Our lessons from our Collect, the Old Testament, the Psalm, the Epistle and the Gospel have all spoken to us about the dynamite [power] of God that keeps the church and which the church ought to share with all peoples.
Our Gospel speaks of how the power of God completes, protects and heals His children. After eighteen years this daughter of Christ, because of her illness had gotten used to looking at people out of the corner of her eye, and also looking up and sideways. She hardly remembered any other way of seeing the world. On this particular Sabbath, something special happened at the synagogue where she regularly worshiped. The Galilean Preacher and Prophet, Jesus of Nazareth, had arrived in town and taught there. The ailing woman and the others in town heard reports about Jesus. He talked about God's reign arriving soon and how He healed sick people. She was not sure if all the rumors were true, but she believed some; after all her life had already had too many disappointments to count but she mustered enough hope to have an encounter.
When she entered the synagogue, there was much murmuring; then a hush, Jesus began to teach. Moments later, his words turned from teaching to an invitation. He had seen her and recognized her plight. This was no mean feat, given the fact that Jesus had to lean over and incline his head to engage directly with this daughter. "Come here," he said to her and she slowly made her way to the front of the assembly. What happened next amazed His whole congregation; He said, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment" and His instant power made His intended difference. When Jesus, spoke those words and put his hands on her broken, bent body, she felt power surge through her. Without hesitation, she straightened her once crooked back. She stood tall and had a moment of praise for her God.
One can make the point that this biblical author has made one of the most prominent perspectives in a text, imaginatively exploring the experiences of one or more characters can raise helpful interpretive questions and contextual insights. Reading from the perspective of the bent over woman in Luke 13:10-17 is one such example.
A reading from the author’s vantage point and the way he emphasizes the healing as the crucial starting point of the story and too, the pericope as a story of controversy between Jesus and the synagogue leader, at its core is a healing that demonstrates Jesus' power and his compassion. We hear the compassionate tone in Jesus' defense for healing on the Sabbath when he argues from the lesser to the greater: if compassion is shown to one's animals on the Sabbath by providing them water, "ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?" (13:16). Luke has not provided this woman with a name in the story, but Jesus gives her a name, “the daughter of Abraham”. This name stresses the woman's membership in the covenant community.
According to this Gospel passage, Jesus offers the woman healing, not salvation from an oppressive socio-religious system. In all likelihood, the woman was cared for by her Jewish community of faith, the synagogue of which she was a part (she is there, after all!). Exploring the story from her perspective emphasizes the way her healing extends the kingdom of God as announced and embodied by Jesus' ministry in Luke. The shape of Jesus' ministry is expressed by Luke when Jesus reads from Isaiah 58 and 61 (Luke 4:18-19) and then claims, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing" (4:21). The freedom announced in Isaiah is actualized throughout Jesus' kingdom ministry and certainly in this woman's freedom from her physical bondage.
What do we make, then, of the controversy between Jesus and the synagogue leader who objects to this Sabbath healing? It might be helpful homiletically to tell the story from the latter's position to heighten our awareness of questions of historical setting. Here we might note a couple of things. First, the synagogue leader's complaint is, on the surface, a faithful reading of the Torah: the seventh day was set aside by God for Israel's rest, and work was prohibited on the Sabbath (see Exodus 31:14). Second, Jesus' response is not a rejection of the Torah’s rulings about the Sabbath. Instead, he argues from the legitimate allowances of restricted kinds of "work" on the Sabbath (see 13:15). These kinds of discussions were common in Jewish dialogue regarding the Sabbath. Then Jesus argues for healing on the Sabbath based on the great worth of the woman as "a daughter of Abraham" and the appropriateness of healing on the Sabbath. What better day to heal and bring freedom to a child of God than on the Sabbath?
It does us well to see that from Jesus' stance on the Sabbath as a day for deliverance is vindicated, as Luke narrates the humiliation of Jesus' opponents and the joy of the crowds at his wonderful healing deeds (see 13:17). Although we do not hear about the woman who has been healed at the end of the passage, the praise she offers to God (see 13:13) reverberates with the crowds' rejoicing (see 13:17). Both themes of praise and rejoicing are emphasized by Luke as appropriate responses to God's work in Jesus (see 7:16) the one who brings the reign of God in healing power to those who most need it.
Let us give God’s power the opportunity to reign in our lives!
Archdeacon The Venerable Dr. Alson Percival