Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Theme: Great Lent week 5
Volume 8 No. 467 March 9, 2018
III. Lectionary Reflections: Luke 13:10-16

Standing up Straight with the Bent Over Woman
Gospel: Luke 13:10-17

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.
- Luke 13:10-17 (NRSV)

Don't you just love a heat wave? I know everyone complains about how uncomfortable they are, and how they don't want to move or can't breathe, but truly- that's what makes them so impressive. No matter what you do there is no getting away from it. You can go into air conditioning for a while (and even there you can still feel it) But eventually you have to go out again. And when you do, you have no choice but to let the heat envelop you, surround you; even to the point where it threatens to overwhelm you! It seems that even if you are very still, there is no escape. When you are caught in the middle of that heat, your only defense is to embrace it.

Our story today is about "the bent over woman." Isn't that an interesting way to be identified? She has no other name that we know- history has named her, judged her and labeled her by her appearance… by what's wrong with her… by her situation.

Anyway, it is the Sabbath- the holy day- and the Jewish people have congregated in the synagogue- their place of meeting- and Jesus is teaching. And like every first century synagogue, the men are in front and the women are in back. And somehow Jesus notices a latecomer; a woman- bent over, or in the Greek, 'bent double.' She is quietly making her way toward her seat- cane in one hand, head toward the ground… she is used to slipping in late and is hoping to go unnoticed. She had been living this way for the past 18 years… slumped, bent, hunched…

Do you know what happens when you spend 18 years looking at the ground? You miss a whole lot going around you, that's for sure. In fact, when you spend 18 years looking at anything, you miss a whole lot of life going on around you.

But the bent over woman, the text says, was crippled by a 'spirit'… bent over and unable to stand up straight at all. Do you know what that says to me? That there was a time in this woman's life, before this happened to her that she could look people in the eye. At one time in her life, she had been stronger; maybe even healthy. But something had happened to her, and whatever it was, she could not leave it behind. It could have been an illness; and I don't doubt that Jesus could have healed her physically. But I don't think that's what this is about...

"Crippled by a spirit", says that there is something that has gotten hold of you, or has assumed power over you, or has taken control of your life. And that 'something' is causing you to live life in a crippled state… as less than… handicapped… making allowances for and making your choices by. And it's so powerful that it dictates your actions; how you speak, where and when you go, how you act, how you think of yourself, and think of others. When a spirit has crippled you, you have succumbed (willing or not) to the power of that spirit- and it can take everything from you.

We don't know what 'spirit' had crippled this woman.

It could have been something that happened to her; as a child or an adult… human beings can do unspeakable things to each other, and especially to the weak. Something can be experienced that is so traumatic it leaves one unable to move on…

It could have been some type of abuse or mistreatment that had gone on; perhaps daily. She could have been living in a relationship (or a home) that was unhealthy. And her ability to stand up straight had been taken from her over time.

It could have been an addiction of some kind. (Yes, addictions were present in the 1st century) Anything from drugs and/or alcohol to gambling, to food addictions, to compulsive shopping and spending, to nail biting, to judging others, to gossiping. Pick your poison… but every time our behavior is altered to accommodate our addiction, we've been crippled by the spirit of that addiction.

And please understand, once one is under the power of that spirit, it can seem like there is no way out. It's like the heat wave we were talking about earlier… it seems like there is no getting away from it; it envelops you… surrounds you, and you can get to the point where it threatens to overwhelm you.

And after trying to stand up against it for so long, only to fail again and again, you can feel like your only defense is to just embrace it; and worse, to accept it… "This is just who I am now!" And you begin to identify yourself, in fact you begin to let others identify you based on that spirit… "He's the fat one; she's a workaholic; he's a drunk; she's a widow; she's been abused, he's got a bad marriage, she's neurotic, he is self-centered…" And those labels stick... My God do they stick…

And once we internalize our labels, we quickly learn to become ashamed of them. That's common in our, "only the strong survive" "take care of yourself" "figure it out" society… But a life lived in shame is not easy to navigate. So we spend our lives with a cane in our hand slipping in late and making our way to the back corner of the room; hunched over because we can't stand to look anyone in the eye… can't stand to look ourselves in the eye anymore. "Keep your head down, damn it!"

This is the bent over woman. She is everyone who has ever struggled to rise above the pain of oppression and low self-worth and judgment from others… she is everyone who has struggled with illness, addictions, loss of value, loss of spouse, or self-esteem or innocence… she is anyone who has lived in a situation that is intolerable… anyone who has been told "You Can't" and believed it.... anyone who has lost hope…

And as she makes her way to her seat that balmy Sabbath morning, Jesus calls to her. And Jesus doesn't shout out, "Hey, YOU! Crippled one in the back row!"… or "Hey, Quasi Moto, I'm talking to you!"… or any other label that she or anyone else has used to identify her. He called her in a way that she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was talking to her... Jesus used an identification that was unique to her... a name, if you will... Jesus calls her…

And hearing her name speaks to something inside of her; she recalls who she was before… Hearing her name she thinks… "I remember her… I remember my life before I took on the name of shame… I remember my life before I wore the label of addiction… I remember my life when I looked people in the eye; hell, when I looked myself in the eye… I remember life before IT came and took over.

