Expectation can be a crippling load to bear.
I remember this bible story from my Sunday School days and the little hand-out pages we were given, some to color, some colored in for us.
The “bent over” woman as she was sometimes called.
She would be stereotypically portrayed as hunched back, old, crippled, and arthritic. An unmistakable message conveyed in those worksheets, either intentionally or unintentionally was that this woman was a “burden” in and of herself.
She was portrayed as someone who could not work or contribute.
She was portrayed as being helpless to change her position, and her position meant that she could not fulfill the expectations of her community.
She could not cook, or clean, or perform any of the duties of the household, all those “expectations” of what it meant to be a person of value as a woman in that society.
But thinking about it now, maybe it was how women were portrayed in my society of the 1960’s & 70’s, the world of Sunday School Publishing houses and how they portrayed the role of women in the post WWII era.
In any event, the signature feature of the depiction, and of the Gospel writer’s description here is that of a woman whom you could not look in the eye, for “she was quite unable to stand up straight.”
It is a spirit that cripples her, we are told.
Jesus identifies this as the “Spirit of Satan.”
For 18 long years this Spirit of Satan, (as Jesus identifies it,) has bound her, crippled her, made it impossible for her to make eye contact with anyone, and has made her unable to stand up straight and praise God.
Now in the Synagogue, in this moment, Jesus takes notice of her, calls her over, acknowledges her and sets her free.
At last able at last to stand up straight, the
first thing she does is to begin to praise God.
You would think this would be a moment of ecstatic joy throughout the Synagogue! That everyone would be thrilled with what Jesus was doing in their midst.
You would be wrong.
The next thing that happens (we are told) is that a Synagogue leader (unidentified) becomes indignant and begins criticizing Jesus for breaking Sabbath protocols.
Expectation can be a crippling load to bear for all it seems.
Expectations of how things ought to work can make you miss the power of God being displayed in your very midst, as you focus on what you perceive as being wrong instead of beholding what is so very right about this.
It is right of course to release people from bondage, to release people from the power of Satan. But Jesus, you know, there are protocols for these things. There are ways it should be done, six days on which to heal, why break the rules and upset the order?
As it turns out, what Jesus is engaging here is a long debated point about where the Sabbath laws are properly located and how they are to be understood.
There are those who locate the Sabbath Laws in the matter of the orders of creation. God creates, takes 6 days, and then takes a day off and commands that to be Sabbath. Remember it, keep it holy. Which is interpreted as you must not do ANY work on the Sabbath, it is an afront to God, who rested himself, and who now commands that it be “kept.”
There are others in the community though who locate the Sabbath Laws instead in the context of liberation from the bondage to Egypt.
The problem back in Egypt, (they reason) was that Pharaoh demanded work from people seven days a week. You had no leisure for worship. You had no time to give praise. No time that was set aside to do things on behalf of your neighbor to release them from their burdens.
The command to keep the Sabbath is a command to act, not to inhibit action. God moved to free God’s people! As you can do the minimum for your own animals, (Jesus reasons here, lead them to water and care for them), should you not also be able to heal, forgive, reconcile, and act on behalf of those in bondage on the Sabbath?
Jesus is clearly here in the camp of acting, keeping Sabbath rightly is liberating those who are oppressed and in bondage, allowing them to worship and give God praise.
In the scriptures this is not a “settled matter.” The matter of what one does with expectations will come up time and again, and while it may feel like a far-removed matter to us, it is really not, and to drive that home, let me just tickle your imagination with a slight change in how you see the story.
Remember my Sunday School hand-outs?
What if instead of the hunched back, useless old woman that we have been conditioned to expect, we were to imagine here that Jesus’ words are extended to a young woman, toward an 18 year old? A young person in the Synagogue who has not been able to express herself or look the leaders in the eye?
It’s a curious detail of the story, you know, that number of years she has been bound. How did Jesus know that? Was there a conversation before the healing? Or is this “Spirit of Satan” that has been crippling her simply the expectations placed upon her, the expectations of what a woman should or should not be able to do in the Synagogue?
