It’s easy to identify what God is up to in today’s gospel, “God is reaching out to the bound-up to proclaim release from captivity…God is satisfying the needs of the afflicted…a precious daughter…of Abraham [is] set free” (sundaysandseasons.com).
In this case of Jesus healing, the woman or her friends are not initiating the healing. It totally belongs to Jesus. He was in the middle of teaching and seeing her, stops what he’s doing.
Being of shorter stature than most, I can identify with the woman. We are not often seen. At the deli counter or pharmacy, I typically have to call out to get the attention of someone behind the counter.
The woman could not see Jesus—not all bent over with her eyes facing the floor. Jesus saw her. She did not have to look to him for healing, but was used to her situation, as painful as it was. But Jesus saw her. He not only saw her, but called to her, inviting her to join him in front of the gathered, at the focal point of this scene. Can you imagine being in a crowd of people and having Jesus single you out like that?
Jesus proclaimed the woman was set free, and then laid his hands on her. She probably had not experienced a loving touch in a very long time. Her deformity, caused by a spirit, made her an outsider to her community. By healing her, Jesus not only restored her to physical health, but also restored her to her community. He made her an insider through an act of radical grace.
What is truly bent in today’s gospel? Is it the woman, afflicted with something she could not control? Is it the perceptions and opinions of those who thought that her form was some sort of shame? In healing the woman, Jesus reveals the way the practices and opinions of the religious elite were deformed. God’s subversive work often sheds light on what is truly out of shape—like the synagogue leader.
Can’t you just see this man saying over and over again, “There are six days on which work out to be done; come on those days and be cured and not on the sabbath day.” His issue was not where the healing was done, but when. He directed his words to the crowd as accessories in sabbath violation, but indirectly is attacking Jesus, publicly challenging Jesus’ authority as a teacher, reasserting himself as the authorized interpreter of Scripture.
The religious elite could only see that this woman was not suffering from anything life-threatening. If she had been like this for eighteen years, what was one more day? She probably could wait, but Jesus was teaching, and he had a point to make about the outrageous grace of God.
Jesus pointed out how the religious rule-keepers would loose their animals to drink on the sabbath. How much more should this precious woman be loosed, set free from Satan.
Jesus has created a split between the rule-keepers, the adversaries and the crowd. The ruler had tried to shame Jesus but, in the end, he and other opposers of Jesus are shamed as the crowd sides with Jesus. Such is the effect of Jesus and the in breaking of God’s reign over satanic forces (Fred B. Craddock).
How many of us are walking around with spirits bent out of shape? How does God in Christ mend our twisted spirits into a more godly shape? How are we bound? As Jesus tells the woman she is “set free,” he is using the language of bondage versus freedom. What does Jesus need to set us free from?
We know Jesus has already set us free from sin, death and the power of the devil; don’t we? We were made Christ’s in the waters of baptism.
We may allow grief or despair to bind us. Jesus wants to set us free from that.
We may struggle with fear. I think we have always felt safe while walking the quiet, peaceful streets of the Chautauqua Institution. We could never expect any type of violence to take place there, yet it has. As careful as we may need to be, Jesus wants to set us free from fear.
In the waters of baptism and affirmed in our confirmation we are to, learn to trust God, proclaim Christ through word and deed, care for others and the world God made, and work for justice and peace” (ELW Baptism). We can only complete this mission if we allow Jesus to unbind us from whatever is keeping us from fully walking with him in love.
There are many ways we can do the work of God. Are you a sponsor to one of the Promise Children in Honduras? If not, think about that ministry. Jayson Mena was one of those children. He will be with us October 23 to give us an update on his work, Asociacion Ninos de Montana. In cooperation with others, God has used him to do so much to give these children of the mountain opportunities for growth.
It may seem to you like you are doing such a small thing. How can it make a difference? By Jayson’s example, look and see how small beginnings can grow into something wonderful. Christ sets us free so that we can be agents to set others free. Amen.
Fred B. Craddock, Preaching Through the Christian Year C
Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke