Now Jesus 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.’ (Luke 13:10-14)
When I was in the seventh grade, we did drama at school. One day, each of us had to walk like somebody else. One girl walked slowly across the room. Her hands were folded in front of her. Her back was curved over, her shoulders were hunched, and she stared at the ground as she walked. It was the saddest thing I’d ever seen. I said something to the kids next to me about how awful it was, and wondered aloud who walked like that. The kids laughed. “Are you joking?” they said, “Don’t you know? Anyone can see that it’s you.”
There were lots of things in my childhood that I found difficult. At home, I was always on edge. My mum was extremely anxious and reactive, and we had a really hard relationship. It felt like everything I did was wrong; she criticised me and yelled at me daily. She also worked at a hundred miles an hour. The phone rang constantly, people were always around, there was nonstop talking, and our house was always incredibly messy and chaotic.
We also moved every couple of years, which meant I went to lots of different schools, and I found it hard to make friends. I was always a bit out of everything, a bit awkward: I never quite fit. I apologised constantly about everything; I think I was trying to apologise for my existence. I became massively shy, and terrified of strangers; I was crippled with anxiety and found it impossible to make decisions; I walked with my head down and avoided everyone’s gaze.
It wasn’t until I was older that I found people I could be really relaxed around, and some churches which guided me into the paths of healing. And in this combination of faithful friends and faithful community—the body of Christ—I have found love, acceptance, encouragement and healing ever since.
So when I hear the story about Jesus healing a woman who was hunched over I think—Aha! I know all about that—this story is speaking straight to me. And it is. But the healing of the bent woman isn’t the end of the story. For we hear that, when Jesus healed her, other people were furious because he was breaking the Sabbath law.
Now, a big part of me cheers Jesus on. I know what it is to need healing, and I want people to be healed in any way, at any time, in any place, by any person. But another part of me is just like the synagogue ruler. I have just told you that I grew up in a chaotic home. Kids like me often become addicted to order. We seek out and we make lots of rules; we follow all the rules; and we want to make everyone else follow the rules too. When people live differently, even if it’s for very good reason, kids like me can get anxious and afraid, and when we’re anxious and afraid we can get angry. Kids like me also want to control things. It’s not that we’re hungry for power. Instead, it’s because we are trying to make our world orderly, because we know how scary it is when the adults around us explode.
Here, Jesus is breaking the rules. He loves the woman who is weighed down, and he wants to see her stand tall. He also loves the world, and longs to heal it. As he says, only a few verses later, the kingdom of heaven is like yeast. It doesn’t take much for the whole batch of dough to be affected: a small act of healing—one woman, in one synagogue—can have an enormous ripple effect on the whole culture. As the story tells us, “the whole crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things he was doing.”
I know all this, but I also know just how anxious I can be when people break rules, or live differently to me. If I had been the leader of the synagogue, I’d probably have reacted badly, too. So I need to hear Jesus’ compassion, but I also need to hear what Jesus says to him: that it is not possible to follow all the rules; and the work of the Sabbath is to liberate people from the chains which bind them and to ease the burdens which weigh them down, not to add to them. It reminds me that love is the first and most important commandment by far. So I am learning to walk tall, to live in ways that are less bound by rules and ‘shoulds’, and even to enjoy it. But full healing, full liberation from the hard parts of my personal history, is going to take the rest of my life. Ω
Reflect: Dwell in this story. Become the crippled woman. As the religious types squabble around you, what do you feel? What do you hope for? What are you afraid of? Reach up towards Jesus; ask to be made whole; ask to stand tall once again.
#Lent2020 © Sanctuary, 2020.
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