By The Rev. Sherry Crompton

August 22, 2010

Read: Luke 13:10-17

Today we hear about a woman who is bent over. She has been ‘quite unable to stand up straight’ for 18 long years. Imagine what it must be like to be bent-over. To have as your field of vision — your feet, the ground, the rocks – not being able see what is in front of you, not being able to see your surroundings. Only what is beneath you. For 18 years. But she still comes to synagogue. She comes to worship.

She is oppressed – perhaps by a social system that sees her as not being important, perhaps by a system of expectations and demands that she simply can’t live up. Perhaps she feels forced to carry the burden of a another person’s desperate need, or the burden of a child gone wrong, a husband who abuses her, a mother who expects her to look after her, a father who criticizes her every deed…

Perhaps she is afflicted by friends who love her only if she does those things that they want her to do and a society that expects her to keep
Silent about her own woes.

Bent over, crippled, unable to stand upright, in need, this woman comes to the synagogue to worship God – and perhaps to silently pray for help while others read the lesson and others teach – and still others pray aloud, to the God who delivered Israel from bondage, to the God who led Israel with a cloud by day and fire by night, and brought them into a promised land — a land once again under the rule of strangers –
she comes to a synagogue full of people, people like her in need, some not knowing just how much in need they are – because their outward circumstances are good, and others, like the bent over woman – knowing their pain – but resigned – after a year, or 18 years, or a lifetime, to their condition.

She is us, and we are her, bent over, crippled, oppressed by a spirit, perhaps a spirit of self-doubt, a spirit that convinces her that she has no strength, no ability, no purpose, even though she is a child of Abraham, even though she is one of God’s chosen ones.

And Jesus as he is teaching in the synagogue, sees this woman and discerns that a spirit has oppressed her and bent her over for these many years and in the midst of his teaching he calls her to come to him…

How easy is she to overlook. How easy are all those like her to miss.
First, he saw her. Jesus noticed. He realized that there was an actual person there. He didn’t look right past her, didn’t just label her, as we might so easily do. He saw her!

As Jesus did so, he touched her. He touched the one who had been labeled and dismissed for so many years, and a woman at that, and in public, no less. Scandalous! “Jesus heals a woman who wasn’t seeking to be healed” And why not? Why wasn’t she seeking to be healed?

After 18 years is it possible that she and everyone around her had gotten used to seeing her bent over. That was her lot. Business as usual. Jesus, though, has EYES TO SEE.

And so I wonder what bent-overedness I am so used to being that I do not even seek healing and those around me assume that is just part of who I am. Jesus touched her. He actually, physically entered into her bent-over, broken down state. He joined her in her pain and hopelessness, and proclaimed that God always has options which are not bound to our perception of “normal”,

And Jesus named her. When the leader of the synagogue protested—it was the Sabbath, after all, and no good Jew would perform work on the Sabbath!—Jesus gave her a name. “She’s a daughter of Abraham!” Jesus retorted. “You’d rescue your livestock on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you? Then why not a daughter of Abraham who has suffered for so many years?”

No longer “the bent woman,” she was now a “daughter of Abraham”. She was no different from the synagogue leader, the other worshippers, the disciples, or you and me: she was, above all else, a child of God! SHE BELONGED TO GOD! This poor, crippled, ridiculed woman was granted the same dignity as all the rest of God’s people for all the centuries since Abraham and Sarah became partners in the covenant. And that name far outweighed the burden of her illness, the pain of being ignored and shoved aside for eighteen long years!

And what did the woman do? She stood up straight! For the first time in years, the woman was able to life her head up with dignity and hope! Why? Because had seen her, spoken to her, touched her, healed her, and named her. Jesus reminded the woman of the truth she—and everyone around her—had long forgotten: she was a precious, beloved child of god!

The woman stood up straight, and responded to Jesus with grateful, joyful praise. She didn’t claim credit for her own well-being. She didn’t doubt, didn’t get skeptical, didn’t say “thanks” and walk away; no, she stood up straight and praised God for the wonderful things Jesus had done!

Jesus sees us, he discerns who we are and the spirits that are is in us, and unbidden he calls to us, just as he called to the bent over woman
and unbidden, he reaches out to touch us unbidden, he seeks to set us free.

Jesus is calling to us – he is stretching out his hand – he waits to speak a word to us. The question is will we recognize him in our midst, and accept what he has to offer us?

Lame Deer, a Sioux Medicine Man wrote, some years ago now:

The trouble with white religion in America is this: If I tell a preacher that I met Jesus standing near me in the supermarket, he will say that this could not happen. He’ll say, ‘That’s impossible; you’re crazy.’ By this he is denying his own religion. He has no place to go. Christians who no longer believe that they could bump into Christ at the next street corner, what are they?

Jesus sees us in our need. He knows what oppresses us. He is here to set us free. He may be the next person whom you see on the street corner or the man next to you in the supermarket, or the person who comes next to speak at this lectern in this holy place.

Today Jesus says to us and to all the “bent ones” of the world, “Stand up straight! You are a child of God! You are free from all that enslaves you! You are empowered to live abundantly, to live a life of praise and service to God!”

Today Jesus sees us, calls out to us, touches us, makes us whole, gives us a name. What a wonderful gift! And we stand up straight! We stand up straight and tall, as God’s beloved children. We stand up straight, praise God—and act like the children of God we are! Amen.

Copyright 2008-2012 Episcopal Church of the Trinity.

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