Archive for August 22nd, 2010

“Set Free” Luke 13: 10-17

“Set Free”

Luke 13: 10-17

Rev. Dr. Teri McDowell Ott

August 22nd, 2010

Where did he touch her?  When Jesus laid his hands on the bent woman to heal her, where did he touch her?  It matters, you know.  Did he place his hands on her back as he stood over her, looking down on her crippled spine, feeling the bow of her brittle bones underneath his fingers?  Did the pressure of his hands add more weight to a back and a life already crippled by weight?  Did he tower over her in order to heal her in a posture that would remind anyone, especially this poor, insignificant, crippled old woman, of his power and authority?  I seriously doubt it.  I mean this is Jesus we’re talking about here.  Jesus didn’t loom over people who were in need of healing.  Jesus didn’t add weight to those already struggling with heavy burdens.  Jesus didn’t use his power and his influence in a way that might make an already suffering woman feel even smaller, even more insignificant, even more oppressed.  No, I don’t think Jesus stood over this bent woman, putting his hands on her back.  I think he got down on his knees, his robes swirling in the dirt, his hair falling in his face as he stooped to meet this stooped woman face to face.  I imagine he had to crane his neck after he got down there so he could look into her eyes.  And then, in this position, I think he reached out and touched her feet…her old, cracked and calloused feet…in order to deliver this miracle, in order to set this woman free.[1]

An amazing thing about this story is that this bent over woman wasn’t even looking for a healing.  She just showed up.  She just happened to appear while Jesus was teaching in the synagogue.  Did she even know Jesus was there?  Did she even know where she was?  I imagine her perspective on the world was seriously limited when all she could see for eighteen years was her feet…her old, cracked, calloused feet.  But then, all of a sudden, Jesus was there, in the dirt, touching those feet, and craning his neck to look into her eyes.

Have you ever known such a moment in your life?  Have you ever had someone go out of his or her way to meet you eye to eye?  To know you?  To get you?  To get your pain and your suffering?

I’ve had such a moment.  Back in the day when I was still seriously afraid of speaking in public I was to be examined on the floor of my presbytery to become a candidate for ministry.  I was really scared.  And as the time for my examination grew closer my fear grew and grew until I knew I was going to just lose it.  So I left the sanctuary where the meeting was being held and found my way to a small chapel.  Once I was alone I cried and cried and cried as I tried to release myself from the tight grip my fear and anxiety had on me.  But I couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t release myself from my fear.  And that’s when I felt a little tap on my shoulder.  It was a man who introduced himself to me as an elder from my home church.  I’d never met him before, but he knew who I was and what I was there to do.  He sat down next to me, looked into my eyes and we talked.  I told him about my fear and he understood.  Then he said some things that made me laugh…and that laughter was so healing and so freeing.  It was exactly what I needed to free myself from my fear and get on with what I knew I had to do.

When Jesus went out of his way to meet the bent over woman, to notice her, to recognize her suffering, to stoop to meet her eye to eye, Jesus set her free in more ways than one.  “Woman, you are set free!” he said to her.  And she stood up straight and began praising God.  What a moment!  What a story to celebrate!

But not everyone was celebrating Jesus’ actions that day.  Not everyone approved of this healing.  The leader of the synagogue was indignant that Jesus would dare to heal someone, would dare to set someone free on the Sabbath.  “There are six days on which work ought to be done,” he said, “come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.”