Hearing her name is like a cool breeze in the middle of a heat wave, and she lets it wash over her in delight… and it gives her the strength to make her way toward the source of all wind and breath. It gives her strength amidst and despite the thunderous whispers and bolts of judgment she feels from everyone in the room… from everyone who knew her- and knew about her…

And when she arrives at the eye of the storm… at the place of peace that one finds at the feet of Jesus, she hears…"Woman, you are free from your ailment…. Woman, you are free from your oppression…. Free from judgment…. Free from shame…. Woman, you are no longer under the power of this thing that has controlled your life for so long… Free to be who you are and not who others tell you, you are. Free to live in the grace and mercy of the one who loves and cares for and knows everything you've ever experienced… free to love yourself, accept yourself… not with resignation, but with affirmation… You are precious… You are cherished… You are adored."

And Jesus lays his hands on her and immediately she stood up straight, and began to praise God. (vs.13)

And the room held its breath… a miracle!

But not many of us like things that we can't explain. It makes us feel helpless. We feel out of control; vulnerable; unable to define or dissect what we just saw take place before our eyes… So the leader of the synagogue does what most of us would do in that situation… he looked at the faces of the amazed people who had questions he could not answer; and not knowing what to say, he deferred to the rules.

"This is the wrong day for healings… we only do this kind of thing during the week, not on Sabbath!"

Notice, that he didn't deny the power of Christ- he didn't deny the healing, he didn't deny that this woman was made brand new. A lot of times I think that's how it is for us. We understand (in theory) that God can do anything- we don't deny the power in the room- we profess that Jesus can take away our sorrow, heal our wounds- but we want Jesus to do it within the framework we have set up- according to our plan- in ways that are not threatening, or scary, or risky. We like the "safe healing" Jesus.

But here's how Jesus responds: He calls the leader of the synagogue a' hypocrite'; And then he turns to the woman, and he calls her 'daughter'…. Daughter! He looks at the crowd with their mouths still wide open and lovingly reminds them that this woman, the one who they have made to feel 'less than,' for all of these years, is as much a part of them as the leader of the synagogue. He reminds them that the family of God is not about shaming people into community, or marginalizing those who struggle, or reaching outside the circle to help those who can't help themselves as if it's some magnanimous gesture on our part. But reminding them (us) to bring those people to the source of all wind and breath… to the center.

I don't know what may have you "bent over" today- what may or may not have a hold on you, or how far into the margins you may feel. I don't know what you struggle with, or what it is in your life that keeps you in the state that you're in, or has claimed power over your life. I don't know the name you have come to know yourself by or what labels you wear…

But I do know this. We all, to some extent, live 'bent double.' And it may or may not be in the form of a debilitating disfigurement- in fact, no one may be able to see that you are bent over at all.…

But Jesus knows it. He has seen you in the back of the room with your cane. He has seen you slip in at the last minute, hoping no one notices. And this moment, He is calling to you…"Stand up Straight." And he is not calling like the gentle cool breeze, but with the prevailing and pervasive fire of grace, mercy and truth… calling you with love so hot that it envelops and surrounds and (praise God) just plain overwhelms! Your only defense is to embrace it. Talk about a heat wave!

When Jesus calls you- to the "you" inside... to the "you" from before... to the "you" he created… what he offers is life; life that is rich and full and free. You don't have to live bent over to anything or anyone or any label ever again, because the one who knows the truth about you sees all of it and still calls you daughter! The one who loves you exactly the way you are calls you son!

Oh what a God we serve!

And I know the temptation is to turn a deaf ear… to think, when you hear the word "beloved" from the mouth of God, (and that is God's name for you, by the way... Beloved...) When you hear your name, you begin to think, "That can't be for me… Christ can't really mean me." But here's one more thing to think about...

When Jesus addresses the crowd, do you know what he calls the spirit that has kept her crippled all these years? He says, "this woman has been bound by Satan for 18 years!" Now "Satan" in Greek doesn't mean the guy in the red suit with the horns on his head… "Satan" means "accuser." I would leave it to you to decide who is the accuser(s) in this story, and I'll leave you to decide who the accuser(s) are in your own story. For now, stand up straight!

Source: Theological Stew

The Bent-Over Woman

by Jesus Unboxed

Gospel: Lk 13:10-17

Can we imagine seeing the world through the eyes of the bent-over woman in our gospel lesson for today? Can we imagine a disease that morphs our skeletal structure until we are "bent over" and "quite unable to stand up straight?" Can we imagine living this way for 18 years. 18 years! That's an eternity!

