The story we hear today is one we can’t help but feel deeply, it seems to me. To hear of a woman who has been unable to stand up straight for eighteen years is to begin to feel how her every waking moment must have been marked by physical pain. To understand that she would not have been able to easily gaze into the eyes of another — not her husband, her child, her grandchild, her neighbor, her friend — must have resulted in her feeling cut off from those who meant the most to her. To experience the truth that her deformity would have led to her being unwelcome in the synagogue where she is called into the presence of Jesus today — well, she must have even felt cut off from the promise that belongs to those of us who claim faith in a loving God. No doubt, the words of Jesus offered healing on so many levels. Still, prior to that seemingly chance encounter in the synagogue, hers was an existence I cannot imagine. Just as I know I can hardly begin to imagine the struggles of many — even those I encounter every day.
Or maybe it is that I don’t want to. For the suffering of others taps into my own. The struggles of another remind me that I am one poor decision, one bad diagnosis, just a few years away, perhaps, from experiencing the same. If I’m honest, often I am not so different from those who would rather not have looked upon the suffering of this one daughter of Abraham. For it is so. Too often, we seek the easy explanation, try to assign blame, or simply look the other way in resignation, judgment, or despair.
Now there are, as always, a number of different ways one could run with the marvelous story before us now, but the one I find myself returning to is this. It seems to me that in the moment after Jesus called the woman over to him and before he healed her, he must have bent down to look into her eyes. Luke’s account does not say this, of course, but I’ve never been able to imagine it any other way. We know for certain that Jesus must have felt what troubled her deep down in his own being else he might not have taken notice of her at all. And I can’t help but think that her first step towards wholeness was Jesus getting down on his knees and looking up at her.
I am not proud of the fact that I did not learn this lesson long ago, but I was brought to a deeper understanding of the importance of this not that long ago.
Oh, I make hospital and nursing home calls, I always have. But it is also so that I have sometimes made those stops itching to keep moving. Like everyone else, I am busy, of course. Too often I am fitting in these visits between a dozen other pressing obligations. Still, I was brought up short a year or so ago when I was in conversation with a woman who told me the story of her daughter’s experience. It was and is a wonder to me that she would have had no way of knowing that this was something I needed to hear. Or maybe she did…
For you see, her daughter died a few years ago from a fast moving cancer and, like many in her circumstance, spent more than her share of time in hospital beds. During that time she was visited by dozens of doctors. The one she loved and trusted the most was the one who got down on his knees so he could look into her eyes when he talked to her.
I listened to the telling of this a while back and I realized how seldom I did that — how often I stood when I visited and prayed. I thought of this and realized that by not even taking the time to sit down I was keeping one foot on the threshold — ready to move on as soon as I could — unable or perhaps unwilling to fully encounter the pain of the one I was there to visit. As I sat and listened that afternoon I realized how often I have not begun to understand much less begin to meet the needs of those I have called upon in my time as pastor.
I am no less busy now, of course. And I don’t always do it, but more and more I try to at least sit down and listen to the struggle, the questions, the pain of the one I am called to be with in that moment. It not that I think I can ever fully emulate who and what Jesus was for that bent over woman so long ago. But maybe, just maybe, my looking the suffering of another in the eyes will be the beginning of some kind of healing. And maybe, just maybe, I also begin to have a sense of the wonder of the truth that Jesus bends over to look into my eyes every single day.
- Where do you enter the story before us now? Can you begin to understand the suffering of the woman in this story? Why or why not?
- Can you also understand her joy at being made whole again? Why or why not?
- Why do you think Jesus picks her out of the crowd in the synagogue? Why do you think others protested her healing then? Was it simply a violation of Sabbath law or do you think there was more going on?