HEALING OF THE BENT WOMAN (Luke 13:10-17)(The Rev. Dr. Winfred Vergara, Holy Trinity, Hicksville, NY. 08/21/2016)
A story is told of a widow who fell on hard times. Being a Christian however, her condition did not cause her to lose her faith. Every morning, she goes to her balcony and praising God, she declares “Today, God will provide me with a bag of groceries.”
Now she had a neighbor who was an atheist and every time she hears the woman declares her faith, he gets irritated. He shouts, “Woman, shut up! There is no God!”
Despite this discouragement, the woman continued to confess her faith, and the atheist also continued to taunt that there is no God.
One day, the atheist thought that he would pull a trick on the woman. So in the middle of the night, he bought a bag of groceries and unbeknown to the woman, he put the bag of groceries on her balcony.
When the woman woke up, she saw the bag of groceries and she declared, “Thank you, O God for answering my prayer.” The atheist said, “Aha, I caught you there. It was not God but me who brought that bag of groceries.” The woman again said, “Thank you O God; you made the devil deliver the bag of groceries for me!”
Our Gospel this morning speaks about a woman who had been suffering from some kind of rheumatoid arthritis for 18 years that she had become bent over. Jesus decided to heal the woman. But it happened on the Sabbath, the day of rest, and the leader of the synagogue got upset. He told Jesus to the hearing of the crowd, “There are six days of work and you ought to have healed her on those days but not on the Sabbath.” Apparently, he was engaging in demagoguery to sway the crowd against Jesus.
The Bible says that “when Jesus said this, all his opponents were put to shame and the entire crowd rejoiced at the wonderful things that Jesus has done.”
There are at least three fundamental principles on the healing ministry of Jesus:
First, Jesus heals in response to human needs. It is possible that for the last eighteen years, this woman had been from one physician to another. It is possible that for the last eighteen years there were many treatments promising cure but they were of no avail. She was now bent over. It is possible that she even had accepted that her sickness was incurable. But hope has come with Jesus who said, “the devil comes only to kill, steal and destroy; I come that you may have life and have it abundantly”(John10:10).
One of the characteristics of Godly leaders is compassion or empathy; and one wonders if the so-called leader of the synagogue who criticized Jesus ever had compassion. He must have seen and known this woman. Maybe 18 years ago, she was pretty, slim and erect. Her body might be like coca cola body, 36-24-26. She might have looked like Kim Kardashian or Sofia Vergara or Miss Universe Pia Alonzo Worzbach. But her debilitating disease had steadily eroded her posture and destroyed her self-esteem. So now she is bent-over, her body was deformed, as if twisted by the devil. And Jesus looked at her with compassion.
By the way, the word “compassion” in Greek has the image of “being gripped in the intestine”; you become so empathetic to the suffering of others that you ache in your guts that you must help.
In the Bible, God was imaged as a compassionate God. He spoke to the Hebrew slaves, “I have heard your cries, I have seen your tears, I will come down to help.”
This godly compassion was imaged by Jesus when he saw the crowd: the homeless, the wetbacks, the undocumented immigrants, the marginalized in Judeo-Roman society. He was filled with compassion because “they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
So if you must be a godly leader, if you must be a healer, a pastor or a priest, you must have that gift of compassion. For this coming presidential elections, I do not want to say which candidate you should vote, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. But I should say, watch for them, get to know them from their words and from their policies, if there is compassion. If you vote for the most compassionate leader, you will not be disappointed, because compassion is of God!
Second principle in this gospel is the putting of higher value on human life. Every human being is created in the image of God and all lives---black, white, brown, yellow, red---matter. We are all precious in God’s sight.
So the value of human life is more than the rules and regulations that we created. The laws must always be enacted that protect human lives than diminish lives. The hypocritical leader of the synagogue brought out the letter of the law: “No work on Sabbath!” but Jesus brought out the spirit of the law:”Sabbath is made for man; not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27)
The letter of the law kills but the spirit of the law gives life!
One may argue that in the Greek cultural context, where the New Testament was written from, there is a separation between body and soul, that the body is less important than the soul, and that the flesh is at war with the spirit. We often say, our spirit is willing but our flesh is weak. But even St. Paul, who has in some instances, tried to create a wedge between the flesh and the spirit, ultimately found the trinity of human being as body, mind and spirit.
So while desiring a sound mind, we are to take care of our body because it is the temple of the Holy Spirit. I have recently enrolled in a gym and finding time to exercise, because I want to serve the Lord in the world, longer and healthier. The 3rd Letter of John began with the words, “I wish above all else that you may prosper and be of good health, even as your soul prospers.” We must desire a sound mind, a healthy body and a right spirit.
Third and final principle in this gospel is that healing is a platform for evangelism. The rebuke of Jesus silenced the hypocrites but the rest of the people rejoiced in the wonderful works of God. The miracle of healing breaks open the heart of the people to God. The miracle makes them ready to receive the Good News. The Good News was validated and confirmed by the miracles, signs and wonders.
Today, we live in societies where there is much skepticism and unbelief. Churches are in decline as church going is at all-time low. Children and young people are hard to find. It’s hard to recruit acolytes, choirs and singing groups. Christian education classes are no longer popular. Bible studies and prayer groups have waned. People have less time for prayer. People have less time for God.
So we are living in a new missionary age. Churches are in need of revival and communities are in need of spiritual awakening.
Here at Holy Trinity, we have started a Healing Service. We pray that God will fill us with compassion to pray for the sick; we pray that miracles, signs and wonders will fill our church. That people who come here may find welcome and friendship; that people who come here may find healing and renewal; that people who come here may see their lives transformed and their feelings inspired.
For ourselves, we pray that we will be faithful, available and teachable.. St. Paul said to Timothy: “Preach the word. Be urgent in season or out of season; convince, rebuke, exhort. Be unfailing in your witness. For the time is coming when people will no longer endure sound teaching. But having itching ears, they will turn away from the truth and turn to myths. But as for you, be faithful, endure sufferings, do the work of an evangelist.”
Yes we must evangelize and pray that God will break open the heart of this community to God by the miracles of healing and reconciliation. Amen.