That's an eternity when your face is pointed toward the ground, and you go through life looking at shoes and feet, pavement and grass. That's an eternity.. when you have to crick your neck upward to catch a glimpse of the faces of those you love. That's an eternity when you live with chronic pain, and have to rely on others to help you with the simplest of tasks. Can we imagine seeing the world through the eyes of the bent-over woman in our gospel lesson for today?

I think we can. But there is a risk in sympathizing with this woman and her plight. t's easier to pass by her on the sidewalk, and pretend she doesn't exist. It's easier to ignore her outstretched beggar's cup and the desperation in her eyes. To sympathize with the bent-over woman is to feel our own pain; to remember the ways in which we have walked in her shoes.

Perhaps, we're literally bent-over with pain, struggling with illness and disease. Perhaps we're doubled over emotionally, as depression or abusive words destroy our ability to feel joy and happiness. Perhaps we're crippled spiritually because we have been told by others we are less than God's beloved child. Perhaps we are incapacitated by debt as we struggle to pay the bills and provide for our families.

Truth be told, we have all walked in the bent-over woman's shoes. We have felt the burdens of life oppress and deform us. Her story IS our story. Her pain IS our pain. Therefore, we sit in solidarity with her this morning as she enters the one place many of us go to find hope and healing: the synagogue, the church, God's house.

She is talking a big risk, because the synagogue is not always a welcoming place. The synagogue can be just as oppressive as the physical deformity she carries in her body. The synagogue is the place where, in Jesus' time, it was believed that physical ailments came from either demonic possession or from God as a punishment for sins we committed.

In today's gospel lesson it is clear that those who gathered around her believed her deformity was demonic; which is something that leaves modern believers scratching their heads. What the bent-over woman believed about her infirmity is not clear.

Luke says she was possessed by "a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years." But he doesn't say what the bent-over woman believed about her infirmity. What is clear is that she took a risk. She got up the nerve to enter the doors of this holy place is search of hope and healing. I picture her taking a seat on the floor in the back of the synagogue. I'm sure she was told this was her place; barely seen and definitely not heard.

Fortunately, this is not the end of the story. It is only the beginning! Jesus is also present in the synagogue and this changes everything. Luke doesn't tell us why he is there. He may have been preaching, debating with the rabbis, or simply worshipping. The synagogue can be a busy and noisy place. His eyes could have focused on a hundred different things. But, Jesus only saw one person who had his full attention. Turning to the back corner of the synagogue, Jesus spoke: "Woman, you are set free from your ailment."

He walked over to where she was sitting, laid his hands on her, and immediately the bent-over woman stood up straight and began praising God. The bones in her spinal column were healed and aligned. The pain she had carried for 18 years was completely obliterated. She was free! And she began to sway back and forth, standing straight and tall with her arms raised toward heaven. And she began to sing! Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam…Blessed are You, Lord, our God, Creator of the universe, who bestows good things on the unworthy, and has bestowed on me every goodness." [Trad. Jewish Prayer]

It was a miracle! God's kingdom had invaded our sometimes hostile and cruel world and filled it with new life and vitality. All we can say in response is "Thanks be to God!" Every time the bent-over woman or the bent-over man is healed, all we can say is "Thanks be to God!" Every time the bent-over you and the bent-over me is healed, all we can say is "Thanks be to God!" Sometimes, God's kingdom shakes things up in our world.

Jesus speaks those words "Child of God, you are set free from your ailment" and it actually happens! Pain and disease are cured! Crippling emotions are replaced with joy and happiness! Spiritual wounds are healed and we embrace our identity as beloved children of God! Financial problems are made better by a new job or an unexpected check in the mail! Like the bent-over woman, we are able to stand up straight and praise God for new life, new beginnings, restoration to health, and so much more! I have seen it happen in your lives as Christ has helped you to stand up straight after life had crippled your body, mind and spirit. I have seen it happen in my life as well as Christ brought me from a place of deep despair to a place of unquenchable joy and peace. Every time this happens, we stand up straight with the bent-over woman in our gospel story. We sing and we dance and we say "Thanks be to God!"

But there's another voice in the story and we've heard this voice before: "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day." Bless his heart!

Did we hear that correctly? "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day." God performed a miracle and this man is unimpressed. Jesus healed the bent-over woman but he made the fatal mistake of healing her on the Sabbath day. He could have done this healing any other day of the week EXCEPT for this day.

"Why can't you follow the rules, Jesus!" The leader of the synagogue grumbles. "Without rules, there is no order! Without rules, everything falls apart!"

It appears that the bent-over woman is not the only crippled person in the synagogue today! There is another, the leader of the synagogue, the head honcho, the big kahuna. He is just as incapacitated as the bent-over woman who sat in the back of the sanctuary. The Jewish Law, the Torah, hangs heavy on his shoulders. It was supposed to bring him joy. It was supposed to be a way he could thank God for all the blessings he had received in life. Instead, the Law became so heavy, it made him unable to move, unable to experience wonder and miracle.

