There are several vantage points from which to view the scene in today’s Gospel (Luke 13:10-17). The first is through the eyes of the temple authorities, those who are charged with maintaining order and the good functioning of society. Theirs is an important job, have no doubt. They ensure the well-being of the whole. They dole out favor at specific times and in reasonable doses. They preserve standards and expectations so that the world can turn in predictable ways.
The second vantage point is from a ninety degree angle, looking up. It is the view of a woman who is bent over and quite unable to stand up straight, who has been stooped for years by a burden left unidentified. She is accustomed to seeing the world as one who has been doubled over by its weight. There is no indication that she has any expectation that she will ever be able to straighten her back and raise her eyes to the sun.
In 1977, a few years before glam rock bands and Olivia Newton John helped “spandex” come into its own, the Fruit of the Loom underwear company stumbled upon a brilliant idea. Fruit of the Loom realized that kids love to read comic books about superheroes. Kids will don bath towel capes and their mothers’ gardening gloves in order to create superhero costumes in which to run around the yard as Superman or Batman. And, kids must wear underwear. (Well, they should wear underwear. In some households even that is a challenge.) All those makeshift superhero costumes are bulky and cumbersome, but underwear fits snugly like the heroes’ costumes in the comic books. And so, Fruit of the Loom created “Underoos,” colorful kids’ underwear imprinted with Superman’s “S” or Shazam’s signature lightning bolt on the t-shirt. Now, kids really could look like the heroes they emulated. Underoos sold as fast as Shazam’s lightning, but the new product presented an unexpected problem for families. When kids wore Underoos, they didn’t want to wear anything else! After all, what kid would want to cover up his Spiderman costume with actual clothes? And indeed, somewhere in a photo album at my parents’ house, hopefully buried deep in a bureau drawer, are photos of me (excuse me, photos of Superman) walking hand-in-hand with my mom around Wal-Mart and the grocery store, adorned in nothing but tennis shoes and my red and blue Underoos.
Do you remember the last time you broke a coffee cup? Bent a fork? Scratched a CD? What did you do with the broken thing? Chances are you threw it away. How about the last time you chipped a lamp or cracked a crystal vase? You may not have discarded these items, but you likely turned them to the wall so the marred part didn’t show or else boxed them away in the attic, as too sentimental to get rid of perhaps, but no longer beautiful or functional enough to use.
Did you know that the average American produces 4.5 pounds of solid waste—that’s stuff we throw away—every day? Collectively, each day Americans throw away 1.35 billion pounds of stuff. To put it in perspective, that weight is the equivalent of seven thousand blue whales of garbage, daily. Surely, some of this is legitimate, unusable scrap. But very much consists of things we’ve simply decided to get rid of because they’re out of date, or their beauty has faded, or their newness has worn off in favor of the next big thing. They’re no longer worth our time or consideration, so we dispose of them.[i]
This past May I attended the final spring concert of the Houston Chamber Choir. It was a performance of Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor (with Christ Church Cathedral’s Canon Bob Simpson conducting and Cathedral parishioner Kelli Shircliffe singing soprano solo). Even with my unsophisticated ear, I love Mozart. But this was the first time I’d heard the C Minor Mass. When the Credo began, I listened with great intent as I followed the English translation in the playbill. The creed continued, “True God of true God; begotten, not made” and crescendoed with “Who for us and for our salvation came down from heaven…” And then it stopped. The entire movement. Cut short. Unfinished.