I am a fairly accommodating kind of person. When approached about a conflict or criticism, my first instinct is to try to find a way of compromise. In a perfect world, such compromise would leave all parties feeling satisfied, as if everyone had gained something.
But this is not a perfect world. And so, more often than not when the road of compromise is engaged upon, we end up with a sense of “winners” and “losers” and imperfect solutions that leave all parties feeling less than satisfied.
I was struck as I thought about this Gospel lesson, how conflict really does have a “posture.” As I flipped through the images available for “conflict” on a google search, I was struck by how many of them had people “bent.”
Bent into arguments.
Bent on destruction.
Bent on outwitting or outlasting their opponent.
“Bent over backwards”….The phrase has really two connotations. At its best, it means that we reach in an awkward way to do something.
At its worst, it means to coerce or stoop to painful measures for the sake of someone else’s needs or will.
Either way, “bending over backwards” is an unpleasant place to find one’s self.
In today’s Gospel lesson we have a series of events that unfold, that curiously all have to do with “bending.” Let’s review a bit.
Jesus is teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath, as was his custom we are told in Luke’s Gospel. This is Jesus’ “bent”, his direction. Throughout Luke’s Gospel we find that Jesus is committed to being in a place of worship on the Sabbath. So worship, keeping of the Sabbath and the observance of faith rituals is important to him! This is where you will find him if you’re looking for him on this particular day of the week.
A woman enters who we are informed is also “bent” and quite unable to stand up straight. She has been this way for 18 years, we are told. It’s not clear why she happens to be in the synagogue on this day. If people know how long she’s been like this, it is likely that she is simply a regular in the community.
There is no mention of her seeking Jesus out, but rather she comes to his attention, and he calls her over, and says, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment,” and then he touches her in such a way that she straightens up and stands, and begins to praise God.
So, here’s a question for you. What are you “bent” on right now?
Are you bent on hearing fine music from the pipe organ, or singing the songs or hymns you like to sing? Is that your major reason for connecting to a church?
Are you bent on meeting your friends? Catching a little free time, relaxation?
Is your personal “bent” a sense of obligation, or because you are a “regular church goer do you just go to church out of obligation?
Are you bent over by the burdens of the world on your shoulders? Looking for something to ease that load?
Or are just bent out of shape over this thing, or that event? Twisted up by the troubles of your own life and the pain of this world?
I want you to think about that, ponder that for a moment, for in this Gospel what we are given is a very clear image. No matter what you were bent on, or bent over with, it is Jesus who first notices you.
Despite the fact that Jesus has come here to synagogue for his own purpose today, he takes notice of those around him. When he sees one bent over, he speaks particular words, peculiar words.
He does not say to the woman, “You are healed.”
He says, “You are set free…..”
Just think about that for a moment. No matter what you came in here with bent on, or bent over with, the words of Jesus to you today are “You are set free….”
What is it that you would like to be set free from?
What is it that you would like to be set free to do?
Could you dare to imagine, that this is what Jesus has to say to you today? You are set free!
What would you do with such a word given to you?
It is an amazing thing that we witness in this Gospel. Here in the midst of the Synagogue a miracle takes place, a woman that everyone had known for years as the “bent over one” is now standing tall and straight and praising God.
Could you imagine yourself joining in her praise?
Or would you see yourself more in the role of the leader of the Synagogue?
Does he, do they join in her praise?
As the story progresses the leaders of the synagogue in fact get more “bent out of shape” by Jesus’ actions. They call it a “healing”, which strictly speaking is a work, an occupational task, something that should properly be done on the other six days of the week. The Sabbath is for rest, couldn’t Jesus have waited until tomorrow? We’re told the leaders kept saying to the crowd their protest against healing on the Sabbath. They were insistent in their sense of propriety, repeating the protest.
To be fair, let’s not be too hard on the leaders of the Synagogue. We can in fact sympathize with their concerns. Jesus, is bringing way too much change, and when there is change to the established way of doing things, there is conflict! The leaders of the synagogue are trying their best to “hold things together” in this rapidly changing world of Roman Occupation. They have to pay the Roman taxes. They have to bend their will to the “Pax Romana” which means they haven’t got a lot of autonomy in the way they govern, or who governs them, or what laws are enforced.
The Synagogue is the one place where because of our laws of the Sabbath, our keeping of these rules, we can exert our identity! It’s the one place left that is predictable, stable, unchanging, and the last place left where we can “call the shots.”
Oh, yes, I think we can resonate with the leaders of the synagogue! We want Jesus, he does all things well, reads scripture well, teaches with authority, but setting people free? Setting aside the tradition? Shunting aside the long established precedents for how things are done here? Now, wait a minute!
Yes, Jesus could have waited for another day, sought the woman out later, not upset the flow of the synagogue worship, but then strictly speaking, Jesus never was so much interested in healing the woman, as he was in setting her free!
Jesus hasn’t displayed much a knack for setting appointments, respecting conventions, or delaying actions throughout his ministry. He is more of the “when the spirit moves” kind of a person, so here is the moment, here is the need, here is the opportunity, let it happen.
“You are set free.”
Feel the incredible contrasts of this Gospel story! A woman set free, praising God.
Synagogue leaders, bending over backwards to try to keep things in line and running according to the rules of the day!
Bending over backwards is indeed an unpleasant place to find one’s self.
So can those who are bent out of shape be set free and unbound? That is the question that this Gospel begs for us to consider.
What would it look like for Jesus to take notice of you and set you free? What would we do with such freedom? Praise God for it, or retreat into the comfort of our conventions? What would you have to give up, throw away, embrace, or focus your eyes to be straightened up and set free?
It is something for you to ponder, but only for a bit, because the real problem you have is that today, what Jesus does is seek you out and he does touch you!
You are set free!
You are set free from the things that have bent you over and bound you up. You are set free from expectations and the old wounds. You have been touched by Jesus today, and are set free to change your posture toward things, your position toward things, you no longer have to be hunched over or hunkered down in the expectation of what “has to be.”
You have been touched by Jesus today, and are given the opportunity this day to repent of the behavior that causes others to be bent out of shape.
You have the responsibility this day to speak to those who oppress and subjugate, or who want to maintain the status quo in the congregation, the community, the world, and say “enough!”
That is the promise of the resurrected Lord, who comes to touch us, to set us free and to make all things new.
The question always, is what will you do now, with your freedom?
Do you stand and praise God?
Do you cling insistently to the comfortable?
This Gospel cuts to the quick.
Where do you find yourself today? Where do you want to be? Pray for that posture, and be straightened up and unbound to praise God for the power to stand and be set free.