What if this is the first woman Preacher, this woman who in the midst of the Synagogue at Jesus’ urging stands up straight and begins to look the men around her in the eye and begins to publicly proclaim and to praise God?
Now you begin to understand anew why the Synagogue leader would be indignant.
Now you begin to understand why he appeals to protocol.
Is this not the standard means of afflicting of women? Telling them what they can or cannot do, delaying, “there are six days in which to heal…” It’s not the right time now. We should do things properly. Let’s debate this, etc. etc.
Oh, expectation can be a crippling spirit indeed, and this is not a settled matter!
If you want to complicate this idea a bit more, then include the Old Testament lesson today from Isaiah 58.
Here the situation is the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the time of the Babylonian Exile, and the story is as fresh now as when it was written.
After the Exile, the people of Israel left Babylon and moved back home to a shattered economy and a ruin of a city.
Now Cyrus the Persian had acted in their release to provide funding for rebuilding the city, but much of that funding had been swallowed up by corruption, and old hierarchies, and the expectations of who should lead and who should calling the shots. The whole of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah outline these struggles.
The walls of the city need to be rebuilt, and the Samaritans who live right there are ready to help, but there are those in the returning community who do not want to mix and mingle with the “impure.”
They do not want to give up their status, their position, or their privilege.
The economy of Israel needs to be reconstructed, but the privileged hoard the wealth instead of allowing it to circulate, maintaining lavish households themselves and extravagant lifestyles while others who are less “connected” live in depravation, and are disparaged.
The “Yoke” of Isaiah 58 is the burden of expectations, of who should be in, who should not have a share, who should be listened to and who should be blamed.
There is finger pointing all around, instead of action taking.
There is “speaking of evil” instead of speaking well of the neighbor and their actions.
There is settling for the way things are, instead of entertaining options of how things could be.
There is “trampling of the sabbath” (by which is meant people are kept in bondage), there is “going your own way, serving your own interests, pursuing your own affairs” on the holy day instead of offering food to the hungry and satisfying the needs of the afflicted.”
Isaiah 58 invites the community to “remove the yoke.”
Change the expectations that you have of the way things have to be, have to be done, have to be pursued just long enough to see how God might re-shape this community, and in doing so the prophet says, God will make you ride upon the heights, repair the breeches, and restore the streets.
But to do that, you do have to let go of the expectations.
You have to be exorcised of the spirit the keeps you bound to the past and to yourself.
You have to raise your head long enough to see what “new thing” God might be doing in your very midst, instead of defaulting to the protocols of the past.
Expectations you see, can be crippling loads to bear.
They can keep up from looking up into the eyes of one another, and into a place where you can meet God’s gaze long enough to be transformed!
These are days when we feel the weight of expectation upon us in many ways, do we not?
We are tempted often to flee to the old ways as a source of comfort.
We postpone and delay action for financial reasons, or fear of loss.
We are ever tempted to hoard what little we have as a hedge against an uncertain future that we cannot yet make out, but holding it fast simply means we are all the more bound and stooped with the burden of trying to keeping it, make it last, as if God could not of God’s bounty and abundance multiply things if we released what we have to God’s use.
We are people who are too well accustomed to the yoke of expectation placed upon us, and too often moving through life with our own down turned faces.
Dare we hear this day the invitation of Jesus.
Dare we hear ourselves that Jesus sees us and calls us to himself.
Dare we listen to him speak the words, “You are set free..”
Set free from those expectations that burden us, whatever they may be.
Set free from the spirit that cripples us, keeps us looking down, moping, unable to look into the eyes of those who are around us.
Dare we entertain new options, try new approaches, not fear the critique of those long in power who are themselves bound up in things and afraid of what might be?
People of God, the gospel this day bids us be set free from those things that weigh us down and bend us out of shape.
Dare we hear the voice of Jesus, and in the face of whatever it is that threatens to tie us up in knots and weigh us down, choose instead to stand straight and praise God with a clear, loud voice?
“You are set free…” Jesus says.
Dare we believe that, and live into that truth?