Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But 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.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 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.(Luke 13: 10-17, NRSV)
Can you picture, this woman has been bent over for eighteen years. The days grow long, walking—slowly. Walking, looking down and her worn feet. Try walking in these shoes for eighteen long years. What do you see through these eyes?
Literally, what does a mile in these shoes look like? Bent, I see the dusty road. I see my calloused feet tired and worn. The path by now has become routine. I am resigned at this point to my ailment. After eighteen years—I honestly don’t think about my ailment anymore. In fact, I don’t think much about the future? That’s what bondage does. Others can see a horizon. Others who see the sunsetting in the evening, wake up to see the sun rise again. When you can see the panaromic picture, there is hope. I see one step and then another.
It was a struggle to see a face when speaking to another. At least there was the protection of not seeing the look of pity from others. Leaning on her cane temporarily eased the strain of the burdens. What was it like being alone, with daily realities of needing to carry water a great distance? Imagine, the stigma, the alienation.
Yet I think about the perseverance—the strength to still go to the synagogue. I quite frankly have to pause to think about this? In so many ways, we see resignation after eighteen years—but there she is this morning, in church. Bent over, unable to see further than the next step.
We don’t hear in this story a group friends supporting her, supporting her by advocating this morning for this great healer to make her well. Unlike other healing stories, we don’t her crying out for herself. After eighteen years, she doesn’t ask for healing, she doesn’t reach out for the hem of his garment, she is not climbing a tree, or being lowered through a roof. She is there, present and yet alone. Resigned after eighteen long years, alone, she is bent out of shape.
This is the magnificence—the beauty of this story. For she is not alone. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over. He sought her saying, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” He lays his hands on her, and immediately she stands up straight praising God.
Friends, this is grace. We hear about grace, sing about grace, we speak about grace, but if you are like me, struggle with the realities of grace. I struggle asking, am I worthy to receive grace? The ugliest side of me hides the thoughts I place on others when my own thoughts are bent out of shape. When the judgment itself does not have the courtesy to even ask if the other is worthy.
When he laid his hands on the bent over woman, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue was indignant.
The leader was indignant, why? Because Jesus healed on the Sabbath. Imagine? Maybe it is harder today in our busy lives, as we have become mercenaries to our work, our schedules, and productivity. But Sabbath keeping was important. So this leader calls him out. Repeatedly, he is saying, “Why couldn’t she wait for another day!” There are six other days she could be healed. She has been bound for eighteen years, what is another day. How dare your inconvenience our worship, our ritual, by healing this bent over woman?
Who has the ailment? Who is the one truly bent out of shape? And where does Jesus stand? In the tension between the leader of the synagogue and this crippled woman, where does Jesus stand?
I share with you the story of a church where worship was just underway. Kind of like this morning, as we begin with a welcome. A welcome that shares the words of hospitality to welcome the newcomer. As if it is not hard enough to be a visitor, imagine this Sunday morning after all are seated, and a homeless man enters. There was a stir as he slowly proceeded in. Looking for a place to sit, the aisle seats were full. Still looking for a place to sit, he continues forward. One was thinking, I hope the usher does something? Others held their loved ones hand next to them a little tighter. As the homeless man now reaches the front of the church, no one moves over to make room. For years, this man has become used to this. He has become resigned that he doesn’t even think much about it as he makes a seat for himself in the front on the floor. As he sat, the head elder serving as usher began walking down the aisle. There was a sigh of relief. The elder was going to do something about this bent over homeless man—ask him to leave.
As the head elder reaches the front of the church, he begins to bend over himself. He is going to ask him to leave. But no, something profound happens. Instead, he sits down. Right next to the homeless man, he joins him. Jesus shows up—you are set free from your ailment? Right here, we meet Jesus.
In the healing of the bent over woman, we met Jesus. We see grace and the truth about who God is. We share in the foretaste of what God is doing in the world. We find Jesus as not the leader that cries out, but the one who sits with. In our Scripture, as we first meet Jesus, we know him as the name Emmanuel, meaning “God with us.” And Jesus is God fully, up close and personal welcoming, healing all who are bent. As we struggle with this radically inclusive message, one of the things we learn up close as Jesus sits with us is that God is merciful.
Where are you struggling? Where are you bent out of shape? Alone-Jesus is with us. In all of our hurts, fears, anxieties, and times that we are bent, Jesus cries out and lays his hands on us. We are all on different places on this road. For this woman, it was eighteen long years. Jesus is here, and in Jesus who knows better than any of us what it is to be bound, also knows that even in life’s hardest challenges, God is with us. We are here, and Jesus lays his hands on us. In Christ, you are set free. In Christ, may we stand up straight and give all praise and glory to God.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen