Luke 13: 10-17
On the Sabbath, he would be teaching in one of the synagogues. And here was a woman, bent-over almost double, unable to stand up properly, spiritually bound by this [infirmity] for eighteen years. And seeing her, Jesus called her to him by saying to her:
“Woman, you are released from this your neurasthenia, your blight!”
[saying this] as he put his hands on her. And this, from hereon, was her healing, and she was [indeed] made straight [and lived from then on] glorifying God.
But there was opposition to this from the synagogue ruler who complained with deep anger because Jesus would [presume to] heal on the Sabbath, saying to the crowd:
“There are six days on which it is necessary for you to do your work; come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath!”
But Jesus [standing up to him] answered [him and the crowd]:
“You hypocrites! Will not each one of you loosen your tethered ox or untie your ass from the manger in order to give it a drink? So that being so, should not this daughter of Abraham, who has been under Satan’s prosecution for eighteen long years, be loosened from this bond [here and now] on this Sabbath?”
And having said this [he revealed how] his opponents had indeed dishonoured themselves by their opposition and all the people there rejoiced over all the glorious things that were taking place.
This particular report, tells how Jesus continued his works of healing, and how he proclaimed a Kingdom-of-God vision of Sabbath observance. The people of the towns and the villages would gather in their local synagogues to acknowledge together their dependence upon the covenant the Lord God had made with them, His people.
Luke records that a woman who, from that time when she met Jesus during a synagogue gathering, had been healed, and since then lived glorifying the Lord for the ministry of His servant.
Jesus had called the woman to him and placed his hands upon her and she was released from her condition. From what we read here, it seems to have been a condition requiring re-alignment of her spine. Luke therefore frames this as part of his report about the ongoing and developing impact of Jesus’ visit to that place. For some time, it seems, the people of that town maintained their conviction and praise to the Lord for the glorious ministry, a ministry that fulfilled the promises of Isaiah 61, that Luke has already noted for us, the inauguration of this ministry back in Jesus’ home village, Nazareth (Luke 4:19ff).
Now how had this healing come about?
Luke is, as I have said, was reporting on what he had found of the growing impact of Jesus’ work on his way to Jerusalem. He tells us that a woman had been healed, healed in a synagogue on the Sabbath, and her story, her praise of God’s Son, was indeed part of his (Luke’s) story. But it was only a part, however important it was for the woman herself. It was her life restored.
There are other elements that have to be noted. Her spine had been straightened; her life had been restored – she was no longer bent over with all the inconvenience that that involved!
But there was also a public humiliation for the ruler of the synagogue as part of what happened that day. Would this religious ruler be able to be disciplined by Jesus’ exposé? He had been so keen to keep the Sabbath that he did not realise what he was doing! He didn’t realise he was adopting an attitude that was publicly humiliating those, like the afflicted woman, who would come to Jesus – whatever day it was for healing. Is going to the doctor work? And here this pompous man tries to suggest that they are in violation of God’s purposes for seeking healing from the Servant of Lord on that day of the week that was most appropriate for giving thanks to God for His mercy and liberation!
But the protocols of Sabbath observance had been violated, or it seemed so. Wasn’t the synagogue the place for the gathering on the Sabbath for the reading of the Law of God, for hearing God’s covenant? What was to be done? Something needed to be said! So he thought.
Those wedded to this scrupulous adherence to the Law seem to have gotten the story of God’s redemptive dealings around the wrong way. Was not the Law given after the liberation from Egypt’s tyranny? And so, the release of the captives as promised in Isaiah 61, is all about revealing the glory of the Lord in the lives of his people who need ongoing care and nurture. The law of the Lord is to assist the people of the Lord, relying upon His liberating them, as they live their lives in the hope of God’s Kingdom of peace, healing and justice coming in its fulness.
The notion that “healing” can take place on other days is not only presumptuous and ignores the work of God’s servant, it misses the message included in Jesus’ healing. The weekly celebration of God’s Sabbath is transformed by the work of the Lord’s servant bringing emancipation to all the sons and daughters of Abraham. What better time than the day set aside for celebrating that:
God saw all that He had made and behold it was very good! (Genesis 1:31)
Moreover, Jesus provided a much-needed corrective, reminding all present that the appeal to such Sabbath strictures in response to the work of God’s servant was an arbitrary presumption, it was issued in the face of what was being given to the crowd, and to the Synagogue Ruler himself. It lacked consistency.
It was as if Jesus had said:
But didn’t I see you leading your ox and ass to water a few minutes before you came along to the synagogue? You weren’t expecting these animals of yours to swelter away in the morning heat! Did you think that God wants them to go without water on the Sabbath? Of course not! Your sacred strictures are simply hypocritical. Why spend all your time trying to restrict God’s blessings in such a self-oriented, power-hungry arbitrary way?
And Luke records in a way that has us noting many things, among all the wonderful deeds and words of the Lord. Jesus brought such delight to God’s people on his way up to Jerusalem.
Did not Luke note a sense of profound relief among the faithful:
“At last that guy has been well and truly put in his place, his true place as a servant in our midst, as those called by the Lord to be His servant people!”
Here was Jesus’ open, public and therapeutic challenge to his opponents. The scribes, the pharisees, the synagogue rulers, and any in the crowd under the sway of the hypocritical ideological restrictions of these religious misers, were challenged by none other than God’s generous distribution of His Spirit by the Servant of the Lord. They just didn’t realize that their restrictive praise legislation was shutting out the Liberating Rule of the Lord from their lives. If they had listened and heeded what Jesus was doing and saying in their midst they would be released to thankfully care for ox and ass, and each other, joyfully, on any Sabbath, or any other day! They wouldn’t have to be bent-over double by their lack of faith in caring for their own beasts!