Shifting Our Focus from Rules to Mission

1On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11 and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years.  She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” 13 Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

14 Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

15 The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16 Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

17 When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.  Luke 13:10-17 

Is the main point of this passage about healing?  Is the main point of this passage about our focus and mission as God’s people?  These are two of the many questions I puzzled about as I reflected.  And the answer is yes… This passage is about healing and yes this passage is about the focus and mission of God’s people.

Earlier in the book of Luke we read that Jesus is on a mission. 

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[f]

Jesus in a nutshell came to heal a broken world by healing people—people in captivity to sin or the sin system. 

Especially in our passage today, we see Jesus liberating a woman who had been tied up for 18 long years. 

Some Bible scholars see in this story a liberation from oppression that had weighed the woman down. This weight affected her self-understanding so that she could not look someone in the eye or stand up straight in wholeness. 

Did she and her experience go unnoticed for 18 years until Jesus saw her?

Our story tells us that Jesus was teaching in the gathering of people and he saw her and called her forward. 

I am initially struck by that sentence.  He saw her.  He called her forward.  Had she felt invisible? We aren’t give much information about her back story.  Was her malady physical?  Was it emotional?  Was she a victim of violence or abuse in the home?  Had her abuse been hidden for 18 years?  Whatever the case Jesus saw her and he called her forward. 

Most families have secrets—especially if abuse or addiction was present.  Members of such families tend to go about their days in public showing only the “everything is OK” face.  Family members go to work, attend church, often covering up personal shame or the shame in their families.  They don’t really let people get too close because they don’t want them to see.  Often when we hear of important people in the news with charges of abuse, we wonder why we didn’t see?  They all looked so nice—so normal.  But inside the family people were captive to something—abuse, addiction, family violence and a shame that had become a weight too hard to bear. 

Jesus saw the woman and called her forward. 

The phrase “called her forward” leaps off the page.  I think of the ways that shame creates a false picture of who we are. We even begin to think that false persona is real—the real us.  We often in our brokenness create personas that others will like while the real person that God created remains hidden. 

Jesus saw her and he called her forward.  Was it her true self that was called forth as she walked to the front of the room and received her freedom?    

There are a few more words that stand out to me, “Jesus laid his hands on her.”

Someone who has experienced abusive touch might cringe at the thought of Jesus touching her.  Jesus’ touch was a touch of wholeness a touch that brought deliverance–a healing touch. This women had no expression of faith, she was just there, experiencing the touch of Jesus.

Another word that jumps out at me is that Jesus called the woman a Daughter of Abraham. Jesus called forth her true identity and defined to everyone present her worth.

Often abusers or exploiters seek to define their victim for their own purposes—to control or keep them in place or to dehumanize them.  If one is constantly told they are nothing, that they deserve nothing, they begin to believe they have no worth as a human being.  Jesus called her forward—as a daughter of Abraham.  It was like saying she was the daughter of a king. 

There is another section to this story.

The religious leader—the synagogue ruler is offended by Jesus’ actions.  More, he is deeply disturbed by them–indignant.  Was Jesus violating the sabbath law? or was he fulfilling it?

One of the great commandments that God’s people sought to keep was this: Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.  They were to set this day apart to rest and worship God.  They had numerous arguments about just what work was and what constituted work. 

The synagogue ruler is interesting because he doesn’t just pull Jesus aside and let him know he violated their synagogue policy.  He turned to the people to tell them that they have six days to do works of healing surely this woman could be healed on one of those days?  It’s like he bypasses Jesus altogether in order to tell the people that Jesus’ actions were invalid. 

Jesus responds with a logical argument and uses a play on words.

“You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16 Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free (untied) on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

The play on words is that on the sabbath day, it was customary for them to untie their oxen and lead them out to drink water.  So too, should they not also untie the woman so that she might be free on the sabbath?  Jesus is making a direct analogy.  They are willing to untie an animal.  Should they not give her the same dignity?

I am struck by the fact that Jesus sees people and their real need. We get off our focus when we focus only on the laws and rules.  Jesus sees people first.  I wonder how we might think and process many of the current issues of our world, if we saw people first? Often the rules and the laws benefit the powerful who make them marginalizing and silencing the ones harmed by them.

Perhaps we as the church of Jesus Christ might begin to refocus on the Mission of God… the mission of Jesus.  To heal people, to liberate captive people, and preach good news to the poor. 

Resources used: The Gospel of Luke by Joel B. Green; Luke for Everyone by N.T. Wright.

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