August 21, 2022

"If Not Now, When?”

Rev. Scott Landis

Luke 13:10-17

It began as a regular day of worship for those gathered in that unnamed synagogue where Jesus was preaching. As Luke recalls, “He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath.” We don’t know what he was teaching about or where synagogue was located. I guess Luke didn’t think those details mattered all that much.

But at some point, during his mana’o, Jesus shifted his attention to an unnamed woman who was physically disabled. She suffered from some sort of disease or illness or injury that necessitated her bending over so that she could NOT stand up straight. It was an affliction that for some reason Luke knew she had borne for the past 18 years!

We don’t know anything about her life or whether this condition was something she wanted to be healed of OR whether she simply accepted this as her lot in life. It’s quite possible she was only 18 years old, and had this condition for her entire life. We simply don’t know. What we DO know is that she came to worship that day. She just showed up. Perhaps not expecting very much. Perhaps she simply wanted to meet Jesus – to see what all the fuss was about – sing a couple of songs – give her offering – and go home – just the way she had always done in the past.

We know nothing about her. We don’t even know her name. She never speaks a word. One wonders if anyone knew her. Did she speak to anyone – ever? Or did she typically slip in the back door after worship had already begun and then left early sparing her the embarrassment of having to speak with others which was nearly impossible given her posture.

But Jesus noticed her. He couldn’t see her face. Her posture wouldn’t allow that. But he did see her as a “daughter of Abraham” who had been bound for all these years. He touched her, and healed her, which allowed her to straighten up, and then she erupted in praise to God. It HAD to hurt. She had been in that position for so long that straightening would have been awful – but the pain of standing up was worth finally being made whole.

The leader of the synagogue was initially shocked – surprised – and then angered as he excoriated Jesus saying, “how could you do such a thing – on the sabbath?”

After all, as the leader of the synagogue, he was the arbiter of religious protocol and Jesus had just overstepped his bounds in a big way. It was okay to preach, it was fine to teach, but to heal on the sabbath. No way! That was against the rules. Jesus needed to be put in his place and reminded just who was in charge. [Pause]

I thought a lot about that moment – the wet blanket being thrown onto this moment of insurmountable joy. I thought about the unrecorded dialogue that must have taken place between Jesus and the synagogue leader after he made his pronouncement. The proof-texting he must have engaged in as he cited specific biblical texts to support his argument. The noting of ecclesiastical norms that everyone adhered to because … well, because ‘we have always done it that way.’ The declaration that this was a rule from God – given to Moses – after the Israelites were liberated from Egyptian bondage – liberated from that which had held them in chains so heavy that all they could see was the ground in front of them. Huh? Does anyone else see the irony here?

What we have here is a story of liberation – a daughter of Abraham had been set free – so much so that she could now stand up straight — look into other’s eyes and praise God. But all the religious establishment could see was the rule that had been broken in order to allow this miracle to happen.

And what about this unnamed woman – is she a mere pawn in a theological debate on how to properly live an upstanding religious life? Has she no say in what happens to her body? Has she no voice in how to protect it or care for it – or is she a mere a victim of the legislative rubrics of the day that will determine her outcome regardless of what she wants. Boy, things haven’t changed all that much – have they?

I cannot read this story from Luke 13 in the same way that I did even a few months ago when I began planning for this Sunday. Recent decisions from our nation’s Supreme Court have opened my eyes to the plight of this unnamed woman THEN – and of all women TODAY. It’s not just a question of a “woman’s right to choose” – a rallying cry heard often in the wake of Roe v. Wade – but the plethora of issues that women face daily – where they have far less control over their lives and careers and bodies than those of us of us who typically find ourselves in positions of power in large measure due to our gender. And the church too often has been a staunch defender of those inequities – as it has desperately tried to maintain a patriarchal system that Jesus attempted to expose and expunge 2,000 years ago.

I wonder — who are the bent-over women of our day. Those who cannot straighten their backs and lift their heads let alone their voices to become fully the daughters of Abraham – the children of God that they were intended to become. Those who must either remain silent, maintaining the status quo, doing exactly what they are supposed to do — what they are expected to do so that they might keep their jobs.

Are they the maids, the factory workers, the nannies, the fields hands? Or are they the women in dead end positions with no hope of rising any further on the corporate or ecclesiastical ladder due to a well-entrenched “old-boy network?”

And how has the church through its insistence on adhering to the law – or proscribed norms – done a disservice to those in need? Where does the church need to hear the voice of God, feel the touch of God, and be liberated from our lack of courage in order to do the will of God — that which is right, and just, and necessary to heal those in desperate need? And who among us does not need that same blessing today? [Pause]

The God of this story – the God who spoke through the incarnation of Jesus Christ – the God who saw, spoke to, and touched this woman in need is the God who longs to do the same today for each one of us. [Pause]

Remember what happened when she was recognized and healed by Jesus. She cried out in praise! She simply couldn’t help herself – couldn’t hold back! That’s what it means to be liberated. That’s what if feels like to be recognized as a child of God.

We may not have an outward affliction like the woman in this story. But we may be carrying something deep within that no one else will ever see. But God does. [Pause] This past week I read a devotional by one of our United Church of Christ devotional writers, Vince Amlin. He tells the story of visiting the Museum of Puppetry in Slovenia with his kids. Initially, he found the museum rather odd – sparse and with little décor. But in one of the rooms he came upon an electronic pad and stylus in front of a puppet from a famous early production, The Little Sleepy Star. In the show, the star is assigned to help the fierce bandit Ceferin change his life by teaching him how to write the word “beloved.”

Visitors were invited to write it themselves in English or Slovenian. Vince did both, pressing the button on the side to erase it in between. And as he did, he thought about this exercise.

A little rectangle with “beloved” written on it? And no matter how many times it gets erased, someone comes along to write it again?

It was then he realized, WE are that rectangle!

And God is the one insistently writing. No matter how many times others try to scrub it out. No matter how many times we reach for the button to erase it ourselves. God writes it again: “beloved, beloved, beloved.”

Whether we are bent over bearing the weight of guilt or shame, or physical ailment, or find ourselves the victim of oppression of an unjust system – the Savior sees us, touches us, and sets us free as a “beloved child of God.” And when we are truly set free – when we step into the joy of God’s healing and liberating love, that’s when we embody the possibility of offering the same grace to those we see – those who need to be recognized as well.

If not now, when?

We live in a day when so many need to be reminded – “Beloved – you are set free!” It’s high time you claim your place in the kingdom of God. Be healed that you too may praise God.


About Our Website Any opinions expressed in this website are those of the writer or writers involved. Unless otherwise noted, such opinions are not to be construed as the position taken by any of the boards, committees, or council of the church.