Luke 13: 10-17
I want you to imagine with me this morning. Imagine a world without touch. Not without the sense of touch, but a world without being touched. No one to reach out and hold your hand. No one to hug you, or give you a pat on the back. Imagine a world where people not only wouldn’t touch you, but would go out of their way to avoid touching you, as if just be really looking at you they might be harmed or contaminated.
Imagine that overtime people do stop looking at you. They stop noticing that you are there at all. They don’t go out of their way to avoid you because they don’t even act like you exist anymore. Imagine living that way. How long would you last? A day, a month, a year? Imagine living that way for 18 years in a community much smaller than Huntsville, AL. And I’d bet with that imagining we would still far short of the life of the woman in our scripture today.
This lesson is unique to the Gospel of Luke. This is a story of another unnamed woman who makes an impression even in a world designed to make her invisible. She is not a prominent woman in the community. She is not the beloved mother or daughter of someone in standing. She is just who she is, a woman who has been ostracized for 18 years and still shows up at the synagogue for worship. Luke describes her as “bent together” or “bent double” by a spirit.
Being crippled by a spirit means that something has gotten a hold of you, or has assumed power over you and has taken control of your life. Being crippled by a spirit causes you to live life in a less than whole state. When a spirit has a hold of your life it is no longer your own, but everything you do you do to please or accommodate that spirit.
Sound familiar to anyone here? I know it does to me. This bent over woman is far to familiar. She is everyone who has ever struggled to rise above the pain of oppression, low self-worth, of judgement from others.
She is everyone who has struggled with chronic illness, addictions, loss of value, loss of innocence.
She is anyone who has lived in a situation that is intolerable, anyone who has been told you can’t and believed it. She is all of us who have lost hope.[i]
She goes about living her invisible life and one day, everything changes.
In the synogouge there is a man teaching. He is different from the other Rabbis, and people murmur over his interpretations of God’s word. There is an excitement about him, and a fear.
And while teaching he notices her. He sees her, really sees her. In Genesis Hagar calls God “The God who sees me.” That same seeing God looks across the room full of people and sees this woman, in her own wilderness and refuses to let her stay there one minute longer.
He sees her and without any request, any action on her part at all says “Dear woman, you are healed.” Such simple and powerful words to say. With these words she can feel the hope that has kept dormant for so many years begin to kindle. Dare she hope, dare she trust that this might be true.
Jesus reaches out and touches her. His touch confirms what is already taking place within her. His touch allows her healing to be known. His touch awakens her soul once more. His touch welcomes her back into the community of faith as a whole and welcome participant.
Immediately she begins praising God. She knows where her praise should go, she knows that her life has been transformed and what better place to acknowledge your healing than in the community of faith?
Once only able to stare at the ground, only able to get an alternate view by straining her neck for some sideline sight, only able to look at her own feet or those of another and never see into their eyes, now she can see faces. Now she can see where she is going. Now she can see that God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
And while this celebration is bubbling over, while this spirit has been overturned, Satan can’t stand it and attacks in a particularly harmful way, through a leader, a teacher, a man of faith.
When we have been freed from our oppression, when we have found Jesus loosening the bonds that have been so stifling we want those around us to rejoice and celebrate. But often our freedom confuses them. Our freedom somehow sets them on edge.
We see this often in families of recovering addicts. Once the addict begins to take the steps to recover the rest of the family seems to fall apart. It’s not that they don’t want that addict to get better, it’s that they don’t know how to handle that person when they system they have built was built around that illness.
Conflict goes up and tensions can rise in families walking through the recovery process. When you realize that for true healing to take place, the whole system must change, there is often push back.
Here we have the leader pushing back against this change. And what does he attack? Not the fact that healing happened, not who was healed or how, but the timing of the thing.
There are 6 days to be healed, why today, the Sabbath? The Sabbath is an issue time and time again in Jesus’ ministry, especially in Luke. He has healed on the Sabbath before, that is not new. But this time he speaks no words saying “your faith has made you well.” In fact, her faith is not mentioned at all. Instead Jesus talks about the faith of the leader.
In one of the most scalding rebukes in the New Testament, Jesus calls him a hypocrite! I’m sure he was stunned by that accusation. But let’s unpack that for a second.
There are two reasons given in scripture for the Sabbath. One points to creation, that God rested the seventh day so we too should rest from our labors. The second is given in Deuteronomy 5:12-15.
“Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. For six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefor the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.”
If the Sabbath is about freedom, then how dare someone not be freed! She had been bound and now was loosed. As a daughter of Abraham doesn’t she have as much right to the release of bondage as an ox or donkey?
Jesus says that she is a part of the kingdom of God. The leader seems to think that she’s waited 18 years, what is one more? But Jesus’s actions say, she’s waited 18 years, why wait one day more?
The Sabbath is about honoring God. The concern about keeping the Sabbath is due to God’s concern for the health and well-being of God’s people. There is no better way to honor God on the day we set aside for worship then to follow Jesus in practicing God’s mercy and compassion, especially towards those suffering and in need.
On November 7, 1991, Earvin “Magic” Johnson held a news conference to announce he had tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. At the time, Johnson, was one of the biggest stars in basketball, having won five NBA championships with the Lakers and played in 11 All-Star games. At the time Johnson went public with his diagnosis, AIDS was highly stigmatized and considered a disease that affected only the gay community and drug addicts. Johnson’s announcement signaled to the public that heterosexuals were also at risk for the disease.
Despite not playing during the 1991-92 regular season, fans voted Johnson, a hugely popular point guard known for his passing skills and infectious smile, to the All-Star team representing the Western Conference. Prior to the All-Star game, some players, including Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz, expressed concerns that Johnson posed a health risk to other players. However, when Johnson stepped onto the court in Orlando on February 9, 1992, he was met with a standing ovation from fans and his friend and rival player Isiah Thomas kissed him. Johnson played a total of 29 minutes, during which he scored 25 points, made nine assists and helped the West beat the East, 153-113. As the game ended, players from both teams came onto the court and hugged Johnson, who was also named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
Reaching out to kiss Magic Johnson was not the expected action from Isaiah Thomas. Michael had expressed concerns that no one would want him on the court at all. And who could blame them. Yet this act of mercy, this touch, this seeing of Magic as a person and not a disease, allowed him to continue to participate in the game he loves.
In the scripture lesson Jesus steps out of what is expected to show God’s grace and mercy extends past the rules and regulations we have put in place. Jesus shows us the truth of the kingdom life, a life lived on the outside of our preconceived notions, our religious rules, our dos and do nots.
Jesus showed the people of his day and us that where Jesus is, the kingdom is. Where Jesus is things begin to be made right. His ministry provides a foretaste of the coming kingdom. In the reign of God, the world will be repaired. In the reign of God there will be no conflicts between what is good for one and what is good for all.[ii]
May it be so, my friends. May we all work toward a kingdom that loosens the bonds and sets captives free. Amen.