It was the Sabbath, just like many other Sabbath days and the old woman was making her way to the synagogue. She’d set off early because it took her a while to get there, her back was very bent – it could have been age, it could have been illness. It didn’t hurt particularly, though it did give her a pain in the neck if she had to look up very much! But she knew the way to the synagogue, so she only had to look up every now and again to check she was headed in the right direction. She was very good a spotting the bit ruts that cart wheels left in the road!
Every now and again she spotted someone staring at her – but most of the people in her village knew her and her situation, so they’d stopped pointing and making fun of her. It had made outings pretty miserable for a while.
It seemed there was no man to look after her – if there had been a man around for her, especially in the time and place and society she lived, he’d have sorted her out, made sure she had food, and probably would have taken her to synagogue. But as she approached the synagogue, her spirits lifted, the people there were very kind to her and helped her out. She entered the synagogue. It was busier than usual because a lively young rabbi was teaching that day. The people had heard about him from others in neighbouring villages, and were keen to hear what he had to say – especially because he sometimes seemed to have a go at the synagogue leaders, there were rule keepers extraordinaire! It was hard for her to look up for any length of time, but she glimpsed him, then took her place among the others, listening carefully to what this young rabbi said. Suddenly, she thought she’d heard him calling her out of the crowd. Could it really be her? People around her urged her forward and as she glanced up again, she could see they’d cleared a way for her to go up to him.
What could he want with her? He didn’t know her. When she got to the place where Jesus was standing, she tilted her head for a second, he was looking straight at her, and said, “Woman!” He didn’t know her name, he just saw her need. “You are set free from your infirmity.” She could feel him put his hands on her shoulders. All of a sudden, she had the urge to straighten her back, a sensation she’d known long ago but rarely in these past eighteen years. She stretched her back, usually she could do it only a very little, but this time, totally straight, no pain! It was one of Jesus’ healing miracles! She was so surprised and so pleased praise and thankfulness just bubbled up from her spirit and was sent out by her voice, thanking Jesus and praising God! Everyone in the synagogue was amazed! Some joined in the praise and thanksgiving, some were having conversations with each other – “How can this be?”, “What power does this Jesus have?”, “Where does his power come from ?”. But amazement and joy at the woman’s release from her bent over state swept through the room.
Except for the synagogue leaders. One of them drew himself up to his full height, and in a loud voice which boomed over the excited exclamations of the crowd, said, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath!”
Then Jesus spoke. What would he say – he was just a young visiting rabbi, what right had he to call out the synagogue leaders. As he spoke, their mouths fell open. “You hypocrites!” he said, turning to the leaders. “Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water?” The scholars, students of the writings, were amazed. Jesus was acknowledging the rules about the Sabbath, but he knew the fine detail of it too – no work on the Sabbath, so no burdens for the animals to carry on the Sabbath, but it was okay for them to be untied to be taken for a drink of water.
Jesus went on. “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?” More amazement at Jesus’words. The synagogue authorities were amazed that Jesus should refer to the woman as a daughter of Abraham, a daughter of the covenant people, just as they were, not an outcast at they’d regarded her. That was hard to hear.
Then Jesus talked about her infirmity as having come from Satan. They knew Jesus sometimes drove evil spirits from people, but this wasn’t the same. But still, having a bent back wasn’t the normal way to live, so if you looked at it as an imperfection, it certainly wasn’t what God would have wanted in the world when he created Eden, so this imperfection was something that crept in after The Fall. And if an ox or a donkey could be led to real water on the Sabbath, how much more appropriate was it that this bent woman should be unbound, untied, from her affliction to be led to the source of living water which would cleanse and fill her body and soul for the rest of her life, as Jesus explained it to the Samaritan woman. We read of that in John 4, water welling up not just for this life but to eternal life. The woman wasnt’ sure she quite understood the full meaning of what Jesus was saying, she just knew she was full of praise and thanks to God, and to this young rabbi for laying his hands on her and healing her, he had warmed her heart.
Well, the synagogue leaders understood what Jesus had said, he’d really put them in their place, but not by force or insults, he really was clever, quick witted, and he knew his stuff. They were humiliated. But many of the people were delighted, in their eyes, Jesus had not just beaten them at their own game, he’d also shown his compassion and power in the healing. It was another thing to be added to the list of insightful things he’d already taught, and the other miracles he’d done like raising a dead girl, healing another sick woman, feeding five thousand from five loaves and two fish, the list was growing.
I wonder what effect this all had on the regular synagogue attenders that day? Did they accept the miracle and simply praise God, did they try to puzzle out what, or whose, power was behind it all? Were they cross because this upstart had made their local leaders look silly? It certainly showed Jesus’ compassion for people afflicted with hardship, and his power to heal. It showed that while he criticised the synagogue rulers, he did, on this occasion at leaset, work within the Jewish teachings. It did show too that there were different interpretations of the teachings. I think we would recognise this difference of interpretation as an issue today. There are many different Christian denominations in Tamworth – is one exactly right? What about issues that weren’t around in the society and time in which Jesus lived, and on which we seek to give a Christian voice. We have Issues around such things as gender identity, developments in medical science and the ethical issues around them, environmental concerns and ways of dealing with them, and more. Responding to them requires study of both scripture and the issues, not to mention hours of prayer to try to discern what God is saying to us and wanting us to do. It’s not easy, and I personally find it a real challenge trying fathom these things out.
But sometimes in the midst of it all, God simply steps into our lives, as he did for that one bent woman that day. There must have been others in that crowd who needed healing, and maybe he did heal them and it was simply not recorded. But he did intervene, interrupt that one bent woman’s life and change it forever.
Now to bring us back to the here and now, I’d like us all to reflect on the week just passed, and think about how God has blessed us. Even in the midst of great challenges, we see his blessings. It can be any good thing, for if all good things come from God, it is God intervening in our lives. Think for a moment. Really take on board the fact that God intervened in our lives, interrupted the daily flow to give us something good. And maybe it wasn’t being changed from bent over to straight, but it was being given a sip of living water to help us on our way. Then we might want to say, as the now- straight woman said, Thank you Lord! Praise your name! Amen.