BENT WOMAN/SPIRIT INFIRMITY
Luke 13: 10-17
This morning’s gospel reading from Luke 13 is another example of Luke’s interest in Jesus’ healing ministry. Because Luke was a physician he was interested not only in the fact that Jesus healed many people, but also in the many details about how these healings occurred. From Luke we learn that Jesus‘ healing ministry was not a ‘one size fits all’. Rather, Jesus was attentive to the individual, and healed according to the person’s need. Luke records examples of Jesus healing by a word, by a command, and by touch. Jesus healed people who had illness of the body, of the mind, and of the spirit. The one common denominator was that Jesus saw them as they truly were, beloved children of God, and he called them into that reality with his loving actions toward them.
The setting for today’s gospel reading is a Sabbath day in a synagogue. Jesus had been teaching there, probably giving a ‘drash’ or commentary on the Torah readings set for that day. A woman appeared, a woman who had been bent over and crippled for eighteen years. In Judaism many numbers have special meanings. 18 is considered to be a very lucky number and to this day Jewish people will give gifts of money in multiples of 18. It was a lucky day for the woman that Jesus was there in the synagogue.
The woman did not approach Jesus, but rather, when Jesus saw her, he was moved with compassion and decided to heal her. Jesus did not require faith on the part of the woman or from friends bringing her to him. His action towards her was totally self motivated in response to his seeing her. He called her over and spoke to her directly, “Woman, you have been loosed from your infirmity”. As he spoke, Jesus put both his hands on her. The woman, in response to Jesus word and touch, straightened up and glorified God.
One would expect the next line of the text to add that all those around the woman were amazed and gave thanks to God for her healing. Sadly, that was not the case. Instead, Luke records the response of the ruler of the synagogue as being not joy but anger. He was angry that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath which was to be a day of rest, not work. This official’s reaction lacked compassion for the woman and thankfulness for God’s good action. He was concerned about keeping rules and regulations rather than about people and their needs.
He tried to get the crowd on his side by saying that there are six days for working and that people should come then for healing, not on the Sabbath. Jesus knew his scripture and answered back that on the Sabbath it is permissible to untie an ox or donkey and lead it to water. Therefore, it should be permissible to lose the woman, who is a daughter of Abraham, from what tied her down and to heal her. Jesus’ compassionate reply put his opponent to shame. Then what should have happened at the outset, bubbled up from the crowd and the synagogue was filled with the sound of rejoicing at all that Jesus was doing.
Once again Jesus had gotten into a controversy about his behavior on the Sabbath. He was accused of breaking a regulation about the Sabbath which was permitted to be done only if there was a danger of immanent death. Jesus pointed out that since caring for one’s animals on the Sabbath was allowed, it was inconsistent to show more concern for animals’ well being than for human needs. Jesus added that Satan had bound the woman for 18 years and that just as animals are loosened from their bonds on the Sabbath to drink, it is appropriate for this woman to be loosened from the bonds in which Satan held her, on the Sabbath Day.
Let us return for a minute to the Jewish concept of meaning embedded in numbers. Each letter of the alphabet is represented by a numerical value. The letters of three Hebrew words that are significant for this passage all add up to 18, the words for beloved, sin, and life. It was indeed a lucky day for the woman for Jesus regarded her as beloved of God and loosed her from the Kingdom of evil and sin to bring her to a place of new life.
Here Jesus provides us with a model. The work of freeing people from bondage, whatever that bondage might be, should go on 7 days a week. This healing is an example of the new Kingdom of Heaven that breaks up the power of Satan’s kingdom of darkness and pain. It is appropriate for this “work” to occur on the Sabbath because the Sabbath was given as a weekly release from the bondage of daily labour that sustained them physically. Jesus’ many acts of healing on the Sabbath function as a foretaste of living in God’s Kingdom.
The woman has returned to a place of freedom in the Kingdom. No longer is she always looking down. She can look up and see the sky and she can see what is straight in front of her without danger of bumping into things. This change in her physical stature will have a ripple effect and result in positive changes in many areas of her life. She will be able to carry out her daily household tasks with much greater ease. She will be able to look at people’s faces as she talks with her family and neighbours. She will be able to hold children on her lap. In other words she will be released from bondage in her entire social network. She will be living in God’s kingdom. It is interesting to note that the passage immediately following is Jesus’ description of the Kingdom of God as a mustard seed and as yeast in a batch of dough. The healing of this one woman can function as a catalyst for belief in Jesus as God’s Messiah in the whole community.
As I said earlier, Jesus’ healing ministry was not a ‘one size fits all ‘endeavor. In the case of this bent over woman he employed word and touch.
The use of a word to call something into being is reminiscent of the description of God creating the world in Genesis chapter one. “God said, let there be light and there was light” etc. Jesus’ use of words to call the bent over woman into straightness , reminds us that Jesus is truly God, and like God at creation he can call a person into being a new creation by his word. The text tells us that Jesus also used touch. He laid both his hands on her and she stood up straight. Touch is a very human action and reminds us that Jesus is also truly human, like us.
Jesus understood the value of touch as a way of communicating loving intention and he often used touch when healing people. He touched all sorts of people including lepers, the dead, and woman, people whom a Jewish male in his culture was not supposed to touch, if he wanted to remain ritually clean. Yet Jesus did touch them because he was concerned more about the needs of individual people than about keeping the ritual laws of his culture. He did not allow societal pressure to dictate what he would do or not do. He remained true to God’s initial description of humankind at creation as ”very good” and he reached out in compassion and loving touch to restore those downtrodden by illness to a new wholeness in God’s Kingdom.
When Jesus sent out his 12 main disciples and then later the 70, he gave them the commission to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal. As 21st century believers we have the same commission.
When I was a teenager growing up in the church here in Thunder Bay in the late fifties and early sixties I often felt bewildered when we read in church the stories of Jesus’ healing people, but did not talk about healing happening in our own day. Thankfully that omission has been rectified, thanks largely to the ministry of the Order of St Luke in the worldwide Anglican Communion as well as in other denominations.
In the past 40 years Anglicans such as John Gayner Banks, Agnes Sanford, Miriam Dobell and Francis McNutt have done much to make the healing ministry accessible to the average congregation through their many books and by speaking at retreats, healing missions and conferences. Medical doctors such as William Reed, and Stanley H. Tyler as well as members of the Association of Christian Therapists have encouraged Christian health care providers to include prayers for their patients as part of their treatment programmes. Four years ago Dr. Jouni Kraft, husband of our own Archdeacon Deborah, after a month long struggle with a pancreatic illness, came back from the brink of death after an all night prayer vigil at the church. Yes, Jesus does heal in the 21st century, just as he did when he walked the earth.
I would like to close with this prayer from the Order of St. Luke. Take a moment to quiet your mind and to center yourself on Jesus presence with us. Let us pray.
Prayer for the Presence of Christ
O Living Christ, make us conscious now of thy Healing nearness.
Touch our eyes that we may see Thee;
Open our ears that we may hear thy voice;
Enter our hearts that we may know thy love;
Overshadow our souls and bodies with thy
Presence that we may partake of thy
Strength, Thy love and thy Healing Life. Amen.