August 26, 2001

Luke 13:10-17

[Jesus] was teaching in one of the meeting places on the Sabbath. There was a woman present, so twisted and bent over with arthritis that she couldn't even look up. She had been afflicted with this for eighteen years. When Jesus saw her, he called her over. "Woman, you're free!" He laid hands on her and suddenly she was standing straight and tall, giving glory to God.

The meeting-place president, furious because Jesus had healed on the sabbath, said to the congregation, "Six days have been defined as work days. Come on one of the six if you want to be healed, but not on the seventh, the Sabbath."

But Jesus shot back, "You frauds! Each Sabbath every one of you regularly unties your cow or donkey from its stall, leads it out for water, and thinks nothing of it. So why isn't it all right for me to untie this daughter of Abraham and lead her from the stall where Satan has had her tied these eighteen years?"

When it put it that way, his critics were left looking quite silly and red-faced. The congregation was delighted and cheered him on.

<The Message >


1. One of the best studies of women in the gospels I know is Do What You Have the Power to Do by Helen Bruch Pearson, published by Upper Room Books. I can't do any better with this series of encounters of Jesus with a woman, a religious leader, and a congregation than Helen's own words.

"The Bible is both a religious and a political book that speaks clearly about issues of justice and the fair treatment of every human being. The bent-over woman, whom Jesus healed on the sabbath in the synagogue, helps us distinguish between justice and charity. In reading and and discussing her story ... we are confronted with the teachings of Jesus that seek to move our discipleship beyond acts of charity and into works of justice.

"This session will uphold the urgency with which Christians must be engaged in the struggle against unjust laws and traditions that keep some persons and groups bent over and burdened down. Participants will move toward a clearer commitment to make visible the root causes of the social/economic/political injustices in our global community. The struggle against these 'principalities and powers' is not for their sake but for our sake. To make justice for all a reality instead of a forgotten dream is a single common struggle on the part of Christians everywhere. The affirmation that no one stands upright as long as others remain bend over is a way to critique, evaluate, and judge structures and systems that manipulate, devalue, and oppress other human beings. Justice, as the way to effect lasting change, is a primary focus of this session."

2. Are you looking at this as an individual healing or a healing of a community, a congregation?

"The healing of the bent-over woman was not a private event. After the public rebuke of the synagogue ruler by Jesus, the entire congregation got involved. This healing was a community affair. Everyone experienced empowerment. They all [rejoiced]. In a sense, they were all set free from the bondage of a tradition that placed more importance on keeping the law than on responding to the welfare and needs of human being. When the bent-over woman was healed, they all stood straighter. Indeed, no healing is without its positive social side effects for the entire community."

This is a healing story told without reference to forgiveness or faith. As such it stands as a reminder of the "kingdom" coming quickly. Won't it cause great rejoicing when the United States finally and suddenly deals with its bent over citizens through some form of universal health care. How long must this human right be delayed because of some laws and traditions?

3. "Those of us who call ourselves disciples must also be willing to let our hands be an extension of our commitment to do away with unjust and unfair traditions and laws. We must be personally involved in helping those who suffer and in challenging the structures of our society that keep so many bent over. We must call out in public places and in public ways. We must recognize and confess our participation in that which is unfair and unjust. We have heard and we have seen. We are no longer innocent. To ignore the sicknesses of this world is to hear Jesus address us with 'You hypocrites!' and to be exposed to the truth of who we really are."

There may be a way in which the congregation needs to identify with Jesus calling the religious leaders, "Frauds!" before they can see how they have been co-opted and have given away their experience and freedom. In this self-imposed impotency they have been frauds, too. Now the comes the results of celebration by those who have been frauds who can see a new way and a hardening by those who have been frauds and need to continue as such.

May we all hear Jesus call us, "Fraud!" and respond with, "Wow, Yes, we have been frauds. But no more!" With that affirmation comes great rejoicing.

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