Reading: Luke 13.10-17
Jesus 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.
In these few verses from St Luke’s gospel, expressed in so few words, there are some big issues for us to consider: issues of healing, faith, power, tradition and respect for human life. But, setting aside most of these issues for the moment, it is how we value the life of another human being, no matter who or what he or she may be, that should grab our attention today.
It is not difficult to imagine the scene. Jesus is teaching in the synagogue on the sabbath. We are given no more detail than that, but we should not be surprised to find him in the synagogue sharing the Good News with the faithful. As Jesus is teaching he spots a very disabled woman. Everyone in the synagogue would probably have remained focused on Jesus. The woman’s condition would have been well-known in the community. Nobody would have given that twisted and distorted figure a second glance. But Jesus did. Jesus recognized her pain and the cause of her pain, and he healed her.
Those present at the time probably felt both surprise and joy. Well, most of those present. There was at least one whose primary reaction was indignation. Jesus had worked this act of healing on the sabbath. Not only had Jesus drawn the focus of those present away from the leader of the synagogue, but he had also broken Jewish law by ‘working’ on the sabbath.
There is a whole debate that could be had about the definition of ‘work’ in this context, but pursuing that would be allowing ourselves to be distracted. Jesus saw pain and need. Jesus showed love and compassion. Jesus was not constrained by man-made rules and regulations.
In this short incident Jesus models the attitude we should adopt through every moment of every day of our lives.
We all, at different times, encounter people who are in various conditions of need. That need may be tangible and visible, or it may be a need that runs deeper than the physically obvious. It is comparatively easy to spot those in financial need, but it is not always so easy to spot someone who is hungry. It is easy to spot those who are in emotional need if they are crying, but what about those who are crying and screaming inside?
Let us not fall into the trap that ensnared the leader of the synagogue in today’s reading. Let us not be self-obsessed, so status conscious that we are only aware of our own needs. Let us pray that God may use us as channels of his healing love and peace.