Some people seem all doubled over with burden; bowed down with a horrible weight they can no longer carry; crippled by calamitous life. Some are shackled with feelings of inadequacy. Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote a series of short stories entitled “Notes from the Underground.” It is all about people who feel invisible; people who mostly go through life unnoticed; people doubled over with the weight of their insignificance. Some people are so chained up you can almost see the heavy links dragging them down. Whether it is illness, sin, evil, or just plain life, chains bind. They bind and weigh down.
Luke 13:10-17 is a healing that is unique to Luke. The setting and scenario, however, are very familiar. Jesus was teaching in the synagogue on a sabbath. The synagogue was a gathering place; a kind of community center; the chief structure of most villages or city burrows. The sabbath was a holy day of rest and sacred contemplation of the Almighty. On this particular sabbath, in this particular synagogue, there was a woman who had a spirit of weakness. And this doesn’t seem to be about demon possession. In Luke, the chains of Satan that Jesus came to break include things like illness, poverty, oppression, blindness, and yes, demon possession. The fall brought all of these things into God’s creation. Originally, God’s creation was weakness free. No diseases; no debilitating deformity; no evil minions wreaking havoc. Jesus came to bring release. This woman was doubled over and was completely unable to straighten herself and she had been this way for eighteen years. Can you imagine being all doubled over for eighteen years? I cannot. This may be something like spondylitis ankylopoietica, which causes a fusion of the vertebrae. But we really don’t know. All we need to know here is that she has been unable to straighten herself for eighteen years.
Jesus saw her and called her over. This is important. She did not seek Jesus out. He saw her; noticed her distress and responded with a “woman, you are freed from your weakness.” There may be something to ask ourselves here: When we see people in distress, do we respond? Jesus laid his hands on her and suddenly she was able to straighten up. No healing in stages here; no delayed reaction. And again, try to imagine all of sudden you can stand erect after eighteen years of walking around all hunched over. Did she say, “Oi! Eighteen years of being doubled over will give you such a crick in your back”? Uhm, probably not. What she did do was to glorify God. There was no question of where this power came from.
The synagogue ruler was not impressed. As a matter of fact, he was rather put out with Jesus for healing on the sabbath. Interestingly enough, he doesn’t rebuke Jesus. He rebukes the crowd for seeking to be healed on the sabbath instead of any other day. Maybe he was afraid to rebuke Jesus. I mean the man had just healed a woman who had been bent over for eighteen years. Maybe he knew he could not outright deny what just happened. But, in the story, the woman did not seek to be healed on the sabbath. For all we know, she just showed up to worship God. Jesus saw and healed.
And Jesus will have none of this. He mentions their willingness to unbind their oxen or donkeys on the sabbath so that they can be led to water. They could not directly give the animal water, but untying (certain knots could not be untied on the sabbath) their animals and walking them to get a drink was okey dokey. But this woman, this daughter of Abraham, who has been all tied up by Satan, you want to make her wait another day? You don’t even make your animals wait one day. And people are more important; more important than your animals and more important than your interpretation of the rules. The hostile to Jesus people were humiliated and the common people rejoiced. I think this is more than the fact that Jesus could do really cool things. This was about him making a statement about their importance.
Jesus is not saying that it is wrong to untie their animals on the sabbath. He is pointing out an inconsistency. If I say it is ironic that some people care more about the fate of a tiger than an unborn baby, I am not saying that it is wrong to care about the tiger. I am merely pointing out the inconsistency; a creation inconsistency. People are more important; people are made in the image of God. And they should be treated as more important. It is wrong to treat animals with more respect and care than image of God bearing people. Oh, and rules, especially the rules of God, are meant to help people, not bind them. Jesus came to release. If we focus on the rules to the hurt and binding of souls, we are missing the point. Grace.