Friends in Christ, sometimes this happens to us. Sometimes it happens to our loved ones and friends in church. When following the rules limits the Spirit's ability to heal and transform our lives, we have a problem. When the mantra "we've never done it that way before" becomes the spiritual quicksand that threatens the life and vitality of the church, we have a problem. When the letter of the law has a stranglehold on the spirit of the law, we have a problem.

This bent-over man was not a mean man. He was simply short-sighted. He was afraid of change and liked things to be done "decently and in good order." There is a place and a time or this, in our lives, in our church, and in the world. "But not today!" Jesus says. "Today I'm birthing something new. Let's set side the rules and be happy that God is working wonders in our midst!"

In order to cure this man of his "bent-over-ness" Jesus utters a single word: HYPOCRITE! Ouch! That's harsh! This is no "Woman, you are set free from your ailment." This is a backhand slap. It's meant to wake someone up. I looked up the Greek word used here: HUPOKRITES. It means "one who pretends to be other than what he is." In other words, "An actor playing a part in a play." He's not being the true rabbi he's called to be who should recognize a "God-moment" when he sees it. Jesus is trying to tell him there are times when rules are meant to be bent. There are times when rules are meant to be broken. This was one of those times. The rabbi should be able to discern this.

After calling him a hypocrite, Jesus provides a teaching moment through which the bent-over rabbi is able to stand up straight. "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?" In others words, this is technically working on the Sabbath, but common sense tells us we need to take care of our animals EVEN on the Sabbath day.

Jesus continued, 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?" To clarify the clever Greek used here, I'd like to offer my own paraphrase of these verses: "You UNBIND your ox on the Sabbath in order to give it a drink. So why wouldn't you UNBIND this woman on the Sabbath since she has been BOUND by her illness for eighteen years?" Notice the parallel phrasing in this text. To simplify it even further Jesus is trying to tell the bent-over rabbi "It's a no brainer! Even your ox or donkey could figure this out!"

In response to Jesus' simple observation, our gospel lesson says "All his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing." The Greek word "shame" means "to be humiliated, or to disgrace," but it also means "to put to the blush."

If we interpret this word in the kindest sense possible, I don't believe Jesus' intent was to disrespect and embarrass the rabbi. His intent was to help him stand up straight and be healed of his need to rigidly follow the letter of the law. Therefore, there are two healings which occur in our gospel lesson: The bent-over woman and the bent-over rabbi.This is most certainly good news! We rejoice with the gathered crowd that the kingdom of God has drawn near.

Friends in Christ, our gospel lesson is a wonderful story. It's a story that reminds us that when life makes us feel like the bent-over woman or the bent-over rabbi there is hope. Jesus is in the room with us and this is a game changer! Let us rejoice and give thanks for the One who heals us of our infirmities and helps us to stand up straight! Amen.

Copyright ©2016 by David Taliesin

A Woman Set Free

by Geoff Thomas

Gospel: Luke 13:10-16

"On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, 'Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.' Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God. Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler said to the people, 'There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.' The Lord answered him, 'You hypocrites! Doesn't each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?"

In this incident in the life of our Lord we are meeting the very last occasion on which he spoke in a synagogue. Over two years have passed since he first stood up in his own local synagogue in Nazareth, read from the book of Isaiah the prophet and then sat down and preached to them. Since that time Jesus had preached scores of times in the synagogues of Galilee, but the Pharisees who ran the synagogues were increasingly hostile to him, and this was the final occasion he was allowed to preach to a Sabbath congregation in its meeting place. The mighty miracle performed there threw the Pharisees into such rage and consternation that they determined he would never be allowed to preach the kingdom of God in places they controlled again. There were two key people in the synagogue that day, Jesus Christ and one very sick woman, just as today again there are two people here, Jesus Christ and you.


Luke loves to speak of the women helped by the Lord. He has forty-two passages which speak about women, twenty-three of which are unique to his gospel. Here we are told that there was a woman whose ill health marked her out in the community. She was very obviously in bad health. There were others worse off; some were in advance stages of heart disease, but you could not tell from glancing at them that anything was wrong. But you did not need to be a physician to tell that this woman was in a very bad away. That is what distinguished her. When I was a teenager we attended a church in the Rhymni Valley, Tabernacle Hengoed. There were three Mrs. Thomas's in the church. There was Mrs. Thomas the Station (my mother); Mrs. Thomas the Milk (the milkman's wife), and Mrs. Thomas Bad Back. That is how this unfortunate woman was known. Thus it was with this woman. Her name may have been the very popular 'Mary' but she would have been distinguished as 'Mary Bent Over.' There would have been just a few hundred people living in this village and everyone knew this woman, spotting her on a Sabbath morning hobbling to the synagogue. All the children noticed her and had asked their parents artless questions about her strange posture, like a question mark, always looking down to the earth. I'm saying that everyone was aware of the hopeless plight of this lady and pitied her.

