The Bent and Burdened Women
Luke is one of my favorite books and my favorite Gospel. So it was a given for me that this is what I was going to preach on. Luke is full of stories of underdogs. Luke tells the stories of the poor, sick, and women. I come from a poor, working class, blue collar family, and Luke is our Gospel. Probably one of the reasons I like it so much as well as Luke has a lot of stories about women. Luke focuses on the marginalized and poor, which includes widows, lepers, tax collectors and others society has outcast. The outcasts take center stage in Luke. Sinners and misfitsâ€”that’s who Luke’s Gospel is about and for. At this point in Luke Jesus has already encountered several outcasts: for starters the disciples are a motley crew consisting of fishermen, tax collectors, and zealots. Then there are the lepers, more tax collectors, paralytics, and sinful women. In Luke we have the stories where Samaritan is a good guy, and a rebellious son who is forgiven and restored. The religious leaders accused of Jesus being a friend to the worst kinds of sinners. And they were right. He was and still is.
Today we meet another one of those misfits: a woman whose back is so bent that she’s literally bent over. All she sees is the ground. She can’t straighten up and she can’t look up. She talks to people’s feet, and they answer her stooped and bent back. But today her life is going to change. And today Jesus is going to get into another controversy with a Jewish leader. Because this day is the Sabbath, and Jesus is going to choose to â€œworkâ€ today. Back in chapter 6 of Luke, Jesus had run-ins with the religious authorities over what could and couldn’t be done on the Sabbath.
In the first incident, Jesus and his disciples were walking through a field, picking grain, rolling the chaff off in their hands and eating the kernels. The religious leaders considered this to be harvesting, and therefore, breaking the Sabbath. Jesus told them the story of David and his men eating the sacred bread that only priests were supposed to eat when he was on the run from Saul. Jesus then proclaimed that the Son of Man was Lord of the Sabbath. In the second incident a man with a withered hand was in the synagogue on the Sabbath, and the religious leaders were watching closely to see if Jesus would work on the Sabbath by healing this man. Jesus asked them if it was lawful to good or to do harm on the Sabbath? Was it lawful to save life or destroy it? Then he healed the man. In our story today Jesus is going to again work on the Sabbath.
It’s amazing he even saw the woman to begin with. Men and women were segregated from each other in the synagogue, and normally the women were in the back. So this woman was in the back of the synagogue, bent over. Seeing her had to be difficult, and there were probably those who chose not to see her. Luke tells us that her infirmity was from a spirit. There were probably people who thought she had committed some sin and had been judged for it. We see this attitude in John where the disciples ask Jesus if a man who was blind from birth was that way because of his sin or his parent’s sin. People also look away from fear: they’re scared the same thing might happen to them.
The service has started with the men in front, the women in back, and this bent and crippled women in the mix of women at the back of the synagogue. It’s absolutely amazing the small and inconsequential things that Jesus notices: lilies of the field, sparrows, one sheep, a lost coin, a small man up in a tree, and this lowly crippled woman. But Jesus doesn’t just notice the small and inconsequential thingsâ€”he also shows that may be how we see these things and these people are wrong. It’s like he turns the prism in the light, and we see a new view of different colors and hues. That’s what he does on this Sabbath day.
Luke tells us that Jesus was teaching in the synagogue when this woman appeared. May be she had come in a little late to avoid the stares she couldn’t see. Or may be she was trying to move closer to hear better. But Jesus saw her. He not only saw her, he called her to come to him. She came and he laid his hands on her and told her she was free from her ailment. Jesus liked doing scandalous things. That’s one of the things I like about Jesus. He’s not scared to be associated with the wrong people. He’s not scared to get his hands dirty. And this was scandalous. Not as scandalous as the woman who anointed his feet and wiped them with her hair earlier in Luke, but scandalous nonetheless. As I said the men were segregated from the women. So this woman, to get to Jesus had to come into the men’s area and up to the front to get to Jesus. That just wasn’t done. Then this rabbi laid his hands on this crippled woman–whom no one was sure about what caused her deformity and heals her. On the Sabbath.
For the first time in 18 years this woman stood up straight and looked someone in the face instead of the feet. The first face she saw in 18 years was the face of Jesus. How cool is that? The woman immediately began to praise God. One of the books I read used Psalm 103 as the text for what the woman could have said or sang:
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits–who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. The LORD works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed.
The way Jesus heals this woman is another hallmark of Luke’s: he touches her. Jesus touches a lot of people in this Gospel; normally people who were considered unclean: lepers, the woman with the issue of blood, Jairus’ daughter, and the widow of Nain’s son. Catherine Clark Kroeger said â€œIn each of these cases, there is an affirmation of solidarity and sympathy for those with desperate needs of body and soul.â€ And this woman had a desperate need of body and soul. A desperate need that Jesus saw and healed.
But not everyone was happy about this miracle. The synagogue leader, trying to regain control of his service, from this itinerant rabbi tells the crowd: â€œYou have six other days to be healed. Come then but not on the Sabbath.â€ I hate what his outburst implies about this woman. He implies that the only reason she’s in the synagogue is to be healed. She was probably there every week. More than likely she worshiped in that synagogue her whole life. It’s bad enough the man probably never offered to help her get water or wood for her fire, but now he states the only reason she showed up today was to be healed. He’s the synagogue leaderâ€”he should know better. He also overlooks the little fact that the woman did not ask for healing. Jesus called her and healed her. Jesus had initiated the healing. So instead of confronting Jesus directly about working on the Sabbath, he tells the crowd not to come on the Sabbath to be healed, and attempts to shame this woman.
