Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.’ But the Lord answered him and said, ‘You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And 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?’ When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.
In this passage Luke continues to show Jesus living out his commission in Luke 4 to proclaim, heal and deliver.
The reading raised several questions for me. Why is the leader of the synagogue so indignant that this is happening on the Sabbath? Is healing really work? Isn’t spending time in synagogue not meant to bring about change? What is going on here? Maybe the woman, with her crippling diagnosis, shouldn’t even have been there. I wonder who had let her in?
Maybe the leader is embarrassed about her being there. The presence of Jesus spotlights the ineffectiveness of the regime the leader represents to bring about transformation.
However Jesus is not so concerned about keeping up the rules about who can come to worship and what should happen when. Jesus’s concern is with the suffering woman. He notices her, discerns the root of her condition and calls her over. Then he releases her from her spiritual bondage and instant physical healing results.
After eighteen years, more than half her expected lifespan, she is able to stand straight, physically, socially and spiritually. She no longer has to hide away or continue coping with what had oppressed her. She is free.
This woman did not ask for healing but, in breaking the taboo which would kept her away from the synagogue, had maybe come in hope of a quiet encounter. Her healing makes her centre stage and subject of attention – how embarrassing.
Jesus, in challenging the leader’s understanding, draws comparisons with the routine compassion for working animals whose needs for water and fresh air are met even on Sabbath. The underlying challenge to the leader is that he should have held the suffering woman in higher regard than his livestock. This incident increases his popularity with those who felt oppressed and excluded from religious life by the ‘high and mighty’ – the liberation he is bringing is not just words but action.
Heavenly Father help us to be change makers acting against oppression and injustice. Help us to be open to your ways of transforming the world. May your spirit be alive and active in our lives, making our faith in your Son both real and liberating Amen