Gospel – “Woman, You are Set Free”

Here is the scripture from Luke 13:10-17 for this week

Jesus continues on the road to Jerusalem but there is a change in venue. Jesus had been speaking to disciples and large crowds. Now, he appears in "one of the synagogues." His presence in a synagogue is his first since leaving Galilee, and he will not visit another in Luke’s gospel. The conflict with Jewish leaders he will experience then is foreshadowed this story.

Jesus enters the synagogue and he seems to be in search of something. Just before this scene, Luke records a parable in which Jesus’ vineyard owner says, “For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none” (Luke 13:7). His sensitivity is heightened as he continues to search for “fig trees” that are bearing fruit.

He enters the synagogue immediately following this parable and will heal a Jewish lady who has been suffering for 18 years. Jesus heals the woman in sacred space (a synagogue, mentioned twice) and within sacred time, namely on a Sabbath (noted no fewer than five times), and he is criticized for this breach of the law. Jesus insists that the synagogue and the Sabbath are not the only things that are holy — so is this woman’s life. He is also guilty of touching a ritually unclean woman in their eyes. Jesus isn’t abolishing the Law of Moses, but helping the people in the synagogue have a better understanding of how to apply the law.

This isn’t his first healing in Luke. Earlier, in Chapter 4, Jesus heals a man with an unclean spirit. In Chapter 6, he healed a man whose hand was withered. On both occasions, Luke describes Jesus teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath, but we are not informed about the content of his teaching. On both occasions, prominent religious leaders take offense at Jesus’ actions because of their view of what is allowable on the holy Sabbath day. By the end of chapter 13, Jesus’ search will turn into lament, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…” (cf. 13:34-35).

Jesus’ rebuttal is clever, for while untying an ox or a donkey on the sabbath was forbidden in one part of the Mishnah (a Jewish book of laws), it was permitted in another. His point is that the woman is far more important than animals, yet animals are allowed more freedom on the sabbath than is the woman. This woman is a "daughter of Abraham," heir to the same promise as Abraham.

Note the story is not about his teaching or even the faith of the people. Both stories are healing stories but, more significantly, for Luke, is the controversy these healings created due to questions of Jesus’ Sabbath practices. He doesn’t argue about Judaism, or the restriction.

So what is it all /about ?

1. It is story of the Kingdom – a story of community. Healings and exorcisms are signs of the kingdom of God. In verse 12, "Jesus saw" is in the primary position in the sentence, a subtle emphasis.

Jesus seems to be ignored by the Jewish leaders. The “leader” (v. 14) speaks to the “crowd”, but his words are directed at Jesus. He is blind to God’s kingdom. The people in the synagogue seem blind to her presence also

After he saw her, he called her to him. Marginalized and in the shadows, the woman is brought to center stage by Jesus. He sees the person, not the condition. In the new world of Jesus, it is precisely people such as the "bent woman" who are moved from the periphery of society to the center, which is what Jesus has done here. He argues from legitimate allowances of restricted kinds of "work" on the Sabbath. There is a higher calling – all life as sacred.

One key point here is that the woman does not ask to be cured; no one asks on her behalf; Jesus notices her. How many do we notice in our lives that need to be freed ? We need to be observant extending the kingdom

The woman has done nothing to earn or even request this unfathomable gift of life/grace. Her response is one of standing up, living into the gift of grace, and publicly praising God

What are the human-imposed barriers (even well-intentioned ones) that prevent people from experiencing God’s grace? How do we, God’s stewards today, help to dismantle these barriers?

2. It is a story of freedom from bondage

Jesus operates within the confines of Judaism but there is a limit when one is suffering. He won’t exclude them based on religious customs to provide healing. He demonstrates his compassion and thus to us a way of life, a way to live out our community obligations. Both themes of praise and rejoicing are emphasized by Luke as appropriate responses to God’s work in Jesus the one who brings the reign of God in healing power to those who most need it.

Her problem is both medical and social. She is “crippled” but has been been ostracized from the Jewish community. At the time many human ailments were seen to be cause by Satan; the very being of someone with a serious ailment was thought to be hostile to God. (She is not under demonic possession.)

In verse 16, Jesus himself will attribute the woman’s "weakness" to being held in bondage by Satan. What is called for, then, is not just medical healing but release from bondage. She has suffered and been ostracized from the Jewish community.

The point of confrontation is on the role of the Sabbath. Does it mean just following the prescribed order of worship each week? Does it mean following the ceremony to the letter of the law no matter what happens?

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, so should we and all of our households and even animals rest. The second tradition, in Deuteronomy 5, however, links the Sabbath to the Exodus; that is, it links Sabbath to freedom, to liberty, to release from bondage and deliverance from captivity. Jesus is causing the Jewish leaders to remember this passage. The Sabbath is all about freedom and this scripture concerning the woman. How might we be encouraged to act on Sunday to provide hope and joy

Jesus reminds the Sabbath leader that, regardless of the day of the week, all of God’s creation must have access to God’s gifts of life – whether it’s the provision of water for God’s creatures (v.15) or manna on the sabbath for the Israelites in the wilderness

Jesus has taken the synagogue leader’s very argument, and its same scriptural source, and turned it against him. Jesus’ message is clear: "If the sabbath is about freedom, as your own passage from Deuteronomy clearly says, then it is entirely proper to celebrate the freedom of this woman from the bondage of Satan–yes, on the sabbath, even especially on the sabbath."

One might criticize Jesus for discussing the situation ahead of time with the Jewish leaders. However, as Jesus maintained last week , he came to cast fire on the earth and cause divisions.

How do we go beyond our bondages ? By forgiving those who have sinned against us, we are freed from bondage to resentments and feelings of revenge. By forgiving ourselves, we are released from continually beating up on ourselves for acting so stupidly or hurtfully. Forgiveness brings release and freedom. Thus, this text isn’t just about physical healing, but renewal that we all need.

Healing begins when people are seen as Jesus would see them:

  • With unconditional acceptance
  • With appreciation for their person and not their problem.
  • With vision for their potential and not their limitations

The ending is significant going back to the growing confrontation with the Jewish authorities In Luke 6, the religious leaders depart from the synagogue trying to think of what to do with Jesus; and, they were furious (6:11). Their negative response will have major consequences later in the narrative. In Luke 13, the synagogue crowd rejoices at Jesus’ healing action (and teaching?). And, here, his “opponents” are disgraced. And that provides a greater motive for them in Jerusalem.

 

Scroll to Top