I am a fairly accommodating kind of person. When approached about a need, conflict or criticism, my first instinct is to try to find a way to accommodate. That’s not always possible, and sometimes it leaves everyone involved feeling a little, shall we say, “stretched?”
We even have a convenient phrase that we use to describe our actions of accommodation or compromise. We might say, “we bend over backwards” ….to try to please, to solve the problem, or to do something for someone else.
“Bend 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 that we contort or stoop to painful measures for the sake of someone else.
Either way, “bending over backwards” is often 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.”
Jesus is teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath, as was often his custom we are told in Luke’s Gospel.
This is Jesus’ “bent” if you will, what he finds himself inclined to do on the Sabbath. He is committed to being in a place of worship. This is where you will find him if you’re looking for him on this particular day of the week, as is witnessed over and over again in the Gospels, and particularly in Luke’s Gospel as Luke wants to make painfully clear to his Gentile audience that Jesus is rooted in Jewish tradition.
As Jesus is worshipping in Synagogue, a woman enters who is bent and quite unable to stand up straight. She has been this way for 18 years, we are told, so she is obviously known as a regular in this community.
There is no mention of her seeking Jesus out, but rather she comes to his attention. When he sees her, 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.
I want to stop there for a second, and ask a question of you. How did you come in here today? What were you “bent” on?
Were you bent on hearing some church music? Is that your major reason for being here?
Were you bent on meeting your friends?
Were you bent on coming out of a sense of obligation, or because you are a “regular?” It’s Sunday, and so church is the place to which I go.
Maybe you came today because you have felt the burdens of the world on your shoulder. You were “bent” on trying to find some relief.
Perhaps you feel a bit bent over by the cares, worries and concerns that are a part of your life, and were looking for something to ease your load.
Or, maybe you came with the burdens of the world on your shoulders with no particular expectation of things changing at all. You came just bent over, as usual, hunkering down to get yourself through another week.
I want you to think about that, ponder that for a moment, for in this Gospel we are given a very clear image. No matter what you were bent on, or bent over with today, it is Jesus who first notices you.
Let that just sink in for just a bit.
Too often we’re bent on trying to get God to take notice of us, feeling as if God isn’t paying much attention to our troubles or our needs, but here it is clear that it is always Jesus who first sees what is wrong right away, and then has words to speak to what he sees. They are peculiar words, particular words.
He does not say, “You are healed” to this woman.
He says rather, “You are set free…..”
Now 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 would that be like for you?
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 fall more in line with the role of the leader of the Synagogue?
There is a skeptic in every crowd, and one has to sympathize with the leader of the Synagogue here because what Jesus is doing is a kind of threat to the institution. There is a reason why the leader of the synagogue gets “bent out of shape” by Jesus’ actions.
“Healing”, strictly speaking is a work. It is an occupational task. It is something that should properly be done on the other six days of the week.
The Sabbath is meant to be a day of rest.
By healing on the Sabbath, Jesus was calling into question the commandment of God.
Couldn’t Jesus have waited until tomorrow?
The leader of the Synagogue fears a world that is unhinged from decorum. We’ve spent all the time since the Exodus trying to get people to observe Sabbath. We fought with Pharaoh, and with all the pressures of this world and Rome to keep an Empire running 24/7. Sabbath is the last thing we have left that makes us unique, distinct, Jewish! Don’t mess with the Sabbath laws, Jesus.
We’re told the leader kept saying to the crowd the protest against healing on the Sabbath. There is an insistence in the sense of propriety.
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, and that is an action of the moment!
There is something more going on here than just a matter of tradition, or keeping of Sabbath laws, there is a divine imperative at work.
It’s not just that Jesus has taken notice of the woman, there is a claim made that God has taken notice of her, as a “daughter of Abraham.” This is not just healing, this is a claiming of identity, and a release from bondage that echoes back to Exodus as well. Here comes a new intervention by God into the events of this world. The time for being set free is now, and it’s no use protesting it. God will have it no other way!
We Lutherans and others who stand in a liturgical tradition have a troubling time with a Gospel like this, because we can better imagine ourselves as being right there with the synagogue leader.
We like our formality, our order, the “everything in the right place” comfort of the liturgy, whether that is the formal liturgy or 8:30 or the contemporary liturgy of 11, and to have an interruption of this kind would be both exciting and unsettling.
What if, on this Sunday morning, we saw someone so weighed down with life’s burdens that it was clear what they really needed was prayer and laying on of hands? Would we be in tune with the moment enough to act as Jesus did? To interrupt the regular flow of the gathering to attend to what God will not let stand any longer? To see that person, call that person over, and do what needed to be done at the time?
Or would we try find a good place to put it in the liturgy, to fit it in?
Or, would we try to put it off to a later time?
Could we dare to hear Jesus’ words in our own tradition? “You are set free!”
Free to move things around.
Free to respond to the needs of the people who have come this day, and not just be locked into the order of the service.
Free to straighten and stand and praise, in whatever way God moves you right now.
Would we be o.k. with that?
I don’t think I’m out of line in my interpretation here, because when the Synagogue leaders raise their objection, Jesus blasts back about how they are better at taking care of their livestock than at taking care of this woman. You can make an exception to water the ox when you see they are thirsty or suffering, but can’t you make an exception to set free one bound by Satan for all these years? You’d rather let them wait another hour, another day?
Jesus shames them! Can you imagine that? Feel the incredible contrasts of this Gospel story!
A woman set free, praising God.
A Synagogue leader, bending over backwards to try to keep things in line and running according to the rules of the day, shamed into acknowledging his own hypocrisy!
Bending over backwards is indeed an unpleasant place to find one’s self.
What would it look like for Jesus to call us over and set us 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 old burdens, or wounds.
You are set free to change your posture toward things, change your position, no longer hunched and hunkered in the expectation of what “has to be.”
That is the promise of the resurrected Lord, who comes, takes notice us our posturing, and moves to set us free and make all things new.
What will you do when you hear that Jesus has set YOU free?