Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.’ But the Lord answered him and said, ‘You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?’ When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing. (NRSV).
Eighteen years is a long time. Many of us take for granted the ability to ‘stand up straight’. But here is a woman who is unable to do this most basic of all human tasks.
Luke, throughout this passage, points to this as a spiritual issue. It is a ‘spirit’ that has caused her to be so disfigured. When later Jesus rebukes the callous and legalistic outlook of the synagogue’s leader, he names ‘Satan’ as the instigator of this ‘bondage’. This is not just a physical issue. It is the work of evil.
Convention would not allow this woman to seek Jesus’ out on the sabbath day – especially if she is interested in being healed. Certainly she ‘appears’ on the scene, but she makes no approach toward the Messiah. Does she hope to meet him here? Is her presence a weekly habit or a strategic move? Is she wanting to bump into this most famous healer? Does she hope to spot Jesus in the synagogue, follow him, and make a request at sundown – the sabbath end?
Perhaps her motive for being present in the synagogue on this sabbath is irrelevant. We can only say that she is there and that Jesus calls her over.
This illegal sabbath healing is initiated by the Son of God
There are two outcomes from his invitation. The crippled woman is healed – or better – ‘set free’. She straightens up and does exactly what one is supposed to do in a synagogue: she praises God!
But the second outcome is not so expected. Jesus’ healing attracts the indignation of the synagogue official. He – bazaarly – begins to rebuke his congregation: ‘There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.’
But Jesus knows this is not so much about the crowd’s behaviour as it is about his. And although he has not been spoken to it is Jesus who answers.
It is direct and cutting: ‘You hypocrites!…’.
Yes, each would unquestioningly untie their stock in order to meet the most basic need – water. And this no matter what day of the week.
Why not release this woman?
Once again Jesus has spoken truth in such a pointed and perceptive way that it has left only two responses – shame or rejoicing.
Perhaps it was more than the woman who was set free that day. This community gathering is also finding healing.
What else are the people of God to do when they gather than praise God and ‘..rejoice at the wonderful things’ God is doing?