Karen Fulton

Karen Fulton

First Presbyterian Church Elder

In Luke 13: 10-17, the scene is in the synagogue on the sabbath. Jesus is there teaching, surrounded by a crowd when he spots a crippled woman.

She has not come to plead for healing. She is there, maybe to listen. She is unnamed, but her pain is obvious and fierce. She is bent nearly double and has not been able to stand straight for 18 years.

Can you imagine such a life? Bent over, always looking down, only one limited view of the world and it confined to the pebbles and twigs she sees on the ground? What pain, physical and mental, this would cause — not to be able to see the faces of those she loves, the bigger picture of the world around her, in order to live her life in love and truth?

Jesus calls to her and, without her asking, frees her from her bondage. “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” Then he lays hands on her and she stands up straight and begins “praising God.” She can stand straight and see straight.

The leaders of the synagogue are not happy with the situation (actually they weren’t too happy with Jesus anyway). They cannot argue with the act of healing the woman. It is surely a good thing God has done.

So they raise an objection. Rather than raise the question if God has a right to heal whenever he wants, they point to the technicality of the sabbath. They quote the rule: God forbids working on the sabbath; therefore this miracle, this truth, is unacceptable, it must wait until it can conform to their schedule (or preferably not be done at all).

The fact that she has been healed and now stands tall before them is incidental if not actually wrong. Jesus has no business performing this way. It is against the rules.

The story reinforces the situation of women at the time. Luke’s story parallels similar “sabbath stories” in other Gospels where the beneficiary is male. What makes this so special is that the woman is IN the synagogue ON the sabbath. She is not banned because of her gender or her infirmity. No one is forbidden God’s justice and healing. No one is rejected by Jesus.

Then Jesus questions the definition of “work” that they are proposing. Is it “work” to untie the animals on the sabbath? Is it work to give water to the stock on the sabbath? Is this woman, this “daughter of Abraham,” not worth as much as one of these animals? Must she wait for healing, for justice, one more day?

What is the issue here, Jesus seems to ask? Healing or the technicality? To the leaders, Jesus seems to say, “you are those bent over, looking at the ground, unable to see — looking for ways to avoid facing the hurt and the pain of this woman, and the need for healing in the world. It is you who need to stand straight.”

It is no accident that, “his opponents were put to shame.” They should be. Here is a woman who embraces being able to look up and face the challenges surrounded by people who seek to evade responsibility, who condemn themselves by looking away.

What a contrast! This woman embraces the gift of standing tall. She joyfully receives it, stands up straight, and begins praising God. In today’s world, how will we live? Bent over, searching for technicalities or standing tall?

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