What’s happening here is a disagreement over two Old Testament understandings of the Sabbath.  There are two traditions concerning the Sabbath.  One, recorded in Exodus 20, links the Sabbath to the first creation account in Genesis, where God rests after six days of labor.  As God rested, this tradition says, so should we rest, as well as our households and even all of our animals.  The second tradition of Sabbath observance is connected to Deuteronomy 5.  This tradition links the Sabbath to the Exodus, to God’s people being released from slavery in Egypt. This tradition links the Sabbath to freedom, liberation, and release from captivity.  And this is the tradition that Jesus taps into as he stops on a Sabbath day in order to set a woman free.  Of course it is permissible to set someone free on the Sabbath, Jesus seems to be saying here, for the Sabbath is all about freedom.[2]

In this way, Jesus reminds us that the Sabbath is more than a religious obligation.  Coming here on Sunday morning is more than just our religious duty, it is more than us following the rules set for us by our ancestors in the faith, by our families, by our parents who sometimes have to drag us here kicking and screaming.  The Sabbath is more than a rule to follow.  Instead it is a reminder that we too are held captive, that we too need to be set free, and that Christ is here to offer us this freedom.  Christ is here, stooping and straining, his knees in the dirt, his eyes trying to catch your gaze, all so he can send you the message that he knows you, he gets you, and he gets your pain.  Christ is here.  He’s here and he has come to set you free.

We know he is here because we can feel him in the warm, welcoming handshake of our neighbor in the pew.

We know he is here because we can see him in the eyes of our friend sitting over there who really gets us, who really understands our pain.

We know he is here because we can feel his Spirit in the music that is sung.

We know he is here because we can taste him in the communion bread and hear his voice echoing through the wine, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

We know he is here because the water in the baptismal font whispers to us of new beginnings, of new life, and the freedom we can know if we dive deeply into Him.

The Sabbath reminds us that we are held captive, and that we need to be set free; set free in the Christ who has come here for us.  He has come here for us.  He has come here for all those dying to be set free.  The Sabbath reminds us of this, and it invites us to look around and see who else might still be bound and waiting for their release.  The Sabbath invites us to look around our church, look around our community, look around our world for those who might still be bound and waiting for release.

In a sermon on this text, Jana Childers tells the story of “a little girl who lived in a rural community.  It was just a few years ago, but the girl lived in one of those towns where driving down Center Street is like driving back into the thirties.  She lived in a little house and went to a two-room school.  She had loving parents and, from time to time, a good teacher.  But the way she was growing up was not the way you would want your little girl to grow up.  She had a cleft palate and the money for the repair hadn’t been there.  By the time she was seven-years-old she knew what the world was.  She had heard the phrase, ‘only a mother could love that’ and she understood it.

One day a special teacher visited the school and put the children through some basic speech tests.  When it was her turn, the little girl went into the classroom that had been set aside for the exams.  ‘Just stand over there by the door,’ the teacher said from her desk at the far end of the room.  ‘I want to test your hearing first.  Turn your back, face the door and tell me what you hear me say.’

‘Apple,’ the teacher said in a low voice.

‘Apple,’ the little girl repeated.

‘Man,’ the teacher said.

‘Man,’ the little girl repeated.



‘Okay,’ the teacher said, ‘Now a sentence.’  The child knew that the sentences were usually fairly easy—she wasn’t the first child to take the test, after all.  She’d heard you could expect something like, ‘The sky is blue’ or ‘Are your shoes brown?’  Still, she listened very carefully.

So it was that standing with her face against the door, she heard the teacher’s whisper quite clearly, ‘I wish you were my little girl.’[3]

Woman, you are set free! And she stood up straight and began praising God. When we come here on the Sabbath we are reminded that Christ has come to set us free; in more ways than one, he has come to set us free. And, as we come here on the Sabbath we are invited to look around and see who else might be bound and waiting for their release.  We are invited to heal, and to love, and to transform the lives of those in need of liberation by being Christ in a world so in need of his healing, liberating love.

Now to the God who sets us free, be all honor and glory, thanksgiving, and power, now and forevermore.  Amen.

[1] This image was developed from Jana Childers’ sermon on this passage entitled, “The Kyphotic Woman.”  Found on 30GoodMinutes.org

[2] David Lose, “Sunday, Sunday” posted on WorkingPreacher.org.

[3] Jana Childers, “The Kyphotic Woman,” http://www.30GoodMinutes.org.

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