By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
Luke 13:10–17 (ESV)
Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.
What is the point of the Christian life? It might seem like an odd question. But I really want you to think about it. Is all of this just so we can go to heaven when we take that journey beyond the veil or is there something more? Because of my particular calling in life, I think about these things more than most people. I remember once while I in theology class my professor posed the question, “If Jesus died of a heart attack would we saved?” and the follow up question was, “What if Jesus was still in the tomb?”
These sorts of questions kind of make us uncomfortable, but they are important. There are several points of view to these questions and how we answer those questions will actually dictate how we live our lives today. If we make an attempt to answer the question if Jesus died of a heart attach would we still be saved, from my point of view the answer is yes. I say that because I believe that Jesus provided the way of salvation because he took on a human life and lived the perfect life for us, because his life was lived for us how he died did not matter because he lived. That is one view, others will take a different view and their view has value. The shedding of blood points to something and makes a greater impact so the cross has great value,
Now for the question, of what if Jesus was still in the tomb? Would his life and death provide hope? This I believe is a greater question than even how Jesus died, because how we answer this question really affects our lives today. If salvation is through the cross only, then we would be saved even if Jesus did not raise from the grave, but there is no change and no hope. Without the ressurection we remain in the tomb. There is no victory over our struggles, and we just have to cope with whatever life gives us. There is no opportunity for a different life, a better life. When I went to Ukraine with Campus Crusade for Christ we were trained to present the 4 spiritual laws. These laws are wonderful and I agree with those laws completely. But often we get stuck on one aspect of the Gospel. Jesus came to live among us, to take on humanity for us. He showed us a way of life that would encourage a deeper relationship with God and those around us. He suffered with and for us, he knows what it is like to struggle and to feel pain of various kinds. He even knows intimately the pain of death.
If we focus on only the cross our focus remains on the pain. We live in the struggle, we say things like this is my cross to bear. Yes, that is a cross to bear. Yes you will struggle. Yes life hurts. But there is something beyond the struggle. There is something on the other side of our pain. The life, death and resurrection of Christ give us hope that we can have life, not just life but life to the full.
Today we meet Jesus on a day he made it his custom to spend in worship. He joins with the rest of the Jewish community at their synagogue. I often speak of the struggle that Jesus had with the religious leaders of his day, I speak of how he challenged their interpretations of scripture, but Jesus did not oppose worship. He might disagree with someone in the leadership, he might even oppose the direction leaders are taking people. But Jesus did not leave the worshiping community. He made it his custom to worship with the community. There are many reasons that the discipline of attending a meeting for worship regularly is important. The greatest reason is because it is in worship where we as a community can practice loving God and others.
Jesus goes to the place of worship and he is teaching there. This is important. It is often hard for us to imagine what the first century synagogue was like because our understanding of worship is what we have experienced ourselves. Their worship space was different. The greatest difference would be that the main sanctuary would have been filled with men only. The women of the community were there but they were in a different section of the worship space. They could hear what was going on, but were not direct participants. Jesus was teaching among the community, surrounded by men, and he sees a woman enter. The woman had struggled with a disabling spirit, which was so severe that she was stooped and unable to stand straight for eighteen years. I appriciate the fact that Luke tells us how long the disease persisted, because it allows us to recognize just how much this disorder had effected her life. If we consider the average life expectancy of women in the first century was around thirty-five years. Of course this does not mean that thirty-five years is old, it simply means that to live over ten years in the first century was amazing, and for a woman to survive giving birth was equally amazing. To live eighteen years with a disability, shows that this woman struggled. We know for sure that she survived childhood since she is at a minimum of eighteen, but it also tells us that she spent the majority of her life disabled. Everyone knew how long she suffered, they knew enough to be able to tell Luke.
This woman enters while Jesus is there teaching. She enters the women’s worship area, which is either an area seperated in the back of the sanctuary, divided by some sort of screen, or possibly in a balcony. She enters and Jesus sees her. The entire worship area is built to minimize the distraction of the genders, yet Jesus sees her. He sees her and he calls her over. He asks her to come, to cross the veil of separation and stand with him. I want us to allow that image to fully formulate in our minds.
He calls her to himself. He speaks to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” Then he touches her and she straightens up. I want us to picture this completely. Jesus called her into a place she was not accustomed to be, and she is a disabled woman. There is always insecurity that surrounds a disability. I have been partially deaf my entire life, I struggle with remembering names of people because I simply do not hear the sounds clearly. I struggle in conversations in a room of people because I cannot hear what people are saying. This causes me to often stand away from others. In a crowd I’m often on the fringe and I think to myself if someone wants to talk they will come to me. I have found that I am considered shy because of this, or worse cold and anti social, the reality is that it takes a great deal of work for me to have a conversation. And I know I will miss something, and I do not want to be foolish so I stand to the side. She has suffered for eighteen years, stooped, unable to look people in the eye, and Jesus has called her to the place of meeting to him. She is standing there with every eye looking at her, in the men’s sanctuary, and Jesus is talking to her. He stoops to her eye level, and while looking in her eyes he speaks. He tenderly places his hands on her and while maintaining eye contact he begins to straighten, and she does the same. Imagine seeing this before your eyes. Someone you know and have known for years being called before you and in a moment healed.
