25 August 2019 (Jane Walker)
9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.
13 If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
if you call the sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honourable;
if you honour it, not going your own ways,
serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;
14 then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
1 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name.
2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and do not forget all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the Pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5 who satisfies you with good as long as you live
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
6 The Lord works vindication
and justice for all who are oppressed.
7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
18 You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, 19and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. 20(For they could not endure the order that was given, ‘If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.’21Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear.’) 22But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.25 See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! 26At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.’ 27This phrase ‘Yet once more’ indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. 28Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe;29for indeed our God is a consuming fire.
10 Now 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.
Have you ever walked in late on a lecture or presentation? I was at a meeting a few days ago when the main speaker was well in to her address as a number of a late arrivals scurried in, heads down, deliberately making themselves smaller in the hope she wouldn’t notice them and cast a critical glance in their direction, or worse. For I’ve known a few speakers and teachers who have compounded the embarrassment of late arrivals by cruelly highlighting their tardiness!
So, I can’t help wondering, as I re-read today’s gospel passage, whether it was because the crippled woman arrived late to the synagogue that Jesus noticed her? Luke tells us that Jesus was teaching and that “just then there appeared“ the woman who was bent over and quite unable to stand up straight. Surely, she would not have been that noticeable in a crowd? Bent and hunched over as she was. Surely easy to miss?
Was the synagogue not busy? No, that can’t be it, because at the end of the passage we’re told that it was a “crowd” which was rejoicing at the things Jesus was doing.
So was it because she was late that Jesus noticed her? If so, there were no cruel or caustic words from him. No, on the contrary, she was singled out for healing, despite not having actively sought it. Unlike other such stories we’re not told that she deliberately presented herself to be healed nor pleaded for the same. So, was she simply there to listen to Jesus’ teaching? Was it her openness and willingness to be transformed by the Word that he detected?
I wonder how she felt initially when he called her over? Afraid? Embarrassed? Her faith seems strong - she trusted his words standing straight up immediately. No tentative, uncertain, slow rising for her. And praise of God is her immediate response. Not an explicit “thank you“ to Jesus. Perhaps that’s what Jesus noted in her, that she knew who He really was?!
She had been crippled for 18 years. In the Bible the number 18 is known by many scholars as a symbol of slavery or bondage. For instance, in the book of Judges (3:14) we’re told the Israelites served King Eglon of Moab for 18 years and that for 18 years they were oppressed by the Ammonites (10:8). Furthermore, Joseph was in his 18thyear when he was sold into slavery in Egypt.
Jesus speaks explicitly of setting the woman “free” from her ailment and the spirit which oppressed her.
The woman, who seems to have been there just to hear Jesus speak, was accustomed to being crippled and would have to adapt to her new posture, which presumably might have been a little painful and uncomfortable at first. I wonder if, after the initial ecstasy of her transformation had passed, she was just a little bit afraid of her new-found form and freedom?
For, in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “with freedom comes responsibility”. “Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being and… can be a frightening prospect.”
And, of course, her healing, taking place on the sabbath, caused quite a stir. She found herself at the centre of a row. The leader of the synagogue (one of those who sly complainers who airs their grievances to others rather than addressing directly the person they criticise) insists that people should only come to be cured on other days of the week. I wonder how the woman felt when he said that, given she had not even asked to be healed?!
The synagogue leader is quickly put in his place by Jesus. Jesus shames his hypocrisy in the presence of the crowd, an act which causes much rejoicing amongst the people.
This account of the healing of the crippled or bent woman, immediately precedes the parables of the mustard seed and the yeast, both parables about the kingdom of God. It is an episode which reveals that kingdom to be one where every human being is afforded dignity and respect. Jesus calling the woman “daughter of Abraham” testifies to that. In healing the woman Jesus is defeating Satan and the spirit which cripples her and is reinstating God’s rule on earth. There is no day of the week when that task of defeating Evil should be shirked.
Jesus didn’t worry about offending the religious authorities of his time.
The short passage ends somewhat abruptly. I wonder what did the woman do afterwards? What did she do with her new-found health, her unanticipated, unasked for freedom? How did she use this glorious, unsolicited gift which she had received from Jesus? Did she use that freedom responsibly?
There may be times when you too, like me and countless others, have been touched by the unexpected grace of God, when you have received more than you bargained for, when you’ve been liberated from some physical or mental affliction, when you’ve suddenly been able to stand tall again, unencumbered.
It is Christ that frees us from the tyranny of all slaveries, whether external or self- imposed. In Christ we are freed to rise up and rejoice.
But I think we need constantly to ask ourselves, are we still standing tall? How are we using the freedom we’ve been given? And how are we in our homes, in our places of work, in our local communities and in the wider world which we inhabit, exercising both the freedom and the responsibility that God has given us?
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Richard Young (Rector)