Sunday, August 25, 2013

Which Sickness Was It?

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.  (NRSV)
It seems whenever Jesus came to town something always got stirred up; and generally it was the religious leaders who took exception to the stirring.  The account of the woman being healed on the Sabbath is no exception.  A question that we will explore today is:  Which sickness got cured….her physical health, or spiritual?
In that story there is little room or sympathy for the religious leaders – they’re jerks!  I know that doesn’t sound very pastoral or kindly…but, let’s face it, how can you love the rules more than the healing of a woman who has been so crippled that she can’t even look up the past two decades?  They were jerks!
The real question is:  what made them jerks?  We really want to know this, so we don’t act like that.  Correct me if I’m wrong here, but would you want somebody to write the story of “our synagogue” and two-thousand years from now have some upstart call your pastor a jerk?  So….what made them act like jerks?  Short answer:  they were so obsessed with keeping the rules and making sure everyone else kept the rules they lost all sense of compassion for people.
Rules do things to people.  You can get so immersed in rules, and being a rules-keeper, that you can do some pretty silly stuff. 
I read about some Odd Laws Still on the Books:
·     In Blackwater, Kentucky, tickling a woman under her chin with a feather duster while she’s in church service carries a penalty of $10.00 and one day in jail.  (maybe that would be worth it?)
·     No one can eat unshelled, roasted peanuts while attending church in Idanha, Oregon.
·     In Honey Creek, Iowa, no one is permitted to carry a slingshot to church except a policeman.
·     No citizen in Leecreek, Arkansas, is allowed to attend church in any red-colored garment.[1]
Those are some pretty silly laws…however, they’re no less grotesque than the rulers of the synagogue were in Jesus’ day.  Their rules-keeping, legalistic mentality had so clouded their minds they couldn’t see the needs of the most needy person among them.

Consider the Contrast of the Woman and the Rulers

The Woman
This Jewish woman was one of their own.  She was so bent-over, and had been for such a long time that, for the rulers at least, she probably just faded into the background.  This was among the most powerless of people…not a mover and shaker in the community.
The text suggests she must have suffered from a curved spinal column. 
That was the physical reality; the spiritual reality was that Satan had “bound” her.  She was bent and bound! 
There was a lady like that in a church I served years ago.  Ms. Peggy had crippling arthritis; her hands were gnarled and twisted and she walked stooped-over as the woman in our Bible passage.  And just like the crippled woman, Ms. Peggy was a fixture at the North Main Street Church.  She didn’t let her physical condition get in the way of her spiritual nourishment.
The Rulers
The rulers or leaders of the synagogue were quite a different matter.  The woman was powerless and faithful; the rulers of the synagogue were powerful and faithless.  As previously noted, they had responsibility for the widows, the powerless.  Yet the chief ruler could only bring criticism for Jesus healing her.  They kept their bylaws, but ignored the greatest commandment to love God and neighbor.
When Jesus saw the pitiful condition of this woman he had compassion on her – the kind of compassion that must do something.  He initiated the healing.  The woman didn’t even ask; Jesus reached out and touched her.  And when the rulers objected, Jesus put them to open shame by using the lesser to greater logic of pointing-out how they would’ve done that and more even for the animals of their household.  Certainly a woman of their own flock deserved care on the Sabbath

Consider the Contrast of Reactions to the Woman’s Healing

The woman had been crippled for 18 years.  When Jesus healed her there was no doubt that it was that same woman they’d seen each week at synagogue.  When this woman stood up straight for the first time in 18 years it must have been quite a sight! 
Luke says that she glorified God.  Can’t you see it?  Like days gone by when you’d see someone running down a church aisle because they’d been tapped on the shoulder by the Holy Spirit, this woman lifted up un-crippled hands and straight arms without pain for the first time in two decades!  She didn’t care who was looking!  She sang hallelujah, off-key or on…it made no difference!
The people rejoiced
I can imagine that; if Ms. Peggy had suddenly gotten healed it would’ve caused a revival at North Main Street Church!
The rulers got ticked
What a contrast!  It just proves that control is power-vested.  These men, in charge of everything, with the legal right to discipline and punish wrong-doers, were so threatened by the popularity of Jesus..all they could think of was the fact that he was breaking the rules.  They brought no worship, offered up no praise to God because Jesus healed this poor sister of theirs.  They could only think of how Jesus’ popularity was growing, and theirs was shrinking!  Matthew’s gospel (chap. 12) tells us that it was after this that they started to plot how to kill Jesus.
If you follow the timeline of Jesus’ movements, this was the very last time Jesus entered a synagogue before going to the cross.  It kind of makes the point about crossing the line once too often with God.  There is a time when He finally says, “OK, your will be done”…and God finally washes His hands of trying to save you.

To Remember

So this woman was healed on the Sabbath…some big crime, eh? 
A young child drew a wonderful picture of a church.  The stick people figures going in the front door were bent and dejected. 
Emerging out the back door were other, larger, straighter stick people.  The child’s Mom asked what the meaning was.  The little girl replied That’s how it is to go to see Jesus; when you go in you’re all broken-down…He straightens you up and you feel much better!
The woman needed more than physical healing.  And she needed more than spiritual healing.  And when she met Jesus, both happened!
There are abused and powerless people all around us in this community.  Our job is to look for them, find them, and heal them.  They are crying out in their hearts a phrase that is often repeated in the Scripture; it is the phrase/question which is frequently on the lips of a sufferer:  How long, O Lord?
Our job is to speak for those who cannot speak, to seek those who cannot help themselves, to minister where the hands and loving touch of Jesus are needed.  That is what describes the ministry of a church.
How many bound and bent people do you know?  And, this week, will they see in you the One who can make them straight?

[1] Robert W. Pelton in The Door. Christian Reader, Vol. 33, no. 5.

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