Some people are noticed wherever they go. You can’t miss them. But then, some of us are barely seen because of our stature or lack thereof. When you’re short, it is hard to get noticed in a crowd of much taller people. I will never forget a conversation that I had with one of the clerks at Microtel in Olean when I came for my interview with the church council of my first call. The clerk asked the Council president how he would recognize me. The president's response was, “She’s very short!”
In today’s gospel, Jesus was not teaching in the temple in Jerusalem, rather he was in a small town synagogue. The bent-over woman was likely well known in her village and people were so used to her that they no longer paid any attention to her and her ailment. After 18 years of being this way, she was invisible to other villagers.
But Jesus saw her, not because she arrived after he had started teaching. Jesus was not giving her the evil eye. because her arrival was disruptive to his teaching. Jesus saw who she was and what her need was. From the outset, Jesus took the initiative.
Once again, Jesus is doing what he does best. He is turning the world upside down. He is loving and healing those whom many consider marginal at best, which is what the coming of the reign of God is all about.
In other gospel stories the sick call out to Jesus or seek him out. From what Luke tells us, this woman came for no other reason but to worship on the sabbath. She was not out to make a spectacle of herself or to draw attention to herself in any way. The bent over woman was simply a worshipper with a need, so Jesus healed her.
After Jesus touched the woman, she stood up straight. The Greek word anortho means to stand up. It is also used for the rebuilding and restoring of a fallen structure. By healing the woman, Jesus lifted her up and restored her to her rightful place as a daughter of Abraham. She was reestablished in her community. She was freed from the painful grip of the devil. When Jesus heals, he heals the whole person, which involves far more than just physical restoration.
Because Jesus healed the woman on the sabbath, he stirred up all kinds of trouble. The sabbath was meant to be a day of rest and worship. Observing the sabbath had become an important way of nourishing and maintaining Jewish identity. The issue was not that Jesus healed, but when he healed.
The role of the leader of the synagogue was to make sure that everything happened in good order. He was to maintain the reading and faithful teaching of the law. The leader ensured that those on his watch behaved properly.
Because healing was seen as work, it would have been prohibited. From Jesus’ perspective, the sabbath rules, which were supposed to refresh and renew the soul, were not doing what God had intended for them to do.
Can we imagine how much work it must have been for the bent over woman to get up and get dressed and walk to the synagogue? Can we imagine how difficult each step must have been?
The synagogue leader could not see what God wanted to accomplish. He couched his objections in the language of “ought.” Since he was the synagogue leader, he knew the divine will of God. He did not address Jesus directly, but rather scolded him by addressing the crowd, assuming they would agree with him. The woman’s condition was not life-threatening. She had survived like this for 18 years. What difference would a day make?
But Jesus the Lord had his own divine ought which motivated him to demonstrate the triumph of mercy over rules. The synagogue leader was quoting from Deuteronomy that one should not work on the sabbath. However, the custom had become that one could untie an animal so it could drink.
So Jesus’ argument was:
If an animal can be untied, how much more a daughter of Abraham, who has been bound by Satan for 18 years?
If you can loose the bonds of an animal on the sabbath as well as the rest of the week, how much more necessary is it for God to free this woman on the sabbath?
Jesus was pointing out that what would be done for an animal would not be allowed for a tormented human being!
That’s why Jesus referred to the synagogue ruler and his ilk as hypocrites. Their interpretation of scripture and God’s law totally missed the divine purpose and spirit of bringing deliverance and setting the captives free.
Once again, lines are drawn and Jesus brings division. There were two distinct reactions to Jesus’ argument. Jesus’ opponents were shamed while the crowd rejoiced and praised God for his wonderful works.
The lesson that God is teaching us today is that when we are hurting, God sees us too. Jesus lifts us up, makes us whole in the waters of baptism and restores us to the beauty of being temples of the Holy Spirit.
We are nourished by Jesus’ body and blood at the Eucharist. We are nourished by God’s Word and we are nourished by our fellowship together as God’s people.
As children of God who have been redeemed and made new by Christ how do we see those around us? Do we see the homeless, the foreigner, the hungry and the forgotten as Jesus saw the bent over woman or do we simply ignore them like the villagers?
God did not do all the incredible things he has done for us because we were such wonderful people. When we were dirty, sinful, and outside of the kingdom of God, God rescued and restored us.
In the tension between the rules and human need, between human and divine oughts, Jesus brought God’s dominion into the present reality of a suffering woman. As we leave this place, will we bring God’s reign into the present reality of those with whom we come in contact or will we simply walk past them?