i] The woman's condition. She was crippled. We are told that, "she was bent over and could not straighten up at all" (v.11). It was some type of bone degeneration; maybe her spine had become fused into a mass; she probably also had muscular paralysis. She was stooped over with pain and every aspect of her life was affected. Just imagine how hard it would be to work, and clean, and carry water, and sleep, and just survive in that state. How depressing for her and she had had to get by for almost twenty years in this condition.

ii] The woman's faith. She was in her place in the synagogue on that Sabbath. She had to overcome a number of obstacles to be there. Just being a woman attending the synagogue she was made aware of her second class position. Men alone counted for a quorum in the services and women had to know their place, and yet she was always there, even with the Sabbath struggle to get there because of her illness. Nevertheless she never stayed away because she was a true believer. We learn that from the words of the Lord Jesus Christ. He calls her a 'daughter of Abraham' (v.16). He is not merely saying that she was a Jew. Virtually everyone in the synagogues would have been Jews plus the one or two proselytes such as a Roman centurion. The Saviour is using the term in its full spiritual significance; she had faith in Abraham's God, she was an inheritor of the promise of God that he would bless the descendants of Abraham, that through them all the nations of the earth would be blessed by the coming of the Messiah. Abraham is the father of all who believe, and so she was a real believer too. We are not told anything more about her, what her name was, her age, whether she had been or still was married, but we are told that on the Sabbath she was there in the assembly of God. In spite of suffering and infirmity and being regarded as a 'mere woman' she knew her duty and she was there. She could so easily have pleaded her physical handicap and said, "You don't expect someone like me to be with the Lord's people on the Sabbath," but she did not think like that. She was there. She did not plead her illness as a reason for not becoming a daughter of Abraham, saying, "How can I go on believing in God when I have asked him to heal me for almost twenty years but I'm still a cripple." Many talk like that. We can all find some excuse for not hearing the Word of God, but where two or three were gathered together in the Lord's name there you'd find this anonymous woman year after year. How many depressed people Sunday after Sunday read the papers, cook a meal, sleep and watch TV all the evening and at the end of the day are in a worse state than when they started? How many others think that attending once on a Sunday is enough and are relieved to be home again? This woman could not look up at the heavens; she could not run; she could not enjoy a day free from pain, but she could walk, and she could go to the meeting place on the Sabbath, and she did those things.

What does J.C.Ryle say? "Now what is the explanation of all this? What is the reason why so few are like the woman of whom we read this day? The answer to these questions is short and simple. Most of them have no heart for God's service: they have no delight in God's presence or God's day. 'The carnal mind is enmity against God.' The moment a woman's heart is converted, these pretended difficulties about attending public worship vanish away. The new heart finds no trouble in keeping the Sabbath holy. Where there is a will there is always a way. Let us never forget that our feelings about Sundays are sure tests of the state of our souls. The woman who can find no pleasure in giving God one day in the week, is manifestly unfit for heaven. Heaven itself is nothing but an eternal Sabbath. If we cannot enjoy a few hours in God's service once a week in this world, it is plain that we could not enjoy an eternity in his service in the world to come. Happy are they who walk in the steps of her of whom we read to-day! They shall find Christ and a blessing while they live, and Christ and glory when they die" (J.C.Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, Volume 2, p.120).

iii] The woman's enemy. This poor woman, on top of her physical handicap, had an enemy. Not her landlord, or the few bad boys who shouted out after her as she walked to the well. The enemy of her soul was the devil. We know that firstly because he is the enemy of the lives of each one of us. He is the ruler of the darkness of this world. He uses lies, deception, murder and every kind of destructive activity to cause people to turn away from the gospel and keep them in bondage to unbelief. He will use anything to hinder a Christian's usefulness – temptation, guilt, doubt, fear, confusion, sickness, envy, pride and slander. He will intervene in any physical malady, in deafness, Parkinson's, mental illness, Alzheimer's, heart disease, cancer, paralysis and so on, to prevent people living useful Christian lives. Of course I am not saying that if we have any of those illnesses or any others that that sickness is because of the devil. I do not believe that that is so, in fact I deny that that is so, but I am saying that the powers of darkness will take and use such illnesses to rob us of the joy of knowing and serving God cheerfully. I do believe and teach that and have seen it in the lives of some who profess to be Christians. We are told here by Doctor Luke and the Holy Spirit that there was a woman with an orthopaedic condition that was produced by the power of Satan, and I cannot explain this, but I affirm that it was so. Scripture requires it. There are many things that we have not fathomed in life concerning the mystery of suffering and the power of evil.

Professor C.S.Lewis wisely warns us, "There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. The devils themselves are equally pleased by both extremes, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight." C.S. Lewis invented a junior devil whom old Satan teaches and to whom he makes fascinating observations. For example, he says on one occasion, "It's funny how mortals always picture us devils as 'putting things into their minds.' In reality our best work is done by keeping things out." Certainly the devil's best policy is concealment. He seeks to be ignored; he encourages the pretence that he does not exist (though it is evident that someone exactly like him is doing his work). However, here in this synagogue on this Sabbath day, when Jesus spotted this woman, he stripped the devil's cover and he announced to them all that "Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years," (v.16) this poor lady.


