Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 25, 2013
The first time I preached about this bent over woman in Luke, I invited the congregation bend over to hear the gospel lesson to get a glimpse of this woman’s story. Seven verses felt like a really long time. It was incredibly uncomfortable. It was hard to pay attention to the words. We couldn’t begin to wrap our heads around being bent over for eighteen years. I try and imagine this woman who had to live with that kind of pain and isolation for so many years. She could never make eye contact with anyone. Her ability to see was limited to the ground beneath her. Hers was a particular kind of bondage. What an effort it must have been to come to the synagogue, to do daily errands or chores around the house. Would people disregard her simply because she was literally beneath them? Who would take the time and effort it would require to interact with her? It would have been much easier to write her off or ignore her. Given the beliefs of the day, many may have blamed her for her affliction.
The Pharisees seem less concerned that Jesus healed the woman than when he healed her. Healing was considered work and work was banned on the Sabbath. How funny that the issue was which day the healing occurred. Jesus points out that they would make sure their ox was led to water on the Sabbath. So, an ox is more important than a woman? I can imagine him saying, “Look. You are all worried about the wrong thing. This woman is standing upright after eighteen years. She can look you in the eye. She can participate in the life of the community in a new way. She is daughter of Abraham. She is one of us. And you want to talk about what day it is? This is the day God gave us to worship. Why don’t we praise God instead of complaining about what day it is?”
What is it in us that keeps us from celebrating with one another? What is it that causes us to be upset over the good news of someone else? Why would we get worked up over someone being healed on the wrong day?
The pressures and demands of our days can easily weigh us down. Some of those are just ordinary life stuff – getting out of debt, conflict with a friend, relative or coworker, or making difficult decisions about our future. There are others that are more systemic and feel beyond us – how do we help people find their way out of poverty? How do we make the world a safe place for children? What can we do to live in peace? As we carry these concerns around, we may feel them weighing us down making it hard to stand up straight. In some ways, the bent over woman in this story is not just someone from a place long ago and far away. She lives in us and the burdens we carry. She gives us a simple clue to freedom – go where Jesus is and wait there. He will see you. He will touch you and he will make you whole.
Her story is ours as well. Just as we carry the weight of those who suffer, we also have the opportunity to stand up and celebrate with those who are healed and those who find liberation.
In this story, Jesus stops teaching to heal the woman. It seems that more than the woman was healed that day. Helen Pearson says that “All rejoiced. All were freed from bondage of tradition that placed more importance on keeping law than responding to the needs of humans. When the woman is healed, all stand straighter.” (Helen Pearson, Do What You Have the Power to Do p. 57)
This story doesn’t tell us that the law is unimportant. Can you imagine trying to drive anywhere with no laws? The law can keep some chaos at bay. It gives us some parameters with which to live. But the law is not exclusive. It can step aside and make room for God’s great healing love to break through and turn things upside down.
“Law helps order our world, but grace is what holds the world together. Law pushes us to care for each other, but grace restores us to each other when we’ve failed in the law… For above and beyond all the laws ever received or conceived, the absolute law is love: love God and love your neighbor. Or, perhaps, love God by loving your neighbor.” (David Lose, workingpreacher.org)
The community stepped in and rejoiced at the woman’s healing. This woman who had been denied access to the fullness of life was now a community member in good standing. She was free and in her freedom, they could imagine their own. This story is a powerful reminder that we are born to be whole. When the world has weighed us down, God wants us to be free. In the story, Jesus is teaching and the woman appears. Jesus stops what he is doing to heal her. It is almost as if he was waiting for this moment. He wanted so much to set her free that he didn’t wait until he was finished teaching. He stopped as soon as he saw her.
Maybe that is what he asks of us… that we notice one another and show kindness, that we celebrate with one another and hold one another in our pain. I keep going back to the words from Isaiah this morning, “If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.” (Isaiah 58:9b-10) That is a description of what God wants to do for us – to guide us all of our days, satisfy our needs, and quench our thirsts with life-giving water.
If that is what God wants for us, why would we want anything else for one another? Can we wish that for each person we encounter? Can we pray for their thirsts to be quenched and their lives to be whole?
Three weeks ago, a group from St. Michael’s went to the Santo Domingo Feast Day. We watched people of all ages dance in the hot sun. It was a powerful sight to see the devotion and beauty in the movement of small children and elderly folks. There are some members of the Pueblo who watch the dancers and when there is a need, they respond. They helped with various “wardrobe malfunctions”, they held the long hair up to help the dancers cool off and offered other forms of support. Their job is to help the dances run smoothly and support the dancers. It was lovely to witness their care.
Our culture teaches us that we have value when we have it all together. We are worth something when we are smart, strong, well dressed and sure of ourselves. But over and over, we see Jesus meeting people in their vulnerability. He stops to touch people in their weakness, to care for their brokenness, to love them in their pain. It’s significant that we meet Christ in his vulnerability and brokenness. Our worship centers on the table, which is the story of Christ betrayed by his friend, abandoned by others who had promised loyalty to him, and his body broken by those in power who were threatened by him. The Christian story begins with whatever weighs us down, whatever keeps us from fully entering the community, whatever binds us. We don’t start from the place of utter freedom and hope. We show up in all of our humanness – in our despair and in our bondage – and Christ meets us there. He stops what he is doing to really see us as we are and he comes to us in our vulnerability.
Each week, we gather here and we come as we are. Christ waits to meet us and to touch the parts of us that are broken and in need of healing. I believe that he helps us all stand a bit straighter. Together we witness the power of his touch and the freedom to be whole.