Year C, Pentecost 11 Luke 13:10-17 & Isaiah 58:9-14
(This is told from the perspective of the woman in the Gospel of Luke.)
My back was worse than usual today. It’s always bad. I cannot remember a time when it did not hurt. But this morning as I attempted to get up off the floor, I felt a stabbing pain, worse than usual. I confess that I considered lying back down and not coming to the synagogue. It’s not as if anyone would know if I wasn’t there. But God would. And so I slowly stood and dressed myself. It’s hard to get dressed when you are bent over like I am, but I am accustomed to it. It’s been many years like this. I can’t remember how it happened. I wasn’t born like this. It happened slowly. The pain came first. Then one day I realized I could no longer stand straight. I could not see the sunrise or the sunset. The sky was a memory to me.
I remember the sky. I used to love to gaze at the stars at night and remember the promise that God made to Abraham. And rainbows, I loved to see rainbows as they reminded me of the promise God made to Noah after the flood. There are so many reminders of God goodness and mercy in the sky. I miss seeing those reminders. Now I see the dust as I walk through the village. I see small rodents and insects. I see feet and the dirty hems of robes. But sometimes I see beautiful things, like a stone with brilliant colors, or a cotton thistle with its spiky purple petals, a large puddle that reflects the clouds. Sometimes, when God is especially good to me, I will see a baby crawling under me. They look into my eyes and I try not to weep because it is the only time that someone looks into my eyes. It is a lonely life, but I am never really alone. I know that deep down. It’s just easy to forget sometimes.
That is why I go to the synagogue week after week….so that I never forget that I am not alone. Even if I cannot see reminders of God’s grandeur above me, I can still feel his presence. I know that I make some people uncomfortable. They assume that since I have this deformity, that I have sinned or my parents have sinned. I have sinned, but no more than those who look down upon me, and there are many who do. Didn’t the great prophet Isaiah tell God’s people to “satisfy the needs of the afflicted?” I am afflicted, am I not? I am not saying that all of the religious leaders are bad. Some are wonderful and caring and try to help as much as they can. But there are some who are more concerned about the rules.
Recently I had heard about a man who was a leader, but also different. He didn’t wear all the fancy robes. He prayed at the temple, but he didn’t spend all of his time there. He was even criticized for eating at the homes of sinners—prostitutes and tax collectors. There were rumors that he had even healed people. I knew I would never see more than his sandaled feet, but I hoped, I hoped that I would hear him sometime. I can tell a lot about a person by their voice. I can tell a lot about a person if they merely bother to talk to me.
As I approach the synagogue, I hear a different voice. It is a voice of someone with authority who is teaching the Holy Scriptures. This is not unusual. There are always learned men teaching at the synagogue. But the way he talks, it’s different. It is almost like he was talking to me. Wait, he is talking to me. I feel hands on my back as they guide me to him. I want to cry out in pain as it hurts as they steer me through the crowd, but I try not to. Finally, I can sense someone leaning toward me, trying to get close to my face, trying to see me. “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”
Those words, they are beautiful, but they can only be words. Then he puts his hands on my head and slowly lifts my face. I want to resist as I am afraid of the pain, but as his hands touch me, the pain begins to recede. It starts with my head, then my neck, shoulders, and then my back and the rest of my body. It happens slowly, gradually, but eventually, I am standing. And I am looking into his eyes and he is smiling at me. I see compassion and love in those eyes.
As I realize the pain is really gone I raise my hands high and throw my head back so I can see the sky, the beautiful sky. I praise God. I am surprised to hear pieces of the prayers that I have come to know by heart in my years worshipping here. At the time they felt like empty words. But right now I feel them in a new way. I am almost embarrassed, but I cannot stop laughing. I am so distracted I almost miss the synagogue leader reprimanding the crowd, telling us all there are six other days to be cured. I know I should be worried about his judgment, but I can’t be, because I have been healed.
Through my laughter and prayers, I hear Jesus respond, “And ought not this daughter of Abraham who Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from bondage on the Sabbath day.” He calls me a daughter of Abraham. He recognizes me not by my disability, but by my faith. He has not merely healed my body, he has set me free from bondage. He has lifted the burden from my tired back. Just as Isaiah told the people so many years ago, remove the yolk from the people and satisfy the needs of the afflicted.
I am healed, but the Hebrew people still carry the yoke of the Roman Empire. We are not free, not in that way. Some say this Jesus will free us, but I wonder if that is what he is really here for. I wonder if he heals us, so we can help the others who are oppressed—the outcasts, the forgotten. I know that now that I have been healed, I will do my best to serve those who cannot help themselves. I know that is what Jesus wants of me. That is how I can use my freedom.
What is it that Jesus wants from you? How can you bring healing to this broken world and the people around you? As Isaiah writes, how can we be “repairers of the breach?”