What would your response be? This goes back to the perspectives and answers to the questions we mentioned before. We respond through our world views and our understanding of God’s relationship with humanity. The first century religious culture was one that primarily focused working for God’s favor. It was common for people to blame every negative aspect of life on themselves, and endure the suffering as their fate. They will offer sacrifies to earn favor, they will do good deeds, they will give generously but if they suffer they are not good enough and will work harder. It is their cross to bear. At times our understanding of our relationship with God has not progressed to much from that place. Often we still struggle with these crosses.
Life is filled with suffering. And yes at times we suffer from our own ignorance but we do not carry that burden alone. Jesus called that woman to him. He called her, and he shared in her suffering. Yet there were some that disapproved.
The ruler of the synagogue was indignant. Luke says that he was indignant because Jesus healed on the Sabbath but I am pretty sure there was more to it than that. Jesus not only healed on the Sabbath but he also called a woman into an area reserved for men. Seriously remember that, Jesus called her to him, where he was teaching, he did not go to her. This is different than most of the people Jesus healed. Usually others bring the people to him, or they are crying out to Jesus to come to them. There is no indication that this lady was like this. Jesus called her to him after he saw her. As far as we know she just came to participate in worship. But the ruler in the synagogue was indignant and assumed that she was there only to obtain the release from her disability.
Why was he really upset? Jesus challenges him. He says, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it?” You feed your livestock, you water your livestock, you make sure that your livestyles are maintained even if it means you might have to do a little on a day dedicated to rest. This is not about the Sabbath at all, the Sabbath was just a nice cover for something deeper. Which Jesus points out in his next statement. “And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?”
His indignation came from somewhere other than keeping the law. It was focused on tradition. He was upset because Jesus brought a woman to a place where tradition excluded. I say this because Jesus is clear to say, woman and daughter of Abraham. They were excluding women from full participation in worship because they were women, and Jesus is saying no, she is a daughter of Abraham. They were acting offended because Jesus healed on the sabbath but Jesus was saying you treat your livestock better than your own daughters.
No one is excluded from the love of God. Each person hold so much value in God’s eyes that he was willing to give his own life to bring them out of the darkness and into the light. Everyone is important because they bear the image of God. Each person we encounter can encourage our lives and deepen our faith. This woman suffered for eighteen years. She suffered, not only from the binding disability, but the judgemental attitude of those around her. They were so busy blaming her for her own problems that they lost sight that she was not only human but a daughter of Abraham. They added to her suffering because it was the cross she had to bear, and they wanted to make sure she knew it.
The life, death, and ressurection of Jesus is important because every aspect of Christ shows us God. Jesus shared a complete human life. And life contains suffering. But suffering should not be our final destination. And it should not be a solo trip. Jesus called that woman to him and he shared in her suffering. But it goes even deeper than that. That act gave Jesus’s accusers fuel to fan the flames of their indignation. They could not justify their dislike of Jesus because he has now transgressed against one of the most important commands, one of the commands that all religious leaders agree on. He worked on the Sabbath. Of course the transgression was not an actual sin, but a human interpretation of what they think God meant. Jesus transgressed, because he looked at the true law, that all human life is sacred because we all bear the image of God. Do we see that image in those around us?
Jesus saw the woman. He saw the one excluded, the one that was bullied, the one that could not speak for themselves. He saw the woman, do we? Each and every one of us struggle with something. We might consider our struggle insignificant or it might possibly be a gross injustice accepted in our civil society. We struggle, but we do not struggle alone. Jesus is with us in that struggle. He faced injustice, he suffered ridicule, he lived in a family that was non traditional. He knows our human condition, but he also knows that our struggle is not the end. Our struggles, even the ones that are self inflicted, can move us one step deeper in our relationship with God. Our struggles are not who we are. That woman was no longer a crippled woman, but a daughter of Abraham. In Christ we are children of God, adopted into the family through the life, death and ressurection of Jesus. But how are we responding to those people around us in the midst of their struggles? Are we like the ruler of the synagogue, becoming indignant because they were offered grace? Or are we like the woman coming to worship even after eighteen years of constant struggle with no relief in sight? We all struggle. But how are we responding to ourselves and those around us?