You will see the opening words of our passage, that it begins with the Lord Jesus: "On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues" (v.10). Sometimes you hear the cliché that Jesus did not come to preach but that he came to do something that we'd have something to preach. That observation is clever but not true. He preached everywhere, from a boat, and on a mountain, and in homes, and in the Temple, and in the synagogues of Galilee. He preached constantly to individuals and to groups – to a couple of sisters and a brother in Bethany – and even to thousands of people. Here he was doing what he had been doing day after day for two years. God had sent him into the world with a message for God's creatures living in his creation. Whoever he spoke to, individuals or congregations, and whenever he spoke he was never boring and never bland. When he finished the sermon people were spellbound at what they had heard. "Where did he learn to speak like that?" they asked one another. His enemies once sent armed guards to arrest him but those tough country boys couldn't push their way through the crowds of people craning their ears at the edges of the crowd not to miss anything Jesus had to say, refusing to step aside lest they miss-heard what Christ was preaching. So the arresting officers (as today's phrase puts it) had to stop and listen; they too drank in his words, and finally went away quietly, failing to have arrested him. Asked why they hadn't taken him they replied. "No one ever spoke as this man speaks." That's because no one but Jesus ever spoke as Immanuel, God with us. No one ever lived as Jesus lived amongst men. No one ever died as he died making atonement for our sins and praying that God would show mercy to those who had crucified him. No one ever raised himself from the dead as Christ did, defeating death and offering to us eternal life. Here is the incomparable preacher, Jesus of Nazareth.

Sometimes just hearing a friend – your son, your brother – talking about Jesus is enough to awaken in you a feeling that the Lord Jesus is astonishing. That can be the first step in trusting him and having a relationship with him yourself, but there's nothing better than getting to know Jesus for yourself. There was a woman who had gone through several failed marriages before she met Jesus, but somehow she was known to Christ already – he was aware of her five marriages and of the man she was living with at that moment – but Jesus spoke to her befriending her and he told her that she could have eternal life in him. The woman was overwhelmed. She hurried off to tell others in her village to come and see Jesus. Her attitude to him and words about him were so striking that to many of the townspeople it sounded as if this man could be the promised Messiah. But would he come to their little place, to Sychar? Did they stop with what the woman had told them? No, they wanted to find out for themselves and they had to meet Jesus and get to know him better, so they walked to the well of Sychar and they asked Jesus to stay there a while and teach them. Many who weren't convinced before soon became believers, and those who already believed what the woman had said about Jesus now had their faith made more individual and relevant when they listened to him personally. They told the woman, "We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world" (John 4:42).

So this was the Jesus present with these people in this synagogue preaching to them all and making the most incredible claims, for example, that the prophecy of Isaiah abut the Messiah coming, was now being fulfilled in their presence. Jesus claimed that before Abraham was he, Jesus, existed. He claimed that one day he was going to judge the world and that every one would receive their destinies from his lips. He claimed equality with God saying, "I and my Father are one." He claimed to be the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one could go to the Father but by him. He exhorted them to come to him, all of them, labouring and heavy-laden though they might be, and he would give them all rest. He urged them to turn from their sins in repentance and believe on him.

Now these are either the words of a megalomaniac, or the words of a blasphemous liar, or they are the words of the Son of God. In fact any of you could claim that you are the way to God, and you and God are one. I could say words like that. What makes them so significant in Jesus is his character, as combining such humility with his authority. You do not meet that in any other character in history, this astonishing union of tenderness and toughness. One moment he is cuddling babies and the next moment he is confronting rulers. One moment he is lying exhausted and asleep in a boat that's being rocked by a storm; the next moment he's ordering the storm around. One moment he's weeping at the grave of his dead friend Lazarus; the next he is ordering death itself to release his friend. One moment he is on his knees like a slave, washing other people's dirty feet; the next he says he's their Lord and Master. He comes in such humility and yet he makes such mind-blowing claims. Could even the least human being be humbler and more vulnerable? Could even Almighty God be greater and more powerful?

He comes to this humble little synagogue, far smaller than our building, and he speaks to the ordinary people gathered in the congregation. Then as he ends, seeing the crippled woman listening to him, he calls on her to come forward. She comes up to him and he looks at her and says, "Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.' Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God" (vv. 12&13). Everybody had been convicted by his words, and yet everyone was also saying to themselves, "But . . . But . . . But . . . But is this true? Is he pre-existent? Is he one with God? Is he our Judge? If we go to him will we find rest?" They are crucial questions, the most important enquiries people can ask. So what does Jesus do? He notices this poor woman in a corner of the building, and he calls her to him. Slowly she gets up from the back of the synagogue and shuffles towards him, and then, before them all, he touches her and he actually heals her of this wretched complaint. She straightens up before their very eyes. The question mark bent figure becomes the erect letter 'I'. She is straight and supple, and she whispers, "Praise God!" She gives God the glory.

