A couple of things strike me this time through as we encounter Jesus and the woman who was ‘bent over and quite unable to stand up straight.’
- As always, I find myself joining her in praise of God once, with her healing, the whole world opened up to her again. Indeed, I rejoice with the entire crowd at the end of this section as they celebrated all the ‘wonderful things’ Jesus was doing.
- At the same time, I am realizing in a new way that the battle Jesus is waging is not with the pain, the illness, the crippling diseases of people only one at a time. No, the battle is, in fact, a cosmic one, for as he points out it was Satan who had her bound for those eighteen bent-over years. And isn’t this precisely what Jesus came to extend freedom from again and again? From all that is evil that has us bound?
- And finally, this, that the leader of the synagogue who confronted Jesus today and all those who would ignore the suffering one before them now to wait for yet another day, but who have at the same time found ways to justify tending to their livestock (their livelihood, their economic lives) even on the Sabbath? Well, they may not be physically bent over, but they are bent over just the same, unable to see the battle being waged right before them, not to mention the fact that Jesus was winning it again and again. However, they were so caught up (‘bound,’ you might say) by their understanding of how things had always been and always should be in relation to sabbath keeping, so ‘bent over,’ if you will, they would do all they could to stop it.
And, oh my goodness, doesn’t this same experience, this too-small way of seeing the world and our place in it, seem to be also so very evident as we continue to find our way through all that is before us even now? Oh, some have always seen it, to be sure, this truth that we are too much missing, too often just not seeing, what God intends or where God is already at work. And some of us, perhaps, are just catching up to this truth. Particularly if we ourselves have been nourished by, bolstered by, or somehow even benefitted from how things have always been.
- Indeed, how often do we, too, miss God at work right before our eyes?
- How often do we not wage the only ‘battle’ that matters as we find ourselves overly engaged with our relatively small, perhaps ultimately irrelevant skirmishes?
- Oh, how often do we do all we can to keep things as they have always been, regardless of who is left out or hurt along the way?
Now I know my biases will shine through here and I’m not sure how it would ‘preach,’ but here is the window I have into this today. For I cannot help but remember this from the beginning of the Covid-19 Pandemic. A friend of mine was heading up the County Health Department’s effort to first prevent the spread of the disease and later to distribute vaccines. Over many months, she was in conversation with everyone from the schools to the county jail to the homeless shelter to local restaurants and businesses and churches and beyond. She said more than once that it felt like we were ‘at war’ with the virus. And yes, it was very much like that. Only the challenge was that almost from the start, a whole lot of people could not or would not get on board with that metaphor.
- Perhaps this was because it was an unseen ‘enemy,’ if you will.
- Or it wasn’t affecting us directly enough.
- Or we quickly grew just plain weary of it.
With all of this, we all may have known and may continue to recognize that some kind of ‘war’ has been going on. Only we seem to have often found ourselves more ‘at war’ with one another rather than working against a virus which continues to take life in one way or another. (Indeed, if this was true a few years ago, how much more so now these many months later when here in the county where I am we are again at high-risk so masks are once more highly recommended, but most all of us are not heeding the warning.) All the while people continue to get sick, sometimes with long-term consequences, if not actual hospitalization or death.
So taking a step back today, I cannot help but wonder if in this case, perhaps deep down we just did not or do not much care about the healing of the one (the bent over woman, one might say) right here in our midst, no matter when such healing might be offered (on the actual Sabbath or not.)
Not unless she was ‘one of ours,’ I suppose.
And even then, I was not and am not so sure…
Indeed, too often we are so ‘bent over,’ we do not see ‘the enemy’ which is taking the lives of our neighbors. No, it would seem we simply do not recognize our shared humanity with such suffering ones or we would not let anything stop us from waging battle against that which is taking life after life after life. For we, perhaps much like the leader of the synagogue so long ago, were too much bent on keeping things as they were — or at least getting back there no matter what.
So it is that now you and I stand mostly (we want to believe) in the wake of this recent more than two-yearlong shared crisis. And yet, already the fallout is surely all around us. For this is so:
- During the worst of the pandemic when school shut down, one of our local state’s attorney’s biggest worries was for the children who were already in unsafe situations now stuck at home with no one from the outside to take note of the danger they were in and to get them help.
- Those children are still in our neighborhoods, our schools, our churches…
- Similarly, a recent conversation shared with one of those from our domestic violence shelter had me taking in their experience of the increased and increasing numbers of those who were all the more unsafe during that time, due to being trapped at home with their abuser.
- They, too, live right around the corner from us even now…
- Or listen to any schoolteacher anywhere it seems and hear about the continued struggles of children in all of our classrooms.
- Or yes, talk to any pastor, any church worker and you will recognize that things are not as they were.
For in all these instances and in so many more it sure seems as though people’s lives are more broken than ever before.
And as for right now today, I cannot help but wonder if we continue to be something like the leader of the synagogue who is calling out Jesus in Luke’s account today. I wonder if we have all (myself included) been so caught up in trying to return to how things have always been done (because 50 years ago or three years ago or last month they seemed to be good and to ‘work’) that we are missing the struggling one(s) right before our eyes.
And through all of this? Part of me cannot help but wonder if the challenges we face today haven’t been building for years — and it just took a global pandemic to first break it all open and then somehow force us to see it at all, whether we are yet ‘standing up straight’ or not.
Indeed, in my more hopeful moments I do wonder if all that has felt like it has recently had us ‘bound,’ might actually be the source of our own ultimate healing as we find ourselves finally able to see the world as it is now and seek to be who we have always been called to be in response to it?
I do not particularly like the war metaphor myself, but one cannot deny that we are in a fight for and/or against something big now. And whether we are simply more aware of it or is it in some ways new, it doesn’t much matter, for this is where we find ourselves today. And it seems to me that only as we take the first step in receiving our own healing, our own no longer being ‘bent over,’ that we can then begin to be agents of such healing for all the world.
- Does it make sense for you to consider the possibility that the woman who had been unable to stand up straight’ for eighteen years was not the only one who was ‘bent over,’ and thus unable to see what was right in front of her/of them?
- Could it be that what seemed to have us bound over these last years may be the first source of our healing as we can now see what we could not or would not before?
- As I say above, the ‘war’ metaphor is not my favorite. Even so, it seems that we are up against something particularly powerful and especially stubborn now as we seek to follow the lead of Jesus into the world. In fact, in his healing, Jesus was battling evil itself. What do you find yourself ‘up against’ now? And what would such healing look like for you and those you serve in your congregation and community and beyond? What would it mean to you/for you to no longer be ‘bent over?’
- Finally, I have reflected on this story a number of times before. If you want a different take from a different time, simply put Luke 13:10-17 in the search engine above.