It’s a simple story really: on the way to Jerusalem, while Jesus was teaching in a synagogue, a “bent-over” woman passing by, evoking Jesus’ compassion. Does the woman ask for healing? No. Does Jesus seem to care that it’s the Sabbath? No. Remember, healing of a non-life threating illness wasn’t permitted on the Sabbath. And so, without being asked, Jesus called her over, and restored her both physically and communally, that is, she would no longer be an outcast in her community. And he did this by placing his hands on her, just as one would when sharing a blessing. And as the woman was blessed, and freed from her infirmity, she recognized the source of her restoration: Jesus.
Now, you would think that everyone in the Synagogue would be amazed and grateful to witness such a thing? But no, not everyone anyway. The leader of the synagogue was upset by this breach of the Law and tells the crowd, which undoubtedly includes many others in need of healing, that they should come back tomorrow, when the timing will be more appropriate for such things as healing. The leader saw the Law as carved in stone; something that should be followed to the letter, while Jesus viewed the Law from a perspective of grace. Like I said, simple enough.
But as in all Biblical narratives, there is so much more to see. As always, when we consider the setting of the story, and its parallels with other stories, we begin to experience even more of its power and meaning. [I] So, that being said, this isn’t the only time Jesus has healed on the Sabbath, is it? This isn’t the first time he healed while teaching in the synagogue and this isn’t the first time he’s provoked the ire of the religious leaders, and, guess what? It won’t be the last.
Sharon Ringe in her exegesis on Luke describes the situation of the bent-over woman in a rather unique way. She holds that the woman’s condition could be translated as “a spirit of weakness” “Her weakness itself,” Ringe says, “is regarded as the power that holds her captive to restricted movement, to the inability to meet another person face-to-face. [But] …the words that effect the healing deal with what has enslaved her”[ii] Isn’t that interesting! Ringe is contending that the language used by Luke here is that of moving from bondage to liberation.
Do you remember back a few months ago in several sermons and in our Bible study on Luke, we learned that chapter four was the key to the rest of the Gospel of Luke? That it was something like his thesis statement? Jesus stood in another synagogue and began his public ministry with these words: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.[iii]…to liberate the oppressed.
Do you see where I’m going here? Jesus began his public ministry with this statement about personal and social justice, and then, he followed through with acts of justice, acts of kindness, acts of grace. And this justice proclamation reveals itself in our time as well. The healing of a woman who was being held in bondage is symbolic of the human condition. Every Sunday, all sorts of burdens are carried into our church. Some, like the bent-over woman’s condition, are more visible than others. But others are not.
As you look out across our congregation, what do you see? The weight of many years of suffering on one person’s face or the crushing hurt of a new and painful reality in another’s eyes. Perhaps there are people here in our midst today who have known the pain and oppression of being marginalized or alone in the wider community, if not within the church itself. But do we notice them, the way Jesus noticed the bent-over woman? Is the suffering of some people easier to avoid, or to miss entirely? [iv]
Now, I’m going to share with you a story about just such a person. We’ll call her Maria. Maria could have checked all the boxes of someone who might be considered an outsider in society. She had three children by three different fathers. She was undocumented and unemployed. Church members would see her at the food pantry each month and it was obvious to anyone who was paying attention that Maria also struggled with addition; drugs, alcohol, and bad relationships. And the creme-de-la-crème, she was bi-sexual, and found herself in another abusive relationship, but his time with a woman. It would be easy to look past someone like Maria.
But just as important as seeing someone like Maria, being gracious to her, being kind and compassionate to here; is our response to her in real time. Our hearts may be touched by her plight, but there is still another step to compassion. If we desire to move past a place of judgment and into the realm of grace, we must think about what kinds of deeper healing we might offer to the Marias in our midst.
But what might that look like? Well, enter Ann. Ann did see Maria. Ann didn’t consider her as a burden to the state nor did she see Maria as someone to be deported or shamed or ignored. But instead, Ann understood the deeper meaning of compassion. Compassion literally means “to journey with” someone through their struggles. And that’s what she did. Yes, Ann offered Maria assistance in the form of food and cloths, especially for her children. And Ann connected her with an organization that provides safe housing for battered women. Yes, she did all of those things, but seeing Maria, really seeing her, required a deeper response. And that response came in the form of friendship. Ann befriended Maria. Not some surface, polite kind of friendship, but a real, deep, caring relationship. Ann build trust with Maria, a trust that went both ways. And in the end, Maria, began to find a way to become sober, to be a better mother to her children; Maria, through being seen, gained the self-confidence and self-respect to look beyond her current bondage toward the liberation that awaited her.
That’s what Jesus is driving at here. When he said I come to “preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, and to liberate the oppressed,” he was talking about the Marias in his midst and in ours. Jesus came to restore people who have made bad choices; people like you and me. He came to proclaim release to people who are captives of bad situations that have been thrust upon them; people like you and me. Jesus came to restore sight to people who have been blind to the plight of others around them; people like you and me. My friends, Jesus came to liberate those who are “bent over” by the unjust systems of this world: systems that value monetary gain over the preservation of the earth; systems that put the comfort of the few above the survival of the many.
And our calling, our charge if you will, from Jesus himself, is to not only see these injustices, but to respond to them with compassion and grace by building relationships with all kinds of people who are currently outside of our circles; the bent over women and men and the Marias of this world.
My friends, like I said before, this story is a simple one. And if are so inclined, we can make this simple story, this story of healing and restoration, our story as well. If it’s indeed our desire to build relationships with those who are on the margins of society, by extending an extravagant welcome into this community of faith, we can make this simple story our story as well. And finally, If we respond to God’s grace with gratitude, with compassion, with love; this simple story will become our story.
May it be so. Amen and Amen.
[i] Katheryn M. Matthews Out of the Shadow (www.ucc.org/samuel/sermon/seeds) 2019
[ii] Sharon Ringe from the Luke: Westminster Bible Companion found at (www.ucc.org) 2019
[iii] Luke 4:18-19 Common English Bible (CEB)
[iv] Ibid. Matthews