Now you need to remember that this miracle was not unique. It was not a one-off. It was one of hundreds of miracles that Jesus had done over the past two years. He had made paralyzed people walk. He had made blind men see. He made deaf people hear. He had touched lepers and outcasts with contagious diseases and instead of Jesus getting sick from them, they got well from him. He healed everyone of every disease in however late a stage of development it was in. No failures at all. He even raised the dead. A funeral procession breaks up, it never reaches the graveyard when Jesus stops the cortege and brings the boy in the coffin to life, to the delight of his widowed mother. That is the background to this healing of this well-known local character. Luke finished writing this gospel maybe twenty years after the incident and many of the people healed by Jesus were still alive, certainly most of the 500 who saw Jesus alive after his resurrection had not died and you could talk to them, and you could talk to this crippled woman if she were still alive. I am saying that these miracles showed awesome power and they were signs that confirmed the truth of his claims. Only a man who was one with God could do what Jesus did, constantly speaking such righteous loving words, and living such a consistent life.

But there is another important factor also, that the healing of this woman also showed Jesus' personality, his sympathy and compassion. Jesus doesn't just heal, he put his hands on her and he talked to her, "You are free," he said to her. That curvature of the spine had imprisoned her for almost twenty years. She was a slave to her illness. Now she was liberated. I am saying that Jesus Christ doesn't just cure problems, he cares about people. He undoes the damage of the fall of man that brought sin and death into the world. That is why he has come.

But there is another important factor also, that in that synagogue a great battle was raging, one that is going on even here and now, and all over the world, between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness, between Christ and Satan. This woman was a slave of Satan, not in any sense of being particularly immoral. She was a righteous person who believed in God, but a slave in the sense that this paralysis of hers was just like the thorn in the flesh was to the apostle Paul, a messenger of Satan tormenting. Jesus removed her thorn; he broke the chains that bound her to this disease. "You are free from your infirmity," he said to her. She became a truly liberated woman. Those only are members of 'women's Lib' who have been made free by Christ, and their response as hers is joy and praise. He had told people, "I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly" (Jn.10:10). What quality of life had she had before Jesus spoke to her and healed her? There had never been a day of greater joy in her life. There had never been a day of blessing in the whole brief history of that synagogue to compare with this day. There had never been a happier gathering as on that Sabbath morning. What a blessed day of rest!

What power Christ has, and he is the same yesterday, and today. The same Jesus who was in that gathering is in our gathering now. With him nothing is impossible. He can soften hearts that seem as hard as granite. He can bend wills that have been like ram-rods refusing to bow to Jesus Christ for 18 years. He can enable people who have simply looked down at the mud for decade after decade to look high and see the stars. He can create, and transform, and renew, and break down, and build, and make alive with his irresistible power. He never changes. Hold fast to this truth! Never let it go! Never despair of anyone's salvation. Name them before the Lord day and night even if their cases seem desperate. There are no incurable cases with Christ. If he summons them to come to him they will be constrained to come, and when he lays his hands on them they stand before him and glorify God. Job said to God, "I know you can do everything" (Job 42:2).


You hear men say that if people rose from the dead today they'd be believers, but people have risen from the dead and still men don't believe. Here was an extraordinary miracle, a helpless, incurable, deformed woman was healed and given full health again, something she had not known for 18 years. She had not been pretending for that length of time that she was horribly handicapped. She was a pitiful sight and known by everyone in the community. In a moment the Lord Jesus had touched her, spoken to her and healed her completely. There was no one else with him, no apostles helping; he did it all by himself; no one was pretending to be this woman; this was no hoax, no healthy woman masquerading as a cripple. The transformation was so unbelievable that the only explanation was that a mighty miracle had been performed by Jesus of Nazareth.

You would then think that this example of 'power evangelism' would result in a mighty revival taking place in this synagogue and spilling over to the whole community so that hundreds of people professed repentance for their sins and faith in the Lord. You would expect that, but that is not what occurred. There were religious men who were angry at what had taken place. They didn't crowd around the woman and weep with joy at her new life. The head of the elders who ran the synagogue couldn't rejoice that his building had had a visit of the Messiah. They had heard him preach and he had wrought a mighty sign in this place, a confirmation of who he was as the incarnate Son of God and a taste of what he would do one day for all the world at the end of the age when he dealt with the effects of sin and death in creation. The synagogue ruler got up and publically complained at what had happened. "He said to the people, 'There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath'" (v. 14). There were in fact 39 rules in the Mishnah of what was not to be done on the Sabbath, but which one of these prohibitions Jesus had broken by touching this woman and healing her is not at all clear.

