New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 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. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 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.” 15 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 to water? 16 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?” 17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame, and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things being done by him.
The buzz was everywhere in the village. There was going to be a guest preacher at this week’s Sabbath service. This wasn’t one of those substitutes whose name was chosen from the list of supply preachers to fill in for the week. This speaker was special. The teacher they had heard so much about – Jesus.
Everyone came for the service. The regulars, those on the fringes who came from time to time, and first-time visitors. It was a standing room only crowd.
And the woman came. We know little about her. Was she a regular attender, a fringe person who came on occasion, or a first-time visitor to the synagogue? Did she have family or friends? It seems that she was known by some others in the congregation who had seen her walking in the village. What was her financial status? Could she contribute to support the synagogue?
What we do know is that she had endured 18 years of sickness. She walked bent over, unable to straighten up. And that an evil spirit caused her ailment.
Why was she there on this day? The same question the synagogue leader, the rabbi, asked. Why today of all days is she here. He had enough on his plate already – welcome their guest, Jesus, take care of all the logistics for the service, and manage the crowd. He didn’t have time for her today.
The text brings us to this crossroad. The woman in need and the rabbi seeking to do his best. And in the midst of everything, Jesus.
Many of us can identify with the woman. We find ourselves bent over in one way or another with our own infirmities, issues, and difficulties. We, too, are tired of walking around with our head down trying to mask our problems.
There she was with her curved spine, crooked and crippled. Imagine her view of the world unable to see much but the ground in front of her and a little bit with her peripheral vision. Imagine her experience of living in the world. People treated her as an outcast. They looked at her with a wary eye or crossed the street to avoid her. And she knew how she was treated. She had a finely tuned ear so was aware of the movement around her and could hear the words people said. Yet all she wanted was someone to care about her, to love her for who she was.
It was difficult for the woman to go to the synagogue, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. She may never have went inside, instead lingering by the door or walking past. Why did she go there on this day? We don’t know, but God knew. This day was the one that changed her life. She encountered the Great Healer, Jesus.
The Sabbath was particularly important to the Jewish people. The day represented the 7th day when God rested after the work of creation. The ten commandments include remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy. Under Egyptian rule, the Sabbath was the one day of rest from the hard labor forced on them. It was a day of freedom, perhaps a foretelling of the Exodus. The day reminded them that they were still God’s people as they worshiped. The Sabbath was a day of rest to refocus on God and family.
By Jesus’ day, the rules for keeping the Sabbath were ingrained into the culture. The rabbi’s job was to ensure that the rules were followed. He was trained for this. It was included in his job description. The rabbi even wrote articles for the synagogue newsletter on how to keep the Sabbath. He would have supported blue laws – no shopping, no work, no distractions. Yet he, and those before him had lost sight of the purpose of the rules, the Law. The religious leaders had become more concerned with following the letter of the law, what was necessary to do to faithfully keep it, than the intent of the rules.
This is where Jesus enters into the scene. In front of him was the crippled woman who had endured years of pain, physical, emotional, and spiritual. She was unnoticed and unloved. And the rabbi seeking to do his job as he understood it, blinded to the purpose of his vocation and ministry.
Jesus changes everything. He heals the woman, breaking the traditional rules that stated the practice of medicine was illegal on the Sabbath. Although this action is important, it is not the key point in the passage. Rather, Jesus’ presence was larger than the picture the text paints. His presence wasn’t to chastise this one rabbi, but to address the group – all who were gathered in the synagogue on this day. Jesus was there to challenge the leaders and the people to look beyond the rules, regulations, traditions, and usual way of doing things. He was there to interpret God’s intention for life.
Sabbath-keeping is a mixed bag today. Sunday is rarely a day of rest to refocus on God. It’s difficult to find a few moments on any day, let alone Sunday. For many, this day is the only one they have off, so it is a day to get chores done and run errands. Even to catch up on some work and answer email. Keeping Sunday holy is rarely on our radar.
For Jesus, keeping the Sabbath was not the focus on that day or in his ministry as a whole. It didn’t matter to him whether people went shopping or did chores on the Sabbath. Jesus pointedly addressed the need and care for God’s creation. Providing food, caring for those in need, healing the afflicted. Doing all that brings life to creation.
The focus of Jesus message is life-giving. Asking the question, “What is it that brings life?” How is it that we are to be life-givers?
A community church has a ministry called “My Neighbor’s Ministries.” This program includes a clothes closet that also has business clothing to wear to job interviews and a food pantry – they have become the local distribution hub for their area – with a seasonal garden to provide fresh produce for needy families. There is also a program called Capacity Development that seeks to connect those in crisis with critical services and learning opportunities. They hold events to raise money to buy food and offer gift bags to families for special days and holidays. Their goal is to meet the needs of the whole person and their mission is “What would God do if he lived here?” The answer: give life through the healing of Christ and the love of Christ.
Let’s turn our gaze back to ourselves. If you are honest with yourself, do you identify with the crippled woman or the rabbi? What about you informs your choice? Deciding could be like one of those quizzes on Facebook that asks you to input information about yourself – first name, where you live, month you were born in, etc. – and then uses that info to tell you what job you should have or what your strengths are. Most likely, you have characteristics of both, but you lean towards one or the other.
Another way of looking at who you are is to ask yourself, “In what ways does this passage touch you?” Are you one in need of healing? Are you one who wants to do the right thing? Most of us would say that both are true. Finding the balance between them is important to discovering what is life-giving for you.
Life-giving is the theme of Jesus’ message. Life-giving for yourself and life-giving for others.
The purpose of the church is also to be life-giving. To give life to the faith community and to give life to those in our neighborhood and beyond. To make the crooked straight.
Let’s take a look at our own church, Living Hope Presbyterian. What would help make the crooked straight for us? Caring for one another and building relationships with others in the congregation, especially those we don’t know very well – those who weren’t part of the previous church you are from or are new to the congregation. Letting go of fear that holds us back. Willing to step out of the crowd when Jesus calls. Openness to the movement of the Spirit of God in our midst.
Reviewing the ideas, rituals, and traditions that may have brought life in the past but are holding us back or crippling us now is a key step in the process of making the crooked straight. Many of these may have brought life in the past but are no longer life-giving for us today.
Taking an honest look at the assumptions we hold on to:
· We are a small church so we can’t do as much or give as much as we used to
· We are too old
· We need more children and a vibrant Sunday school (like it used to be) to become a larger congregation again
· Wondering why Tiny Stars families don’t come to church
· We need a youth ministry to attract the young people like those who wait for the bus in the morning in front of the church
Often, we hold on to what we think are failures (holding on to successes is difficult):
· There aren’t that many in worship
· Our congregation is aging
· Activities, programs, and events we no longer do/have such as a rummage sale, Wee Care, an overflowing Sunday school, many fellowship events, and Saturday lunches for the needy
The reality is we aren’t the same churches we were before. We are a now a unified church. We have or need to cast off the old ideas of what church is that are no longer life-giving. The practices, relationships, and programs. To let go of the fear, anger, grief, and hindrances that get in the way of being and becoming the church God wants us to be.
Doing so requires us to turn our eyes to Jesus. To look outside ourselves and our church to those who are hurting, crippled, and crooked. Those who need the touch of Jesus’ healing and love, and to touch them like he touched the woman to heal her.
We are a church with a future. You, both our in person and online congregations, have stayed when you could have left or given up when our churches merged or programs that were important to you disappeared.
Our church, Living Hope, is being remade in Christ’s image. We are hopeful and empowered by the Holy Spirit to be life givers so we can share and live the love of Jesus in our world.