So, Jesus like everyone else might have been tempted simply to ignore her – at any rate that day, as it was a sabbath day. Surely, if he really wanted to help her He could have told her to come back another day and be healed. This is the point of the ruler of the synagogue. This person has clearly been sick for a very long time – so what real difference would it make to wait one more day and so not break the sabbath. She was not in mortal danger – according to him. But Jesus did not see it like that. His eyes came to rest on her – He truly saw her; and He showed for her the love and compassion of God. He perceived not only the plight of the woman and her need to be set free, but the callousness of the leader of the synagogue and the system of rules and regulations he represented. He saw how the ‘rules’ were literally bending people out of shape instead of setting them free to be the people God intended. And so, he healed her. Regardless of the rules. And in doing both He and the woman set an example for all of us.
For it is very easy for any of us to allow the internalised messages we have, often from childhood, about not being loving or lovable, to constrict and restrict us. Jesus loving invitation to each and every one of us is to stand tall as a person loved by God. For God’s love for each and every one of us is vast and unimaginable – far greater than any human love. Yet in the action of Jesus with this woman, we taste just a little of that love of God for us. For He takes a person who has been disregarded by everyone, even herself, and enables her to stand up straight and walk tall and free.
This work of healing and transformation was for all, not just for the woman herself. In stretching up she became a sign and symbol that a new order now prevails in the world. A new order that is no longer dominated by human made rules and power structures, but by the liberating, transforming love of God. Jesus’s actions were not just pastoral – though he was undoubtedly motivated by deep compassion, in stark contrast to the ruler of the synagogue. His actions were also prophetic, drawing attention to the blatant injustice of rules that allowed animals to be treated with greater compassion on the sabbath that human beings. He was making quite clear that this was a matter as much of power and economics as anything else – the animals got fed and watered because the economy depended on it.
We can think I am sure of many examples of the actions of government to defend economic interest at the expense of the poor and marginalized in our world. Jesus in this story is encouraging us to stand up straight and work alongside those who have least power, for the liberation of all. For He is very clear that the purpose of the sabbath is to protect humans from exploitation, not to oppress them further with petty rules. This is a story that is vital to each of us as individuals – we all need to hear that gentle but firm invitation to stand up straight and know ourselves loved. But it also a story that teaches us how to stand up as communities of faith to support others.
Here in this parish, we have been through some hard times. We could truly say that we have been struggling to stand up straight and tall, and to offer love and care to others. At times it would have been easy for this parish to become weighed down with a sense of rejection and powerlessness. But that is beginning to change. In different ways we are beginning to straighten up, to find our voice and our purpose. And precisely because we know what it is to be downcast, we are able like the woman in today’s story, to enter into our liberty with joy – and encourage others to do likewise.
So – stand up straight and know that you are loved and lovable - and let us together extend that invitation to all in our community who need to hear it. In the name of Christ. Amen.
by Penny Jones, Sunday 25 August 2019