Meditation on Luke 13:10–17
The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton
August 25, 2019
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 away to give it 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 that he was doing.
My week started out pretty ordinary. On Monday, I did homework, housework, and a little yard work, just before dark. I hooked a plastic sprayer to my hose and sprayed thousands of beneficial nematodes on my yard. Have you ever done that? I had read an article about how they attack and kill white grubs. I thought it was worth a try.
My battle with grubs started when I saw dirt mounds appearing in my backyard a few weeks ago. I posted a picture on Facebook, asking what they were. Almost immediately, I got my answer. Moles! Friends offered all sorts of advice, including treating our yard for grubs, which moles evidently find delicious. If you don’t have grubs, the moles, I am told, will pack up and move on—maybe to your neighbor’s yard, if they’ve got grubs.
“If it’s moles,” said one friend, “get a 5 gallon bucket and turn it upside down over their run with a mousetrap under it baited with worms. They will come up as long as it’s dark and it will catch them just like mice.” Another friend said, “You can pour a solution of Dawn dish detergent, chili powder, and hot sauce mixed with a quart of water down the hole to chase them away.” Another said, “Get an outside cat.” That sounded like a good idea! Still another said her son kept a mole as a pet. Now, there’s an option-name and tame your mole! The funniest comment, though, was this from one of our near neighbors. “We’ve struggled with moles for years,” she said, “and we contacted an expert who said, ‘You know what works on moles?’ I said, ‘Tell me!’ and he replied, ‘Nothing.’ We have treated for grubs and tried a number of other remedies,” she went on. ‘No luck. Hope you have a better outcome!’”
Our gospel reading in Luke addresses a much more serious problem than moles or grubs. Luke stirs us to see the world, with God’s help, through a divine perspective, without allowing traditions of our faith, and long-held, comfortable misunderstandings of God’s Word lead us on the wrong path. The trouble starts when we interpret Scripture without love and the Spirit’s illumination, without faith in the God of grace. Scripture is sometimes used as a weapon to hurt people, with whom we disagree or dislike. We see this happen in this world—Scripture being used for hurt or political gain, instead of help, love and God’s glory. And, not surprisingly, it often happened in the world in which Jesus lived.
Today’s Scripture urges us to care about what is most important to the Lord—people, especially those who are suffering or otherwise needy. The characters and setting are important. A woman has been bent over, unable to stand up straight for 18 years. The community is gathered for worship in a synagogue on the Lord’s Day, on the Sabbath. Jesus is teaching, and we can guess the general message. For he tells the crowds who had followed him from Capernaum to a deserted place in Luke 4:43, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities, also, for I was sent for this purpose.”
In today’s reading in Luke 13, as he shares the good news of the kingdom, he suddenly calls out to a lady in the congregation, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment or weakness,” as some translations say. What a powerful way to share the good news of the kingdom, with a demonstration of healing! Christ has chosen an unnamed woman out of a whole host of people who very likely need healing, too. Notice that he uses the language of liberation! Being “set free,” rather than being “healed” of a sickness or disease!
In verse l1, we find the true source of her ailment or weakness. It’s not sin; as ancient people believed was the cause of certain illnesses or conditions. The author of Luke, thought to be a physician, says the woman has a spiritual problem. “She had a ‘spirit,’” he says in verse 11, “or a spirit of weakness,” in some translations, “that had crippled her for 18 years.”
The bent woman has come expectantly to worship, though it must have been hard to get there, if she is bent over and in pain. She has come to hear the Word of God preached by the One who has been healing, teaching, and casting out demons in synagogues throughout Judea, as he said he would do. In Luke 4, preaching in Nazareth, he says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.”
He has chosen this place—the synagogue—and this day—the sabbath. For God wants us to know that healing and caring for the poor and needy is a holy service, an act of worship and not just a good work. And that the Lord’s House is a place not for greed, politics, and division and turning a blind eye to injustice; the Lord’s House is a place for the empty to be filled, for the broken and wounded to draw near, to experience God’s presence and healing touch; a place for God’s people to be made whole.