This complaint is the voice of desperation isn't it? This shows us how hard are men's hearts in resisting the claims of Christ to be their God and Judge. They simply will not have this man rule over them, and increasingly every powerful sermon of his was greeted by their antagonism, and every miracle with an explanation that he was working by the power of Beelzebub. What a pompous, callous response were these words of the synagogue ruler to such a display of glory – "Come and be healed on other days of the week but not the Sabbath!" As though there was any other person or any power in that plain building that could work miracles on any old Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday when Jesus had left the area. The ruler said to Christ and the woman, "Divine miracles of deliverance from Satan and sickness may be performed on any day but the Sabbath!"

I am saying that such an incredible response of this religious gentleman in this synagogue at witnessing the extraordinary transformation of this woman proves the truth of a former Pharisee's words who had become a Christian that the "carnal mind is enmity against God" (Roms 8:7) That means that your heart as someone not yet a Christian always, and at all times, is in a steady state of "hostility" toward God; there is a condition of personal animosity, and dislike, and opposition which is directed against God's requirement as to how you should live and how you may be saved. How incorrigible the natural man is. Think of it. This synagogue ruler has looked at this bent-over crippled woman for 18 years, and then he has seen her this very day wonderfully delivered, but because the one who has transformed her was the Son of God he rebuked Jesus. This man is evidently anti-Christ. I am saying that that shocking response is an indication of the immense problem of the human heart, that we are enemies of God, and rebels. Let me underline this, the Bible says that your heart while unchanged by the grace of Christ has a bias against God. One proof that this is so is here in this man's hateful response to Jesus' miracle, but the greatest proof of all is the fact that they took this Jesus and they nailed him to a cross and they mocked him and taunted him for hours as he died: "enmity against God."

How did Jesus respond? In two interesting ways, first in denouncing the leaders of the synagogue as hypocrites: "You hypocrites!" (v.15). In other words he didn't say, "I mustn't judge you. You are free to hold your opinion and I can hold mine." Jesus was no supporter of relativism. They were wrong and he condemned them. Indeed they were a bunch of hypocrites to denounce him for breaking the Sabbath. But then you see what he does? He talks to them reasonably about the Sabbath. He doesn't rubbish the principle of keeping one day in seven as a Sabbath to the Lord, and he talks lucidly to them about the true keeping of this day. He uses the man's wild criticism of his healing the women as being a desecration of this special day as an opportunity of explaining to the whole congregation what keeping this day means.

Jesus tells the people what was in the law of Moses that works of necessity and mercy must be performed on the Sabbath. You have compassion on your animals; they need to drink water and be fed during those 24 hours. If they fall into a ditch then you rescue them on the Sabbath. You do this for your animals don't you? All of them did. How much more do you deliver a woman in terrible pain on the Sabbath? Should Satan have victory over her for one more day? Isn't this a wonderful day and a suitable place – the Sabbath and the assembly of God – to be delivered by the Son of God, the Lord Jesus? You don't show more compassion to your donkey on this day in this place than to a fellow believer, do you?

Jesus spoke those words with all the authority of heaven behind him, so much more that Luke tells us that synagogue ruler and his cronies were humiliated. They hung their heads in shame, but the people sitting there in the synagogue were delighted. Their dear friend had been healed. They had heard the greatest sermon of their entire lives. It was a wonderful day in the history of their little synagogue and the pompous, proud Pharisees who ran the place had got their come-uppance from heaven itself. What wonderful things Jesus was doing.

You have considered today an event in the life of the unchangeable Lord Jesus when he was confronted with someone who for 18 years had been in the clutches of Satan. The Saviour came to her and freed her from that prison. Satan is busy in our world damaging men and women physically and emotionally, for example, causing dependence on destructive, compulsive substances. There are many living crooked 'bent over' lives; they have been brought low by some debilitating situation. The Lord Jesus can deliver them. Through him we can overcome our weakness and limitations. He can lift us up, and ennoble us, empowering our lives. This incident serves you notice from heaven that the Son of God is here, sees your need and is able and willing to transform you. There is hope. There is no need for you to face the future in despair. He who healed this woman is mighty to save today. What did this woman do? What was the price she had to pay? What were the conditions Jesus laid down for her deliverance? "Come unto me!' That was all. Come to me just as you are, crippled and helpless. Entrust yourself to me. Put yourself in my hands. That was all, and she came to him and he touched her and she was never the same again. "Immediately she straightened up and praised God" (v.13). Do not delay. If you tarry till you're better you will never come at all. Not the righteous, sinners Jesus came to call.

Deliverance for her came from a willing Saviour. Deliverance for the synagogue ruler comes from the same one. Deliverance from any hostility we have towards Christ comes from Jesus himself. You must stop trusting your own thoughts and feelings and submit yourself to him. Your own thoughts will forever make you a slave of your carnal mind, and will forever keep you in a state of hostile rebellion against God. Therefore, the only way to be delivered from enmity to God is through Jesus Christ, the Saviour. That is what this chapter with all its encouragements and warnings is telling us today.

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