Monday, August 22, 2022

The Woman Bent Over


Luke 13:10-17

Proper 16 / Year C

This morning’s gospel reading about a woman bent over being healed brings to mind a painful personal memory.  My daughter Ellen was around five years old and we were playing in a local swimming pool.  She loved to be picked up and tossed high in the air.  The higher the toss, the bigger the splash!  She would swim right back to me and insisted I throw her again.  She could do this for hours.  I could not.  One time she was swimming beside me and I twisted my back, grabbed hold of her, turned, and tossed.  You don’t have to be clairvoyant to know where this story is going.  I wrenched my lower back.  I bothered me for the better part of a year.  And no, of course I never went to see a doctor. 

It was a stressful time in the life of our family.  My wife was not able to be employed if the field of her choice.  We were losing ground financially.  I was in the midst of searching for a new call and this became known to the parish when a small group of strangers from a search committee showed up in church one Sunday.  There is nothing pleasant about being a lame-duck priest.  And my lower back hurt. 

In my experience, at least, the process of finding a new position as a clergy person is not easy.  It is marked by periods of highs and lows, inactivity and frenzied deadlines.  This long process came to a merciful end when I accepted a call from a church in Richmond, where I served for ten years before coming here. 

I tell you this story because the morning after I accepted that call I woke up, got out of bed, and realized for the first time in over a year my back did not hurt.  What began as a legitimate physical injury was prolonged because emotional stress will always metastasize at the weakest part of our bodies.  Take away the stress and the physical problem may just go away.

Webster’s Dictionary defines ‘psychosomatic’ as “a disorder of the body originating in or aggravated by the psychic or emotional process of the individual.”  It can run the gamut from a mild form of hypochondria to actual blindness or paralysis.  I once read a book were the author contended some people actually develop cancer as a response to emotional stress.  I know of one such person in my ministry who may have had this happen to him.  When his stress was alleviated, he responded positively to treatment.

The text doesn’t tell us what caused the women Jesus meets today to be bent over.  No doubt there is a physical component to her suffering.  But surely there are mental and emotional aspects which contribute to her chronic condition.  She lives in a small village where everyone knows your story and everyone knows your business.  There is no place to hide.  There is nowhere to get away from critical eyes.  And, based on how the religious leaders react to Jesus, there are a lot of well-placed, highly critical people in her community.  It may or may not have caused this woman to be bent over, but you can be sure it contributed to her suffering.

In his book Jesus the Village Psychiatrist, Donald Capps notes there are three different definitions for the word “miracle.”  The first is “an event or action that apparently contradicts known scientific laws and is hence thought to be due to supernatural causes.”  In this sense, a miracle defies explanation.  The second definition is “a remarkable event or thing.”   Used in this manner, a miracle is a marvel.  And the third definition holds “a miracle is a wonderful example.” 

Notice that all three aspects of the word miracle are present in today’s reading.  When the woman is able to stand erect, she begins to praise God.  She senses straight away her healing is due to a divine act.  Jesus, in confronting the religious authorities, treats the event as being a wonderful example of doing good, even and especially on the Sabbath.  And the people who witness all of this rejoice at the “wonderful things” Jesus is doing.

For Jesus there is no time better than right now to alleviate human suffering and indignity.  He demonstrates not just God’s power, but even more so, God’s compassion for each and every one of us.

Where does this holy compassion come from?

In this morning’s first reading we hear God issue a prophetic call to Jeremiah, who is a mere youth at the time.  The Lord justifies this action by saying to the lad, “Before you were in the womb I knew you and before you were born I consecrated you.”  It is amazing to ponder God’s deep love for Jeremiah, and for you and me, began before we even were conceived. 

I recall vividly how powerfully I was overcome with love the very moment the nurse handed our first child to me and I held her.  It was like being hit by a lightning bolt.  And I have been wondering how expectant mothers bond with the person developing in their wombs.  Is there a single moment when you recognize your love for the baby you are carrying or does it grow over time?

Well, thinking back on those times of birth in your life will give you some insight into how God feels about you and why God feels this way.  God rejoices when you rejoice.  God laughs when you laugh.  God weeps when you weep.  God suffers when you suffer.  And when you need it most, God heals when you hurt.  We see this so clearly in what Jesus does for the woman bent over.  No critic or misapplied custom is going to prevent him from restoring her to fulness of life and dignity. 

I pray you will be able look at every person you know and you encounter and recognize him or her as deeply know by God from before conception and completely loved.  And I pray you will have eyes to see yourself in this same light.