It’s been more than four years since the name “Dancing with the Word” came to mind as a title for this blog. Although anything but a ‘dancer’ myself, I have always loved the interplay of words and ideas. This has been especially so as I have learned to exercise such a ‘light touch’ when it comes to interpreting the Word among God’s people. There is a back and forth-ness to dancing, just as it is in our ongoing conversation with the Word. For me, this is how this back and forth conversation often looks;
Most every week I start with the text itself. I read through it once and I read it over again. I pull out a pen and underline what strikes me this time around. I dip into the commentaries, hoping for a new way into the story. Sometimes I go to the original language, but it is so that this is not my best gift. I try hard to set aside whatever conclusions I came to the last time around — and yes, this can be hardest of all. Sometimes one way of thinking gets cemented in my brain and I have to work hard to be open to new possibilities. Many weeks I find the best way to open myself up to new ways or thinking is to simply start writing down questions about what is before me. In this way, I force myself to ‘wonder’at the text. Indeed, my own journey to the sermon almost always begins with questions like those which follow as I have sat still in the story before us now:
- What was it that caused Jesus to notice the ‘bent over woman’ in the first place? And why her and not another?
- Was it a hard choice for him to abandon his teaching and focus on her? Did it cross his mind that he might offend someone by choosing to heal on the Sabbath or was he actually trying to bait those who would oppose him on this?
- Why does it matter that Jesus does this on the Sabbath? Now surely it is so that any conversation about “Sabbath Keeping” today must necessarily differ greatly from such conversation in the time of Jesus. At least my observation of the culture where I serve leads me to believe that questions about what is appropriate or not on the Sabbath rarely enter our collective or individual conversations. Indeed, many of us could perhaps benefit from a more ‘rigid’ interpretation of this particular practice. On the other hand? Hardly a ‘day off’ goes by without interruption of text or phone message causing me again and again to re-evaluate how I will ‘keep Sabbath’ this time around. What is your experience of this? How have you resolved it?
- If “Sabbath” is not a “rule” which gets in our way, is it possible that like the leader of the synagogue, we also sometimes hide behind ‘other rules’ which keep us from faithfully following Jesus? What are those ‘rules’ in your experience? Are there ways in which our ‘rules’ — both spoken and unspoken — help keep the status quo? Indeed, are there ways in which our ‘rules’ keep the privileged, privileged and don’t allow a way in for those who are not so privileged?
- What must it have been like to be the formerly bent over woman to suddenly find herself standing up straight? I wonder if unused muscles were stiff at first. I wonder it this new/old posture took some getting used to.
- Certainly I have known people who are similarly physically bent over by arthritis and other ailments. What would it look like to ask them how it is for them? Would I be able to ask what it is they miss the most from the time before their bodies and/or spirits so betrayed them? Would you?
- I can’t help but notice that the woman never actually asked for healing. I find myself wondering if I have ever experienced healing for which I never even thought to ask. I wonder if there are parts and pieces in my life and experience which beg for healing but in resignation or despair I have simply stopped asking. I wonder if that was so for her. I wonder if that is so for the people for whom and with whom I bring the Word this week. And I wonder at the utter grace of receiving unasked for, unanticipated healing!
- I find myself asking whether we have ever experienced this kind of healing in this way: Because this woman’s affliction did not allow her to stand up straight, she was not able to see without struggle. How does the healing Jesus brings simply allow or enable one to see the world more clearly? As individuals? As congregations?
- Can you think of a time when the ‘healing touch of Jesus’ actually enabled you to see something you had not seen before? Something wondrous? Some injustice? What was that like? And what happened next?
- And this as well: What is it about Jesus that he is willing to physically ‘touch’ those whom were considered ‘unclean?’ How has Jesus touched me/touched you in my/your most broken places? When have I/have we hesitated to do the same? When have you/when have I done so anyway? What was the result of such risk taking? Oh, I have not forgotten the hospital call I made more than twenty years ago now. The child I went to see had HIV AIDS. My mind told me even then I could not contract this disease by touching his hand. And still my heart leapt back even as my hand reached for him. Unclean? Of course not. Treated that way by the world? Absolutely. Consequences for me? Absolutely none for other than to his immediate family, his diagnosis remained secret even to the grave. Although perhaps it was of some comfort to his family that I did not outwardly flinch even though I was inwardly wary. Either way, I have never forgotten my instinct to pull away and how much that differs from the example Jesus offers now.
And so I wonder as you journey to a sermon or just a deeper understanding of the story before us now, what questions would you add to mine? What makes you wonder?
What new path might your questions take you on as you seek to follow Jesus in your living, in your sharing, in your preaching, if that is your call?
Finally, how might experiencing this one familiar story in new ways begin to change how you see and interact with the world? What does it mean for you to be “healed” in order to be able to stand up and see? What are you seeing more clearly already?