The 14th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 16C (August 21, 2016)

Lessons:Isaiah 58:9b-14 Psalm 103:1-8 (4) Hebrews 12:18-29 St. Luke 13:10-17

Semicontinuous Series: Jeremiah 1:4-10 Psalm 71:1-6 (6)

Prayer of the Day: O God, mighty and immortal, you know that as fragile creatures surrounded by great dangers, we cannot by ourselves stand upright. Give us strength of mind and body, so that even when we suffer because of human sin, we may rise victorious through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

13:10 Now [Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 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. 12When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 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.” 15 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? 16 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?” 17 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.

St. Luke 13:10-17. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.


What Is Healing?

“A woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years.” We certainly wouldn’t describe it with those terms today. We might speak about the effects of an injury, or a degenerative condition, or a birth defect. Whenever someone struggles with a difficult physical (or emotional, or intellectual, or spiritual) reality, it is worth the effort to find language that takes the condition seriously, yet doesn’t blame or label the person involved. They didn’t worry so much about this in the first century. For them, either people were the way God intended them to be, or an evil spirit of some sort had caused them to be otherwise.

Nonetheless, a woman who had suffered for eighteen years meets Jesus in the synagogue, and the end result of the meeting is that she is freed from what had bound her all this time. How does St. Luke describe it? She is set free. She stands up straight. She begins praising God.

Does this story teach us that if our faith is strong enough — if our prayers are faithful enough — that God will heal us from anything that causes us pain and distress? No. In fact, there is no mention of this woman’s faith, or even that she asks Jesus to help her stand straight. He simply notices her, proclaims her to be free, and lays his hands on her. As a friend of mine says (who has been in a wheel chair for thirty-five years; almost twice as long as this woman was afflicted), it’s called a miracle because it rarely happens. Our faith doesn’t promise us miracles. It doesn’t promise an escape from the pains and struggles of this world.

This parable seems, rather, to be about the rightful use of sabbath, and the healing power of Jesus. Isn’t it interesting how the two characters mentioned in this parable, the woman and the leader of the synagogue, respond to this miracle in two completely different ways? The leader sees it as an infraction of the rules established for how and how not to honor God on the Sabbath. The woman sees it as an opportunity for rejoicing.

“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?” By the time of Jesus, the sabbath had long been a day of restriction, a day of obedience, a day of adhering to tradition. In this story, Jesus begins to redefine sabbath. In fact, he begins to redefine what is holy.

True holiness is not strict adherence to the rules. True holiness is recognizing who we are: children of God. (Jesus sees this woman not as “captive of Satan, but as “daughter of Abraham.”) True holiness is setting the captive free. True holiness is being able to sing a full-voiced song of praise.

May this coming Sabbath invite us into true holiness. And may our song of praise ring out, loud and clear.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How has this woman been bound (identified?) by her physical condition?
  2. Why does Jesus heal her?
  3. What do his actions have to say to the prevailing attunes about sabbath?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What binds us today, and prevents our song of praise to God?
  2. What would have to happen for us to be set free?
  3. How can we change the way we practice sabbath, so that we more regularly experience the sacred and powerful presence of God in our lives?