Isaiah 58:9b-14 Psalms 103:1-8 Hebrews 1218-29 Luke 13: 10-17
A devout cowboy lost his favorite Bible while he was mending fences out on the range. Three weeks later, a sheep walked up to him carrying the Bible in its mouth. The cowboy couldn’t believe his eyes. He took the precious book out of the sheep’s moth, raised his eyes to heaven and yelled, “It’s a miracle!” The sheep said, “Not really, your name is written inside the cover.”
It’s not a miracle that the Bible was returned. Anyone could’ve done it since the cowboy’s name was written in it. The miracle is the talking sheep, which no one expects and the cowboy doesn’t recognize. It is similar with the miracles of Jesus. The point isn’t the miracle; it’s the nature of the one who performs the miracle.
Jesus was a devout Jew. He entirely accepted that one should observe the Sabbath. However, his issue was that one should always observe the Sabbath in such a way that is liberating and not oppressive. The Jewish community was accustomed to debate about the parameters of Sabbath observance, a point Jesus makes as he draws attention to the practice of untying an ox or donkey for water. If this is okay, then why not a healing? Barbara Brown Taylor struggled, as many of us, with Sabbath Keeping. She puts forth the argument that if is something you enjoy, like working in your garden, is it considered work on the Sabbath? Jesus could respond to that, I’m sure.
He is teaching in the synagogue. Here is a healing opportunity, when Jesus spots a woman. Being bent over for eighteen years is a long time (in the first century, the average lifespan was thirty to thirty-five years.) So, Jesus calls her over, lays hands on her, and frees her from all her ailments. Naturally, she celebrates and so does the crowd.
In response to the leader of the synagogue, Jesus offers an interpretation of Sabbath observance that always includes liberation. Interestingly, he links the illness of the woman to the work of Satan. It is not a punishment by God nor is it a case that Satan causes the illness. But Jesus is making the important point that, ultimately, God does not intend anyone to be sick and, God desires healing and wholeness for all of us.
The crippled woman has been unable to stand upright for eighteen years. She doesn’t ask for healing. Instead, Jesus calls on her and sets her free of her infirmity. Her response is to stand up straight and begin praising God. It is striking that she does not ask for healing and no one petitions Jesus on her behalf. Over the years, she has become accustomed, if not resigned, to her long and serious illness, which is attributed to Satan. For eighteen years, this unnamed woman must strain to see the sun, the sky, and the stars. For eighteen years she has become accustomed to looking down or just slightly ahead but never upward without extreme difficulties. For eighteen years her world has been one of turning from side to side to see what those who stand upright can see with just a glance. She is used to this, and no one questions her fate. Instead, the leader of the synagogue gets offended that Jesus would heal her on the Sabbath.
The miraculous healing described in this story is met with indignation by the synagogue leader. Those in leadership positions in any time or place are supposed to care about the rules! To be in a position of leadership requires bearing the responsibility for understanding the rules in depth and interpreting them as convincingly as possible.
It is important for us to remember that this passage is nestled between the parable of the Fig Tree with its focus on repentance and the parables of the Mustard Seed and Leaven and their focus on the Kingdom of God and how to address discouragement and despair over what we feel we have when we believe we have failed. Why is a story of healing found between two parables with such uncontrollable elements like mustard and leaven that reveals the surprising, invasive character of God’s realm?
This unnamed woman draws our attention to the connection between healing and the dynamic pastoral and prophetic witness to which we are all called. To truly understand how healing calls us to respond, we must look back to the social and spiritual liberation that can help us realize our limits. Reflecting on our past, we may well discover that we have moved beyond our limits, but we may also see that we have not yet lived into them. The challenges of living into our healing can help us uncover the realities and possibilities in our ministries and also invite others to explore there’s.
I have a dear friend that was a Hospice nurse for several years. I was talking to her about her ministry and she said she didn’t have a ministry. We talked about all she did for her patients and their families and she realized she did have a ministry. Out of that realization she moved toward ordained ministry. The same is true with all of us – teachers, lawyers, mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers – all of us have things close to our hearts that we can respond to with the love and the blessings of God.
Part of the gift of exploring our healing is that it can open the doors in the rooms of our lives, and healing encourages us to walk through those doors to discover the grace and hope and unresolved issues that may be inside each room. This may be the last thing we want to do in the busyness of our lives. But we need to hear God’s encouragement and empowerment to approach this task and offer encouragement to others to do the same. In the church year, we offer this introspection during Advent and Lent. Truly, any time in our lives is appropriate. To know when it is time to assess and reassess our beliefs and how we live them out – to check our inward compass as to the direction we are going and ask if that direction is of God or our own folly. In doing this, we can assure ourselves and others that we will find more energy and commitment to live the healthy and healing examples that God would have us live.
I have talked before about some of my journey. I attended Cursillo a year after my divorce and began the process of forgiving my ex-husband and myself. I had been beaten down by emotional and psychological abuse of an alcoholic and would rather be mute that upset the apple cart of our emotional lives. It was after Cursillo that I prayed for God to embolden my spirit that I may respond to God’s call on my life. Embolden my spirit – strange words, but words God put on my heart. I know, you are probably thinking – be careful what you pray for!
We don’t have to and don’t need to take this inward journey alone. It takes nurturing and prodding of a community of faith to take on its call, rather than be content with well-meaning comments than heartfelt gestures. It also means learning to lean on and truly trust God, who is the Spirit and Hope in our lives. This is never easy to do, but it is absolutely necessary to try to live into God’s call for our lives.
The crippled woman in this text is not in mortal danger. She has lived this limited existence for eighteen years. It is the Sabbath and she probably could wait another day or another week to be healed. The synagogue leaders are adamant about observance of the Sabbath. She is in a different place. It is easy to counsel someone else to be patient. Rules are more likely to be considered reasonable when they don’t affect the rule enforcer. Jesus identifies more with the woman than the leader, as though her disfigurement were his own, or perhaps his mother’s.
Jesus challenges the rule enforcer. If animals can be led to drink water from the manger, why not a daughter of Abraham? More should be done for her to receive freedom for life. She is an heir to the promises of God. It is time for her to embrace her new life – to accept that Jesus has emboldened her back and heart and spirit to go and tell and celebrate her healing.
We are like the crippled woman, bent over and unable to see the sun. We know only the dust and dirt underneath our feet. We struggle to see the path before us by straining and twisting, because we can’t look straight ahead. To ask for healing helps us step into Jesus’ invitation to mend our souls as we mend creation. There will be times when we “know” this in ways that are too profound for words or reason. There will be times when God seems to be far away. And the pathway is unclear, but we must seek healing. We are inheritors of the gift of healing of the bent-over woman who stood up straight and began praising God.
I have announced my retirement for the 2nd of October. I have been in prayer about this for some time. I have loved my time here at Grace and I have loved being a part of the Grace family, especially when all my siblings passed away. We have done a great deal together, but there are so many more things left for Grace Church and me to do. I am not sure what God wants me to do, but I trust it will unfold in front of me. I know that God uses everything that we have experienced to prepare us for the next thing. I really want to be more active in the community and truly become the hands and heart and feet of Christ.Amen