Jesus wants to address a spiritual problem in the faith community, not just in a bent woman. The religious leaders are indignant at what Jesus has done—angry that he is healing at all, let alone on the sabbath. So they are legalistically approaching God’s gift of holy rest to humanity to justify their cruelty and neglect of the poor and needy and reject the goodness of the Lord in their midst. The synagogue leader tries to hold back the crowd from approaching Jesus, who has interrupted the routine of the Sabbath service. That’s what happens when the Lord shows up on the Lord’s Day and starts healing and casting out demons.
“You hypocrites,” Jesus says, cutting to the root of the problem: sin. You untie and water your ox and donkey on the sabbath. “Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan bound for 18 long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” In other words, “Isn’t this woman more valuable than a donkey or ox?”
The woman’s mere presence at the service reveals her hope that maybe today will be the day that her suffering and struggle will end. Maybe today will be the day for miracles! But the woman doesn’t ask to be healed or speak to Jesus at all. She knows her place. The spirit inside her doesn’t call out to Jesus or challenge him like the demon-possessed man in the synagogue in Capernaum in Luke 4:33, who cries out, “Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God!”
Jesus has chosen this woman for healing, just as he chose the unnamed man with a withered hand in the synagogue in chapter 6. He doesn’t wait for them to come to him. He goes to them. Jesus lays hands on the bent woman; immediately, she stands up straight, praising God, her healer!
Christ’s opponents are put to shame. Their anger and resentment grow. How could this uneducated Nazarene touch and heal nameless, voiceless nobodies—the poor, marginalized, outcast and spirit possessed—and a woman, at that!—as if she has an important role in modeling a faithful life? As if she matters in the kingdom of God? The crowd rejoices in all the wonderful things that Christ is doing.
In a few moments, you will be invited to come forward for anointing and prayer for healing. You who are hurting in body, mind, heart, or soul, today may be the day for your miracle, like it was for the bent woman in the synagogue! You who simply need strength and joy for your journey of faith, come.
Monday seems like such a long time ago, when I was making proverbial mountains out of mole hills. By Wednesday, the week was no longer ordinary. I didn’t care about grubs or moles. Mom called at 1:30 a.m. to tell me that my Dad had passed. “He looks so peaceful,” she said, feeling his skin still warm to the touch. “But I just miss him.” He had suffered for many years with serious health problems. Now he was at peace and rest. We mourn our loss of a good man, a loving husband, father, and grandfather, a gentle and compassionate person, who always had time to talk when we called or visited, to listen to our stories and problems, as if his family were the most important people in his world. And we were.
He never gave up hope that he would get better. When I visited a month ago, he was still trying to pack up his stuff and go home with Mom—the cards we gave him, the peanut butter cookies Mom had made, old photographs in frames. But instead, he went home to be with the Lord.
In our sadness, we still praise God our comforter and healer. For my Dad was touched by the divine: healed and made whole for the world to come. The time, the place—it was all God ordained, that he would drift off to sleep two days before his 85th birthday—and wake up in the heavenly kingdom.
I can imagine him sitting at the feast at the banquet of the Lamb, with the angels and all the saints, whose sins, by God’s grace through faith, have been washed away. No more wounds of body, mind, heart, or soul. Liberated from walker and wheelchair, standing straight and tall, Dad is singing God’s praise!
Let us pray.
Holy One, forgive us for when we have used your Scripture in ways that have hurt and fostered division, rather than helped and brought unity. Forgive us when we have sought to preserve human traditions and allowed injustice and oppression, rather than interpret your Word through the lens of your love and be moved to change ourselves and make the world a better place. We are grateful for Jesus, Your Son, whom you sent when we were perishing in our sins, and for your Spirit that lives with us now. Heal the sick, Lord. Take our pain and sadness. Mend our broken hearts. Make us whole and reconciled. Give us faith to see your heavenly Kingdom. And where vision fails, help us to trust in your love that never fails. Amen.