Now [Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You 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? 16 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?” 17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Jesus is teaching in a synagogue and gets into an argument with the pastor, or the council president, or some leader. It’s the Sabbath, he has cured a woman who had a crippling spirit and the leader of the synagogue was quite upset. So they argue about what the Sabbath is all about.
Now, first of all, I find it interesting that Luke often describes ailments, impairments, and diseases in spiritual terms. This woman in the synagogue had a “sprit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and quite unable to stand up straight.” In our sophisticated 21st century arrogance, we know better. We figure poor Luke was just doing the best he could.
But what if he’s right?
We assume this woman was physically crippled. That her body was unable to stand up straight. But what if it isn’t a physical crippling but a spiritual one?
What if she was carrying such a weight in her heart that her spirit was bent over. Consider that for a minute. It’s actually not too difficult to imagine. Have you ever been so full of grief that you couldn’t get out of bed? Have you ever felt so overwhelmed that you felt you had the weight of the world pressing down on you?
Couldn’t this be what Luke is describing here?
Regardless, this woman is afflicted with a spirit, the weight of which bent her over. Yet Jesus sees her and frees her from her bondage. Because that’s what Jesus does. The crowd in the synagogue rejoiced at the wonderful thing Jesus did. They rejoiced because God was active right there in their midst right then.
Perhaps that’s what “Sabbath” is all about—taking time from the chaos and stress of our week to recognize what God is actually doing among us and rejoicing in that! That seems to be what Jesus is pointing out. Sabbath isn’t about what we ought to do, but about noticing—and then rejoicing—in what God is doing.
The people in the synagogue get it. They see a woman set free and recognize God at work and rejoice. Sabbath.
When you pay attention, there’s a lot to rejoice about, because God is all about setting people free from bondage. There are all different kinds of bondage that make us quite unable to stand up. All different kinds of crippling spirits that keep us bent over. And Jesus has come to set us free from them.
What weight are you carrying around that prevents you from standing fully in what God created you to do? What stresses, worries, anxieties, pressures are keeping you bent over? What spirit has you held captive, keeping you from moving? We’re all crippled by something that cripples us from being fully who God calls us to be.
We’re so bent over with the weight of religious activity, trying to get all the right church-things done that we are quite unable to stand up straight and actually be the church.
We’re so bent over with the weight of righteousness that we end up judging those who behave differently that we, and are then quite unable to stand up straight in love for them.
We’re so bent over with the weight of justifying ourselves that we are quite unable to stand up straight and see Christ already present within us.
We’re so bent over with the weight of increasing our faith that we are quite unable to stand up straight and recognize God’s love already present.
And, we’re so bent over with the weight of fear of the unknown that we are quite unable to stand up straight and see Christ in those different than us.
But Jesus has come to set us free. Free to see God’s love and grace at work around us; free to rejoice; free to be part of it.
Jesus sees us, and next week Jesus is calling us over to be cured of a spirit that is crippling us. God is already active in breaking the bondage of racism and God has called us to be part of that redemptive work.
Racism is more than an individual’s prejudice. Racism is a systemic evil that pervades our culture. Racism, which includes our white inability to recognize the depth and the evil of it, keeps us bent over. We are unable to stand up straight with our Black sisters and brothers because of this horror that hangs on us. Racism is a weight that presses down on us and cripples us.
Jesus has come to set us free. As we gather with our brothers and sisters from Zion next Sunday, Jesus will be laying his hands on us so we can stand up and praise God together. And all of us—Black and White—together can rejoice at all the wonderful things Jesus is doing.
Recognizing God at work, and rejoicing in it. That’s Sabbath.