Jesus doesn’t let him get away with it: â€œYou 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?”
Jesus told this synagogue leader, and other religious leaders, that they should be just as concerned with this woman as they are their animals. Once again Jesus asks: â€œIs it lawful to do good on the sabbath? Is it lawful to save life or destroy it?â€ Yes, this woman could have waited until sundown to be healed. But Jesus didn’t think so. It was time for the desperate needs of her body and soul to be healed. She had been infirmed and bound long enough. One translation I read said the woman had been burdened for 18 years. No more. Today was the day of freedom: today she would walk home and see the sky, buildings, and people’s faces. Today no one could question what sin might be held in her past. Today she was healed, made whole and set free. Jesus also reminds the synagogue that this woman is a part of the community of faith when he calls her the daughter of Abraham. This is the only time daughter of Abraham appears in the Bible. Son of Abraham is all over the place, but not daughter. This woman was part of the covenant communityâ€”part of the people of God. And she had been that when she was crippledâ€”not just after she was healed.
The last verse in this story tells us the consequences of Jesus’ work on this Sabbath: his opponents were furious while the people rejoiced in the wonderful things he said and did. In Luke, this will be the last time we see Jesus in a synagogue. In Luke 9:50, Jesus set his face like stone to go to Jerusalem. And he is still on that journey. As he gets closer to the cross, more and more leaders oppose him and try to figure out a way to get rid of him. But before all of that happens, Jesus takes the time to notice a little, crippled woman, bent over and burdened. He heals her and gives her a new life and reminds everyone there that she always has been and will be a daughter of Abraham: a daughter of God.
We really don’t know if this woman’s illness was caused by Satan or was just a physical illness. And I think that’s what Luke wants. Luke has a way of leaving out certain details. Like in the story of the sinful woman who anoints Jesus’ feet in chapter 7, he never tells us why she’s considered a â€œsinful woman.â€ Yes, the normal thought is that she’s a prostitute, but Luke doesn’t say that. He just says she’s sinful. Now may be she was a prostitute. Or may be she was a mother who beat her children. Or may be she was the town gossip whose tongue daily assassinated people’s characters. We don’t know. But we do know our sins. And like this woman when we are forgiven by Jesus, our response is to be one of love and compassionâ€”not one of judgment and criticism like Simon the Pharisee.
I think we can read this story the same way. May be this woman’s condition is physical. May be it’s spiritual. May be it’s both. And it’s this way because Luke wants us to think of ways we are bended over and the burdens that weigh us down.
I had a very surreal moment writing this sermon. I had been working on this sermon at the library, and I was leaving. Right in front of me was a bended over woman. She was a little African-American lady, and I think even standing straight, she would have been shorter than me. Normally, when I see a woman like this, I avert my eyes and quickly walk around. That’s because I have scoliosis. Scoliosis is lateral curvature of the spine. Instead of being straight down my back, my spine is in the form of an S. One of my biggest fears is becoming a bended over woman. That’s the main reason I’ve practiced yoga for close to 20 years–because I don’t want to be a twisted and bent over woman.
But this time I didn’t look away. I had just spent the afternoon reading and studying about Jesus and a bended over woman. So I slowed down and walked behind her. Her spine twisted at about a 90 degree angle at her shoulders, and she was stooped, walking slowly with a cane. We still have physically bent over people who live in the same pain and see nothing but the ground today.
Being bent over and twisted can be spiritual and mental too. I have clinical depression. You want to talk about an illness that twists you up and bends you down. It skews everything you see. You don’t see things the way they really areâ€”you see them through glasses made of fun house glass that distorts everything. We still have people today who are bent and burdened spiritually, mentally, and emotionally.
May be the burdens that weigh us down and bend us over are outside influences. Stress at work. Stress at school. Financial strain. The stress of finding a new pastor. The stress of starting new ministries.
We all have burdens that weigh us down and bend us over. And just as Jesus did for this woman he does for us. He calls us to come to him. He holds out his arms, and he says, â€œCome to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.â€
What are the burdens you are carrying today? What weighs you down? What bends you over? Jesus is saying, â€œCome. Come and give your burdens to me. And rest.â€
I would like to end the sermon with this poem that I wrote form the formerly bent and burdened woman’s perspective.
Free to Stand and Seeâ€
Stoop and bent
Unable to see
Only my feet do I see
Bowed and burdened
With painful cares
Sore from aches and pains
Is there any where
There isn’t pain?
What was that?
Floats on the air
Come it says
Come to me
Bring your burdens
Bring your cares
Come, give them to me.
Come release what weighs
Yes, I will take this.
Now sit and rest.
Look up and see
So I sat and I breathed
I lifted my eyes
To blue skies with
Clouds and wildflowers
He who called me
I see love and mirth
In his eyes
And I realized
The burden was no longer
Mine to bear.
We talked and we laughed
Then left hand in hand
Arm and arm
He easily bore.
This picture is from Hermanoleon Clipart.