We all know what it’s like to be ignored. To be constantly talked over in meetings at work. To be the one in the family who’s always depended on to be solid because everyone else’s issues are deemed more important. To be the person people skip over in social situations because you’re a bit awkward. It’s not just frustrating; it’s degrading.
On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God. Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing. Luke 13:10-17 NIV
The woman of Luke 13:10-17 knew plenty about being ignored. Sick for eighteen years, three descriptions are given of her: she has been crippled by a spirit (or crippled in spirit), she’s bent over, and she’s unable to straighten up. Don’t get distracted by what ‘spirit’ might mean. However we think of it, her condition is clearly more than physical; this is a woman permanently bowed before all people. In fact, the word for ‘bent over’ is often used in the New Testament to speak of those who are disadvantaged. She is the lowest of the low, the least worthy of others’ time or energy.
Yet, when she enters the synagogue where Jesus is teaching, he sees her. This is not a matter of his eyes bouncing off her as he skims the crowd. He’s drawn to her, and he breaks from his teaching to address her. How extraordinary! Jesus’ first act of healing for this woman is to treat her like a human being, worthy of dignity as he gives her his time and attention.
What Jesus does next continues the healing. He sets her free from her infirmity, and she straightens. We know this is more than a mere physical healing, because she has exactly the right spiritual response. She is filled with joy and directs her praise straight to God, the source of her joy and healing. There is a fullness to this restoration; just as her condition was more than physical, so is her healing.
Immediately, the synagogue leader pounces on the woman. She has come on the wrong day to be healed. How dare she! Of course, that’s a snide way of having a go at Jesus, but Jesus’ response is all about highlighting the dignity of the woman. She’s far more valuable than an ox or a donkey, who are untied for water (v15-16). She’s a daughter of Abraham, one of God’s chosen and beloved people. If anyone was in doubt about that, perhaps thinking that her affliction was a sign of God’s judgement on her, they need only recall what Jesus was teaching on when the woman arrived at the synagogue: tragedy is not necessarily a sign of God’s judgement (v4-5), and the lack of judgement is not a sign that it’s not on its way (v6-9). And this woman’s need is far greater than a mere drink, for she has been bound for eighteen years and by a force far more powerful and malevolent than a day’s thirst. Of course Jesus’ opponents are humiliated at this point; their pride is scattered as the humble one is exalted, just as Mary had prophesied to Elizabeth in her great song (Luke 2:46-55).
In Jesus’ healing, affirmation, and vindication of this woman we learn who he is and what the nature of his kingdom is. The Sabbath he’s bringing is not about ‘time off’ so much as ‘time on’. It’s about creating healing and peace that all share in rather than a mere absence of work. It means seeing those who are deemed insignificant, and treating them with dignity. This is what we who are followers of Jesus are heading towards, a day where we will be seen in all our preciousness, and where we will see others in all theirs. There will be no more overlooked ones, because we will see with the eyes of Jesus, and be seen by him, as we fix our eyes on him.
Tamie hails from Adelaide and lives in Tanzania with her husband and son. In partnership with CMS Australia, they work with the Tanzanian Fellowship of Evangelical Students (TAFES). Read more from Tamie on her blog.