Monday, August 19, 2013

The Bent-Over Woman

When the lectionary made it to Luke 10 (back on July 7), I looked ahead to see when Luke 13 would make its appearance. I've been looking forward to this Sunday ever since. We only get one story from this chapter—leaving behind the blood of the Galileans that Pilate mixed with the sacrifices and the fig tree that hadn’t produced fruit and the mustard seed and the narrow door and the hen gathering her brood under her wings—but at least the one story we get is my favorite. The miraculous healing of the bent-over woman is my favorite miracle story in the gospel, and I’m feeling the pressure to preach it this Sunday.

I’ll probably post on this lesson each day this week, emphasizing a different part of the story. Today, I want to ask about her ailment. Why is she bent over? What “spirit of disability” has forced this woman to stare at the ground for 18 years? In what way has Satan bound this daughter of Abraham for such a long time? What is the true source of her hunched posture?

Perhaps it is a birth-defect, or maybe it’s the result of a fall. She might have started out with a slight slouch whose angle increased over time. Maybe the words of her peers—children who tease and taunt—continued to suck the life and joy away from her, forcing her further and further over. As she made her way through each day, perhaps the unwillingness of the religious authorities—like this self-important leader of the synagogue—to help her only added to her downward gaze. The more she was ostracized as an outsider—as one who does not belong—the more crooked her posture became. She was a testament to oppression—how Satan himself works among us to wear down those whom we target for ill treatment.

She “suddenly appears,” and, when Jesus catches a glimpse of her, he calls her over, bringing her from the margins to the middle of the synagogue. The drama builds. Everyone knows it’s the Sabbath, yet they suspect that this healer intends to heal this woman. That the healing takes place on the day of rest brings out for us the real source of her ailment. The synagogue leader is offended that her healing disrupts the accepted boundaries of decent society. But he doesn’t direct his anger at Jesus—the one who broke the rules—instead attacking the woman by instructing the crowd to come on the other days of the week to be healed. We see, therefore, that the real issue is the need of the synagogue leader and the religious elite whom he represents to maintain a social structure that separates the upright from the downcast.

How long would the woman have had to wait until she could be set free? Systems like synagogues and churches love having someone like this woman who stays in her place of burden. She is the person in the community who is beneath everyone else—the one who reminds them that they aren’t as bad off as she. If she gains the ability to stand up straight on her own, what will happen to the rest of us? Who are the people we have oppressed until they are bent over, unable to look at the sky? More about that later this week.

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