18 Long Years
“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.”
August 19, 2022, Words By: Lina Thompson, Image By: Unknown
I have an 18 year-old young person in my life; they have not had an easy go of things. This person recently graduated from high school, which was a touch-and-go situation. They haven’t had a stable home environment for all the years I’ve known them. And they are rarely ever, what I would describe as, “happy” — it’s almost as if they don’t trust themselves to experience happiness.
They do have a church community and lots of people who care, but they don’t necessarily seem to trust that either. In fact, they test to see if people really care. This person is looking for a full-time job so they can move out. But with skyrocketing rental prices, that will be virtually impossible on a minimum wage salary. There is a spirit of “hopelessness” that has weighed this person down over the years. They are definitely carrying the weight of the sins of others that have impacted them in harmful ways.
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… (Luke 13:11 – 12)
I have often read this passage and focused on the physical healing this woman needed from Jesus. But a closer look at the words “bent over” reveal a more holistic healing in the synagogue. In fact, this woman’s physical ailment is a manifestation of something spiritual … the text says she was “crippled” by a “spirit.”
To rephrase it, you could say she was “overcome by” something so big that it actually caused her body to bend over. When I read it that way, the face of my young friend comes to mind. They are definitely “overcome by” unfair, and often out-of-their-control, circumstances that have led to a spirit of fear, of mistrust, of oppression. And the weight of it all is crushing them. The prospect of being able to “stand up straight” after 18 years of hardship seems like an impossibility. I cannot imagine feeling that much hopelessness at such a young age. And I’m not sure this person can imagine being hopeful.
So when I go back to the text, It makes me wonder how the woman felt when Jesus “saw” her and “called” her. I wonder how it impacted her to have her pain and personhood both seen and acknowledged. And then, to have Jesus speak the words of freedom to her: “you are set free from your ailment.”
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! (Luke 13:14 – 15)
But I also wonder if she was surprised by the religious leader’s response to her healing, or by Jesus’ stern words to the leader and his cohort. He calls them “hypocrites” because they allowed moralism and legalism to blind them to the essence of the laws they were teaching. How could they know the law so well, and yet not actually know it at all? How could they miss the liberating, renewing, healing purpose of the Sabbath — a day to rest and a day to remember God’s deliverance of his people? They couldn’t see it!
And maybe that’s also why they couldn’t see this woman in the same way Jesus did. Maybe that’s why they lacked understanding and compassion for someone who had been in bondage for 18 years. Maybe they were so mired in judgment and moralism that they had become disconnected and isolated from the memory of God’s deliverance. Instead of rejoicing, they rejected the liberator and the liberated. They couldn’t see! Legalism and moralism tend to have that effect on people.
But the blindness of legalism couldn’t stop God’s love. This “daughter of Abraham,” as Jesus called her, really was about the gathered community in the synagogue that day. She became a metaphor for their own deliverance.
It’s Ironic, don’t you think? The religious leaders, those who were supposed to be the custodians of God’s liberating message, were shown to be a part of a system that further oppresses and marginalizes those who were meant to be freed. Rather than experiencing the love behind the law, rather than seeing the power of God at work, they were blind.
The work of the Church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is to help us meet the loving, liberating God. When we experience and remember that love, it opens our eyes to “see” those who are “bent over” — and to participate in the Spirit’s work of liberation.
That is my prayer for my young friend … that their faith community will stand strong with and for them; not just speaking words of liberation but actively standing all around them, helping them, in the power of the Spirit, to stand up straight into the fullness of life that God intends for all people.
Dwelling Among Us
Who are those in your community that are “bent over” or who have been “overcome” by the sins of others?
How have you understood the connection between Sabbath and liberation?
How might you participate in the liberation of others?
Where is the Church still “bound” and also needs to be freed to heal and love?