By Tracey Leslie
Scripture: Luke 13: 10-17
When I was very young, stores were not open on Sundays, the Christian Sabbath. In fact, beyond church and a big lunch, very little happened on Sunday… leaving me, as a little girl, dreadfully bored and convinced that Sabbath was the worst day of the week.
It’s helpful to know that this morning’s gospel story is not the first time that Jesus stirs up controversy by healing someone on the Sabbath, nor will it be the last. This morning’s story represents a recurring pattern in the gospel of Luke. It is Sabbath and Jesus is, as apparently was his custom, in the synagogue teaching when he spots someone in need of healing. This time it is a woman who is afflicted with some kind of ailment that causes her to be stooped over. She’s been that way for 18 years. Now, we can’t possibly know today the exact nature of this woman’s problem. But we can safely assume a few things about it. It was probably painful. Anyone who’s ever had a problem with their back or their neck can probably vouch for that. And, it would have been an obstacle to this woman functioning in an honorable and appropriate way within her culture. Her physical condition would have made it hard for this woman to carry out the necessary household tasks that were honorable and appropriate for a 1st century Palestinian woman. Now today, in our culture, we don’t view housework as an honorable task. And, fortunately, most of us don’t view it as exclusively women’s work. But, in the ancient Middle Eastern world – a world very focused on hospitality and very family oriented – a women’s reputation was connected to her ability to fulfill certain household tasks. When a woman – for some physical or psychological reason – wasn’t able to fulfill these duties, it was shameful. So, this woman’s physical deformity is an obstacle to her carrying out the household tasks that connect her to her proper role and status within her family and her village. Secondly, in Jesus’ culture, people viewed illness or physical deformity as an indication of God’s punishment. That’s why in John’s gospel, in the story of the man born blind, Jesus’ disciples ask Jesus “who sinned, this man or his parents?” If someone was sick or physically disabled, they assumed that it was through some fault of their own – or their family – that they wound up that way. So, this woman probably experienced physical pain, moral judgment and social isolation.
But the way in which her culture responds to her pain and her shame is challenged by Jesus. While others may have been trying to ignore and avoid her, Jesus sees her. He notices her.
Now, before we condemn these religious leaders, we need to recognize; they were simply following the rules of their faith as they interpreted them. It was their job to maintain the integrity of their religion. There was Rabbinic teaching stating that no one should perform the work of healing on the Sabbath unless it was a life and death situation. And, in this woman's situation, it wasn’t. No one’s ever died from a backache; at least not that I’m aware of. This woman has been in this state for 18 years. What’s one more day? If she and Jesus really took the Sabbath as seriously as they should, she ought to come back tomorrow and let Jesus heal her then.
Yet, unlike the religious authorities, Jesus does see urgency in this situation. Jesus asserts that this woman’s physical condition is something that is holding her captive, binding her. As I’ve already noted, her condition is preventing her from living a life in which she is honored and experiences meaningful connection to God and those around her. And Jesus wants to set her free from that.
You know, it’s significant that the one who is healed in this story is a woman. It’s significant that, according to some in her culture, her deformity would have been considered a punishment for her sin. And it’s significant that her ailment was not life-threatening. She wouldn’t have been a very good candidate for healing. She wasn’t important enough. She wasn’t good enough. And she wasn’t sick enough. Now, I hope you recognize I’m being facetious when I say that. But, think about it… really.
I once knew a man, a good churchgoer, who became furious if someone prayed for a pet. How dare they trouble God with something so trivial! I also had a friend during seminary who would never pray for himself. After all, there were so many people with problems so much bigger than his. I wonder if some of you are reluctant to trouble Jesus with your struggles and your pain. After all: others are sicker, others have more pain. "Don’t put me on the prayer list; I know people a lot sicker than me." Well then. Let’s pray for all of you because God’s grace isn’t limited. There are lots of limits in this world. You can only drive so far on a tank of gas. You can only get so many groceries for a hundred dollars… and a lot fewer than a couple years ago! But the grace of God is limitless. God isn’t bothered or annoyed by our requests. Our God, our Savior Jesus, wants all of us to be set free from those things that are binding us; preventing us from being who God has called us to be; preventing us from being meaningfully connected to God and to those around us. So, we should never be reluctant to ask God for help or for healing.
In many places in our New Testament, the Greek word for healing is sozo, which means to be made whole and well. Healing can be about our bodies, our minds, our spirits, and it is (most certainly) about our relationships. In fact, the healings performed by Jesus resulted in individuals being reconciled to God and neighbors. Being reconciled to God and others is the ultimate healing. Healing is God's work of offering us peace and wholeness in body, mind, and spirit.
Concluding Prayer (from the Book of Worship)
Almighty God, we pray for all who seek your healing. When they are afraid, give them courage; when they feel weak, grant them your strength; when they are afflicted, afford them patience; when they are lost, offer them hope; when they are alone, move us to their side. In the name of Christ, we pray. Amen
Sermon videos are currently available on our homepage.
On a lifelong journey of seeking to live out God's call on my life and to reflect His grace.
10 Minute Sermons