I have trouble with my back – it frequently hurts a lot. People often ask if it is from all the jumping I did as a paratrooper. I assure them that no, it is not the jumping. Jumping is almost always completely painless – landing, on the other hand, can be very painful. Anyway, although most days are OK, there are days that I am near doubled because my back has decided to act up.
Why do I tell you all of this? Because tomorrow (Sunday, 25 August 2013) the Gospel reading is Luke 13:10-17 and in that passage we are told the story who has been bent over with pain for 18 years. Jesus heals the woman and she is able to stand up straight for the first time in nearly two decades. My occasional days that hurt bad enough to double me over have informed my thinking on such matters and I have sympathy for her. And, my days with less severe pain makes me understand the relief she felt when she was able to stand upright.
What we have in this Gospel lesson is the very up front message – Jesus heals. This is not the first time Jesus has provided healing and it will not be the last. It is not even the most remarkable – Jesus healed the blind, the invalid, and even raised the dead. To simply straighten a woman’s back seems almost inconsequential in comparison. I am sure the woman did not consider it inconsequential however. The Pharisees that happened to be nearby also did not consider it inconsequential – they threw a fit over the healing. “How dare you heal on the Sabbath?!” they accused. Jesus had to remind them that relieving burden is the point of the Sabbath. There could be no better day than the Sabbath to deliver the woman from the burden she was under.
The lesson that Jesus heals is up front in this story. But in addition to that message, people throughout the Church’s history, have sought additional meaning. Jesus heals but why is this story included compared all the other healing stories? What can we, reading years later, learn from this story specifically?
Augustine suggests that the woman represents humanity that has bent itself over looking at the world and temporal pleasures rather than looking up to God. In the process people have crippled their souls.
Cyril of Alexandria speaks of the weight of sin pressing down upon humanity, bending people over when they remain unrepentant. He continues to explain that those who refuse to repent and be released from their sin may suffer physical ailments as this woman has. Cyril was actually onto something there as recent science has indicated that living an unforgiven and unforgiving life can manifest itself in multiple physical complaints.
Ambrose likens the woman to people who are weighed down with the burdens of this life. Is it money, family, career, community, another legitimate concern? Worry over these matters weighs people down. It is so common that we hear it in our common language – “It feels like a giant weight on my shoulders.” And, when the concern is over, “It feels like a weight has been lifted off of me.”
JC Ryle ponders if the woman was bent over because of external forces. “Maybe somebody had persistently abused her, verbally or physically, when she was smaller, until her twisted-up emotions communicated themselves to her body, and she found she couldn’t get straight.” We know this happens – people so abused by others (often by those that are supposed to love them) that they become physical wrecks.
Each of these interpretations, each of these ways of finding a message to the wider audience in the world, still comes back to the first and blatant message. Jesus Heals!
Is your body bent over in pain? Jesus Heals!
Are you consumed with temporal pleasures of this world and your soul crippled as a result? Jesus Heals!
Is the weight of sin pressing in? Jesus Heals!
Are the burdens of life feeling too heavy? Jesus Heals!
Have you been the victim of abuse – verbal, emotional, or physical? Jesus Heals!
If any of the above describes the circumstances you are in. Or you feel the weight of any other type of burden upon you. Jesus Heals!
“If your bodily disorders have not been removed, have you never received grace both to bear and improve them? Have none of you been delivered from the bonds in which Satan held your souls? Has not your guilt been removed, and the corruption of your hearts been in some measure healed? Let this encourage all to wait upon God. … With what comfortable hope may we look to Jesus under all our troubles! It is alike easy to him to save from bodily or spiritual disorders. A touch of his hand, or word of his mouth, will convey the blessing we desire. Are we then labouring under any affliction of mind or body? … Behold, it is the Saviour’s office to bind up that which is broken, to heal that which is sick, and to raise up them that are bowed down.” ~ Charles Simeon~
Are you burdened? Are you bent over physically or emotionally – regardless of cause? Will you turn to Jesus with your troubles? If so you will hear Him say – You are freed!