You are set free from your ailment
Proper 16 Year C
August 22, 2010
Loretta W. Veney
"You are set free from your ailment". These are the words Jesus said to the woman as he healed her that day, and what powerful words they were. Wouldn’t we all love to hear those few words and be instantly healed from whatever it is that ails us ? I know I would. Today’s Gospel is one of my all time favorites, primarily because I have a great deal in common with this woman. Not that long ago, I too was bent over and sick, some would say I was dying, and I suffered for 13 long years, before being healed. So when I first read this Gospel as an adult, I felt an instant and deep connection to this woman.
There is much power and substance packed into this Gospel, and its true relevance for our lives today can be illustrated in three points I would like for us to examine today.
The first and most important point is all about “the woman”, the star of the Gospel. In spite of the fact that this woman had been bent over for 18 years, she was still there in the synagogue along with many others listening to Jesus teach. As I researched this Gospel, I didn't find any evidence that the woman came to the Synagogue to ask Jesus to heal her, it appears that he simply spotted her in the crowd and asked her to come to him. I admire this woman’s courage for even GOING to the synagogue in her condition. Not many of us would be able to go to a class or a meeting or to church and be able to LISTEN effectively if we had an ailment like hers. I remember all the days during my illness that I literally dragged myself to work as I was in more pain than I can even put into words. And the only reason I kept going to work was to keep my health insurance, to get the treatment I needed, to be healed. But unlike the woman in the Gospel, I certainly would not have gone to hear someone teach if I didn’t have to, even if that person was Jesus! So, why did this woman really go to the Synagogue that day ? I believe she went because she knew of Jesus's reputation for healing, and hoped that maybe just being in the same place with Him would bring her some comfort, even if it didn’t heal her completely.
One of the other things that really stands out as this woman is healed, is the fact that we don’t even know her name. I believe the main reason this woman isn’t named, is simply because her name isn’t important. For Jesus, what her name was, or whose daughter, wife or mother she was, didn’t matter. What mattered was that she was bent over, and needed to be healed. That’s a huge lesson for us, because here in the powerful city of DC where names really do matter, in our Gospel, a name actually meant nothing at all. What that says to me is that we should make every effort to follow the example that Jesus set for us, and help others in need without hesitation, regardless of what their name is, or IS NOT. I really enjoyed David Deutsch’s recent sermon, where he shared his story of overcoming his fears a few years ago and staying overnight here at St Mark's with a homeless family as part of the Shelter Project. Although I am sure David knew the name of the family that he interacted and had fun with for a night, he didn't mention their names in his sermon. I believe that was because the names weren't important to David, but the connection that formed between he and that family was.
The second point of the Gospel that's important for us, is the major controversy caused by Jesus healing the woman on the Sabbath and being criticized for it by the leader of the Synagogue. This point really hit home for me, and here’s why. I grew up in a house with my mother and my grandparents. In our house, in addition to the Ten Commandments, there was also Grandma’s Commandment– which focused on her favorite Commandment, "Remembering the Sabbath and keeping it Holy". But grandma really took this Commandment to the extreme and forbid us from doing anything on the Sabbath that required any effort at all. So Sunday for me as a child was the absolute worst day of the week! All we were allowed to do was sit quietly, without television mind you, and look at each other. And Trust me, there was absutely NO fun in that.
When I was about nine years old, I remember asking Grandma "why was everyone else in our neighborhood except us having fun and ignoring the Commandment of keeping the Sabbath holy" ?? Was being bored to death on Sunday and not participating in life that was happening all around us really what this commandment was all about ? If so, I wasn’t liking this Commandment all that much. But Grandma reminded me that it was her house, so we would follow her Commandment and be happy about it too. Even when I was finally old enough to do whatever I wanted to do on Sunday, I did remember to use some of what Grandma taught me by respecting the Sabbath enough to ensure that I was helping others whenever I could and being kinder too, whether I was actually in church on Sunday or not.
Now there is another side to this controversy about the healing on the Sabbath that raises a question that we don’t have the answer to, and that is, was the leader of the synagogue also put to shame for challenging Jesus? Did he ever rejoice with the others when the woman was healed ? Or was his conviction so strong against healing the woman on the Sabbath in the Synagogue that he was unconvinced by the argument Jesus raised? So who was right, Jesus or the Synagogue leader - Should the woman have been healed on the Sabbath or not? I personally am one hundred percent without a doubt in favor of Jesus healing the woman ON the Sabbath IN that Synagogue because she had already suffered for far too long. And as a previous sufferer myself, I can confirm that sometimes even waiting one more day to be healed is too long. Can you imagine going to the hospital today and not getting treatment because it’s the Sabbath ? I think not !!
To ensure that we examine all sides of the controversy, let’s think about our lives today, and ask ourselves if there are ways we can do what the Synagogue leader wanted and keep the Sabbath holy. I say Yes, we Can keep the Sabbath holy by doing the simplest things, such as buying a homeless person breakfast or coffee on our way to church, or by sitting with someone in our community right here in this Nave and really Listening to their story about their ailment or treatment that they're enduring right now. Something this small goes a long way both in keeping the Sabbath holy and providing some measure of healing for others. Like most of you, I was very saddened when I learned that our fellow parishioner and friend Jerry McKenzie died earlier this month. But I may have been even sadder than some of you when I realized that the last time I saw Jerry I had not done what I just suggested we all do. I was so busy running around this church being verger that last Sunday I saw Jerry, that while I did say hi to him, I did not take a few minutes to actually ask how he was, or to listen to whatever he may have wanted to share with me. And of course now it's too late.
My third and final point this morning is actually a question for our reflection. My question is simple, yet hard. What ailment do you need to be set free from? What in you needs to be healed? I believe these are excellent questions for us, because one of the most comforting pieces of this Gospel for me is the fact that as soon as Jesus uttered the words “you are set free” the woman immediately Stands Up Straight. Many of us have ailments, and some of them may not be physical that people can actually see, yet they still cause us to be “bent over” or “in bondage” in some way, shape or form and they prevent us from being able to stand up straight. I’d ask that we all commit to working tirelessly to free ourselves from whatever is keeping us “bent over”. I’ll answer my own question by admitting that my own struggle to stand up straight isn't all that easy at the moment. One of the results of my previous health challenges is that much of the bone in my spine has deteriorated to critically low levels. My doctors and I have worked hard over the last couple of months to keep my spine in one piece and to keep me standing up straight, or truth to tell as my friend Paul Abernathy would say, to keep me standing up at all.
Although the Gospel doesn’t actually say it, to me the woman's ability to immediately stand up straight meant that for the first time in 18 years, she had the opportunity to actually make eye contact with something other than the floor. I believe that making eye contact with others absolutely can be "freeing and healing" and I imagine that the woman in the Synagogue felt that too as she looked into the eyes of Jesus – the man who set her free. My hope for us is that we can make meaningful eye contact with one other, and also work to keep not only the Sabbath, but every day holy by helping to heal ourselves, the people we love, and yes - even those we don't.
I pray that every one of us will be healed from whatever it is that ails us and that we will all be able to stand up STRAIGHT! AMEN
Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 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. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment." When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 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." 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? 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?" 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.