Exhibit A where the leader of the Synagogue attacks Jesus for healing on the Sabbath.  Do you really think he is trying to protect the sanctity of the Sabbath?  The natural reaction to this act, as we see in verse 17, is to rejoice that this woman is no longer afflicted.  Something has to be seriously wrong with the old aorta to not feel compassion for her.  The real issue, now lost under the sediment of history, is never spoken.  Perhaps the synagogue leader had other issues with Jesus’ teachings and saw this as an opportunity to trip him.  He may have felt threatened by a rival with more wisdom and power than he had.  Whatever the unspoken agenda, the strategy is to put up an issue that he hopes people will get upset about to accomplish his real agenda, which is to discredit Jesus. 


This Sabbath healing controversy came to my mind during an excruciating Deacons meeting.  The proposal on the agenda was to have a baby shower for a 16 year-old girl who was pregnant.  Alice (not her real name) had been through a series of mishaps in her young life, and her family was barely making ends meet.  The father of the baby dumped her and she was going to live at home with her parents.  The start up costs for having a baby were daunting for them.  To make the issue really complicated her mother was the chair of the Board of Deacons.    As the planning for the shower unfolded, the Deacons were divided by where to have the shower.  One group felt strongly that the event should not take place at church.  Their rational was that if it was in the building it was an official church event and then they would be obligated to hold a shower for everyone who was going to have a baby.  (You can imagine the flood of pregnancies in a congregation where two-thirds of the women are over 50.  If the baby shower thing takes off, soon everyone will be having babies, right?  This baby shower thing sounded like a good church growth strategy to me.) 


Of course, the real issue was never spoken.  Some Deacons were concerned that having the shower at church would send “the wrong message” to the young girls in the youth group that the church condoned out-of-wedlock pregnancies.  As the debate ground on into the night I could see the chair of the board gradually shrinking away in shame.  I felt that if the “non-church shower crowd” were to win out, we were going to lose our very able and dedicated chair from the church.  I began to feel angry and said, “This reminds me of the controversy of healing on the Sabbath.  It’s OK to heal, just make sure you don’t due it during the church service and get prior approval from the Board of Deacons and Church Council.  So in this case we need to decide if we want to publicly bless this family or do it quietly somewhere else so no one gets upset.”  Fortunately the motion then passed unanimously that we have the shower at the church, the Head Deacon stayed with the church and I did not get fired.  (I met with the “off-site” advocates the next day and we mended fences and I agreed that we should start a sex education program with the youth group.) 


I’m not preaching this week, but here are several other examples of controversies from the news where the real issue is in the shadows:


Gail Collins has an excellent article in last Saturday’s NY Times about the final success of the suffrage movement.  The constitutional amendment came down to a vote in the Tennessee legislature.  The money behind the “nah” votes was coming from liquor industry because they feared that if women were allowed to vote they would pass prohibition.  Of course no one would stand up and say we must defend Jim Beam and Jack Daniels.  They had to try undermining women’s intelligence instead.


I think the anti-immigrant rumblings in Congress are a similar issue.  The number of illegal immigrants is actually going down during the recession.  (They can’t get jobs here either.)  This is creating scapegoats for our real economic problems.  Its a way to mobilize fearful people to vote so that other agendas can be carried out in the shadows.  Why are members of Congress attacking the 14th Amendment that protected the rights of formerly enslaved Americans?  Phil Davis of Phil’s Stock World has an idea about the real agenda:


According to the 14th Amendment to the Constitution (oh that thing),  right there in section 4, is the statement that: "The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned."  So we’re stuck with those Social Security obligations (the ones people put money into their whole lives on the good faith that the US Government would take care of it for them and pay them back when they retire) unless we can figure out a way to get that 14th Amendment repealed so we can default on that obligation. 


Well thank goodness once again for our Conservative cousins because House Minority Leader, John Boehner, is already on the case and has suggested repealing the 14th amendment under the guise of blocking citizenship for children born in the US to immigrant parents….It is now becoming clear that the ENTIRE anti-immigration mania, from the day Bush first suggested a fence between Texas and Mexico, has really been about mounting a back-door attack on Social Security - the true enemy of the right since it’s founding in 1935. 


Watch out for the voices of those who don’t want healing to be done on the Sabbath.  What is the real agenda?  Jesus calls us to unmask the hard-hearted agendas and realize the essence of the Gospel and the Law is compassion.  All theological controversies must pass the test of the Great Commandment-to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind; and to love our neighbor as ourselves.