Luke 13: 10-17
I was practically galloping up Agrippas Street in Jerusalem to get to a lunch date for which I was already late. I was heading into Makane Yehuda, one of the, if not THE most, chaotic outdoor markets in Jerusalem. It was Friday afternoon, only hours away from the beginning of Shabbat. You can feel the frenetic energy, or the spirit, of the people gearing up towards Sabbath when everything would come to a dead stop and rest.
I was waiting with everyone else for the light to change at a very confusing intersection when I turned around and saw an elderly woman standing behind me. She was humped over, slightly overweight and when she sensed that the light had changed she asked me something in Hebrew. I told her that I spoke mostly, almost exclusively English. Didn’t matter, she continued to talk in Hebrew to me and then she put out her hand.
For the briefest moment I thought, O GEEZ, I need to bolt across Agrippas in a sort of frantic Pee Wee Herman style and get to the restaurant, my friends are waiting. But, I took her hand instead. Slowly and gently we began to walk across to the first island in the street. We walked to the second median, it’s an odd intersection, and then we continued to the other side. We were at the market. She released my hand but I grabbed it again because the sidewalk was very crowded and we needed to walk in the street for a short distance. When we parted she said over and over, “Todah Rabah,” which means thank you very much.
I sped up once again to get to the restaurant. It wasn’t until late in the evening that I thought about the bent over woman who grabbed my hand in the middle of my big rush. It was a split second of grace in a world of uncertainty and hurried living. This woman’s eagerness to depend on me, a stranger, caught me and touched me in a very Godly way. I’m not sure who was guiding whom; I sensed that I needed guiding and perhaps even more so some healing. You see, I was the one who, that day, was bent over and unable to see around me, not her.
Can you imagine being disabled, crippled for 18 years? That’s how long the woman in Luke’s Gospel today was infirmed. It probably was very painful for her to twist her head as her body slowly deteriorated into this humped over, bent out of shape, hardly recognizable as a human figure. She was not able to see in front of her or above her, or even to the sides of her. She could only see what was below her, the dirt roads and sandal clad feet. She had limited peripheral vision and yet, that Sabbath day at the synagogue she garnered the sight of only one. The only one she needed really, Jesus.
Of course the leader of the synagogue was bent out of shape! He kept saying to the crowd and most likely shaking his head, ‘There are six days a week you can come and be cured, come on those days and not the Sabbath’. Now before we come down hard on this man and all of Judaism, let’s remember that Jewish law does provide for healing on the Sabbath. Life comes before anything else. And, in part the leader was right! This woman was bent over for 18 very long years, what’s one more day going to hurt. It was apparently not a matter of life or death. Then again, why should someone wait even one more day if they can be healed in the very next moment?
But Jesus, being a rabble rouser and an observant Jew, happened to be in that synagogue on that Sabbath and he also got a little bent out of shape I’d say. He turns around and says back to them ‘You hypocrites!’ Jesus was not there to break the law but he was there to interpret the law. We’ve seen him many a time do this. He heals a man with dropsy, he cures another man with a withered hand right before the Pharisees eyes, and he even plucks grain for his hungry disciples to eat all on the Sabbath. He joined right in with other rabbinical debates of the day as to what is lawful on the Sabbath. However we know that for Jesus his interpretation of law, his decisions, and his compassionate acts would not take him to a good place. But that’s another sermon for another fine Sunday.
So what is really happening in this passage? There’s the bent over woman and the bent out of shape leader. And we have Jesus who can see right through what is happening there in the old synagogue. The people didn’t see this woman, she entered silently. But Jesus did see her and, regardless of the law, Jesus heals her and then she is noticed. His hand, her healing, and she praised God like there was no tomorrow.
There are plenty of ‘bent-overs’ in the world. People like the woman in Jerusalem whom I hardly saw much less acknowledged at first who needed a hand to help her. They are people who are just passed by, not seen, the expendables thrown away by the status seeking society we live in, not acknowledged by others. Maybe it is even you or me at times. We are certainly as vulnerable as anyone else.
Do you know this bent over woman? She is the woman who walks down Route 1 past the Olive Garden. She has baby formula that she has just received from WIC and she waits for her bus in the sizzling hot days of August and the frigid days of January so that she can get home and lovingly feed and nurture her child. Life is tough but she just keeps moving ahead, unnoticed.
Do you know this bent over woman? She is the Iranian refugee trying to make a go of it here in this foreign place where she doesn’t know the language, the metric system, the currency or the customs. Her dress, the Muslim hijab, gives her religious identity away. We know that Islam bashing is virulent today. She may not go unnoticed but people will keep their distance from her. Life is tough but she just keeps moving ahead.
Do you know this bent over woman? She is the differently-abled teenager just trying to be like everyone else her age. The cyber-bullying begins and she keeps it to herself. Each day she feels more and more isolated because she feels as if she has no one who would understand or believe her. Life is tough, and she doesn’t think about moving ahead, she wants to quit life.
There are plenty of bent over women and men in our society and in the world. There are hundreds of people who feel as if no one cares and who yearn for a hand to touch him or her. They may or may not be in need of a physical healing but their expendable condition puts them at great risk of loneliness and isolation and therein lays the need for the hand of friendship. We all want to be noticed. When we notice someone, when we reach out our hands to someone in need we are saying to that person, someone sees you, someone cares about you, you are not alone to figure this out, there is help and there is hope.
We can be those hands of healing to other people. We have been gifted with the Gospel of Jesus Christ who over and over again tells us to love God and love our neighbor. We can do so because we know that God loves us dearly and deeply. That no matter where we are on our journey of life, in the valley of deep despair or on the mountaintops of joy God loves you. God sees you and knows you. God has a hand always extended out towards you. As the prophet Jeremiah relays to the people of Israel when they were in exile in Babylon, “For I know the plan that I have for you…plans to prosper you, not to harm you, plans to give you hope and future” (selections Jeremiah 29 & 30). Isn’t that the healing we all want? Let us extend our hands in healing to others as God has so lovingly done so for us.