10Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11And 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. 12When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14But 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.” 15But 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? 16And 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?” 17When 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.
We know very little about the woman who was healed in our text today. The text is silent on the question of why was she healed and others weren’t. We don’t know why she bore the pain and humiliation of a bent back. Perhaps modern physiologists might be able to give a diagnoses, you know, now that we know SO much about human beings. Perhaps the source of her crippled physique was chiropractic in nature, perhaps a lack of calcium. Medically there’s only conjecture on our side of the 2,000 years that separate us from her.
None of us may have ever experienced the spinal reality of such a thing but The infirmity of the woman who was healed in our text for today seems spiritually familiar doesn’t it? Because her collapsed posture is the physical representation of being se encurvatus en se…, the self curved in on the self which, incidentally, is Luther’s definition of sin. Myopically unconcerned for anything but the self and having no thought for God or the neighbor. In other words, bent in a manner in which we see nothing but our own feet. We can come by it naturally – embodying the messages we receive from society and our families and our selves – that we are not thin enough, smart enough, rich enough, like our sister enough, or enough enough. This can just bend us in. Then add to it our cultural obsession with the self and the notion that we are our own Gods and the result is a deformity of identity. One particularly insidious example being our inability to forgive ourselves for not being God. For not being God! For making mistakes and getting things wrong and not hitting the mark. Hard to say which is worse – trying to be God for myself, or punishing myself for not managing to do something that isn’t actually possible in the first place.. What bends us over so that we see only self are the voices from inside or outside that try to overpower the sound of God naming us as God’s own.
It’s hard to say what it was like for her that day when everything changed. We think of this text in Luke as a healing narrative but really it was nothing less than an exorcism. Well, that and another opportunity for Jesus to pick a fight with the nice religious folks since all of this happened on the Sabbath. In all fairness the leaders of the synagogue were just doing their job when they said to the crowds that it was the Sabbath day of rest and not a time for healings. But see, Jesus does not violate the Sabbath by healing her. He fulfills it. By healing her he actually does Sabbath TO her. He physically embodies in her what Sabbath is, namely a time for putting aside our handiwork so that we might witness the handiwork of God. She is passive, in the midst of the faithful where she is restored to an upright position, no longer turned in on herself and is named as a Child of God’s promises. That sounds pretty sabbathy to me.
After she is seen, touched, and healed by Christ, she is named by him as a daughter of Abraham and restored to the dignity and wholeness of being a child of the promise. You know, this is the only place in the Bible where the term daughter of Abraham appears. Here Jesus places her in the history of God’s promises. And the promise to which she has claim...the promise to Abraham was not that his children and children’s children would be super rich and important and fabulous…the promise to Abraham was that his descendants would be a blessing to all nations. The good news for Abraham had little do with himself and had a lot to do with God’s love for the whole world.
So this daughter of Abraham is blessed to be a blessing. She encounters the Christ and For the first time in 18 years stands upright and praises God not because she got what she wanted but because praise is simply the consequence of wholeness.
Here’s where we finally learn what the purpose of her healing was. The purpose of her healing is not fulfilled when she stands up straight and it’s not fulfilled when she is named and it’s not fulfilled when she praises God. The healing is completed when the community witnesses new life in their midst and rejoices. In other words, her healing from God had less to do with her and more to do with God’s love for the whole world.
Having seen God’s mercy in the upright body of this daughter of Abraham, the community rejoices for having God in their midst. Right there in the mess of their broken lives and fractured hopes and crippled bodies. Right there in the midst of the hypocrites and religious legalists. There is where God shows up.
It’s the same for you actually. Your encounter with God’s grace has a purpose. Your being freed from the tyranny of self has a purpose. Your being acted upon by God…being made whole has a purpose: and it’s not so that you can collect higher self-esteem and a sense of well-being in order to Spiritually feather your nest. God does all of this for the good of your neighbor. It’s always been like that with God. You know why God gave us the 10 commandments? Because God demands obedience? So that you will be happy? nope. Because God loves your neighbor and would prefer you not steal from them or sleep with their husbands.
Having been restored by God, having been healed of being bent in on herself, this daughter of Abraham then bore Christ into her community. So if you too have been freed from bondage, if you have been shown selfless love, raised from the dead, restored to wholeness it is for the benefit of the community. Don’t keep it to yourself. Because like the bent woman, you really are blessed to be a blessing.
This week I asked you to email me examples of where God is healing you where you feel free and where you still feel bound. So, as an experience of doing Sabbath to each other hear now where God is at work.
(Stuart) God has given me freedom from caring what people think about me... For many years I was stifled in my life because of my inability to do anything without a concern for what other might think. What other people think (as they judge me and put me down) doesn't matter... I know more than ever God loves me as I am.
(Jim) I feel healed from fear and judgment but I still have a ways to go
I feel healing in the ways I view myself and the ways in which I used to judge people. I still can often feel crippled, though, by the way I was raised -- the small, narrow mindset and the limitations and fear.
I feel freedom and bondage often in the same places. When I am
freed, healed, and acted upon by God, the first thing I am tempted to
do is to return to the sites of bondage, crippling and brokenness to
"do it right" now that I am "fixed”
(Mary) I tend to see God freeing me, healing me, and acting in my life precisely where I feel bound, crippled, and broken. They’re not really different areas for me, I guess.
And it’s all got to do with intimacy with God and others… How to live deeply from my heart in relation to God and others without freaking out, peeing my pants, or running away.
(Richard) God is freeing me from self-doubt; slowly. As I increase in faith, I seem to decrease in self-doubt but not necessarily theological doubt (if that contradiction can be reconciled let me know)
I am still bound by addictions of ego, which are harder to shed. The desire to be important is a hard one to shake and seems to be a fellow traveler to self-doubt. God is healing me in my ability to experience and give love. To trust in love and risk love. freeing me (gradually) from worrying about what everyone else thinks, and being more bold and courageous about what is important and loving and good - things I need to stand up for.
(Aram) I think I experience God most IN the brokenness - when I'm honest and real. Its the areas where I think I'm strong where I'm tempted towards atheism.
(Megham) Intellecutally, I believe in grace and therefore in the radical idea that mistakes are okay and we have to act on our best understanding in a given moment. But I still bind myself by not permitting mistakes. So, where God has freed me, I bind myself. Grace vs. perfectionism.
God's loving presence carried me through a dark time and has taught me that God calls us into community.