Lately I have been spending a lot of my time at work hunched over. A new library is joining our district, and, in this process of consolidation, my department has seen a lot of upheaval, some of it good, some of it downright annoying. Such is the case with my current project. In an effort to both have consistent packaging of audio/visual materials between the various collections of the soon-to-be 8 branches and to aid in patron/staff location of said materials, I have been employed in the task of placing author and/or title initials on all of the DVD’s, VHS and digital book items.
A tedious process, to say the least. I can go on quite happily for a couple of hours before I begin to feel the ache between my shoulder blades. No matter how I twist, turn or adjust, that ache is guaranteed to travel up my spine and invade my neck and shoulders, sending shooting pains up through the base of my head. I’ve come home with a headache the last three days I’ve come home from work. I have not yet stumbled upon a posture in which to avoid this nuisance altogther.
I was working up a pretty good “sorry for myself” mood, bemoaning this wretched ache quite eloquently, until I read the following passage in the Gospel of Luke yesterday:
On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all.
– 13:10-11 (NKJV)
Imagine that. While the author doesn’t tell his audience exactly what this woman looked like, I think it’s safe to say that she walked around with a little more than a minor headache. I picture her bent from the waist, her shoulders hunched over and curled in upon her chest. Any raising of her head would have required tremendous effort, if she could raise it at all. Most likely, she spent her life staring and the ground. She was probably poor, like the woman written about earlier in Luke’s account, who suffered from 12 years of constant bleeding, and who had visited every possible doctor she could (8:43).
It was common in those days to assume that someone had sinned if such a physical ailment were upon them. The Gospel of John records Jesus’ own disciples asking Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (9:2) Illness or disfigurement thereby carried with it an aura of the tainted. What had she done, this woman, to deserve being stricken? In a time when the Jews had perhaps never been more obsessed with ritual purity, she may well have been utterly rejected by her family and community. This would have been harsh enough treatment for a man, but for a woman, who amounted to little more than property (in the eyes of men, NOT God), this was nothing short of complete ruin and disaster.
Think about what this rejection would have meant. The woman who bled for 12 years would not have been touched, because, according to the Law handed down by God to Moses and the Israelites at Sinai, a menstruating woman was unclean. What about this woman, then? My mind can’t even wrap around the idea of being untouched for 18 long years, and I don’t even consider myself to be a particularly touchy-feely person. No friendly hugs. No tender kisses from a spouse. No cradling a weary child. No clasping another’s hands in prayer.
That is a monumental aloneness, transcending her physical state and touching the very core of her being. I have no doubt that she, too, wondered what she had done to be rejected by God in such a way. If an entire nation of people viewed her as a piteous outcast, something subhuman, how much moreso must the Lord? Bone- and spirit-crushing hopelessness must have been her constant companions.
One more routine Sabbath came along. She went to the synagogue. Perhaps she sat, uncomfortably, in her usual place, a little ways off from the fellowship of the other women. Was her heart hardened, or did she still shed a tear or two? Little did she know that this day, seemingly utterly indistinct from all others, would be so exceptionally different.
When Jesus saw her, He called her forward…
– Luke 13:12a (NKJV)
Jesus, the Infinite Lord wrapped in human flesh, was winding His way to Jerusalem to accomplish the great task of salvation. Surely many things occupied His mind and heart as He traveled that one-way road to His certain death. There would have been many things He wanted – needed – to teach the disciples. As His time on earth came to a crashing close, more and more people came to Him in desperate need of so many things. So many demands on His time, His attention. Yet, this woman, who does not ask, as so many did, for healing, catches His eye.
What must she have felt? Could she sense His eyes upon her, even if she could not meet His gaze? Did she have any inkling that this was the Lord who formed her and knew her in her mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13), who knew the exact number of hairs on her head? (Luke 12:7) What ferocious anxiety she must have felt as the famous Teacher called her forward! What could He possibly want with someone like her?
…and [He] said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.”
– Luke 13:12b (NKJV)
Words that must have shot like lightening through her very soul. Who was this man, that He had authority to say something so wonderful, so terribly frightening. Was it really true? Could He set her free? In that moment, the whole place came to a halt. Nobody dared breathe or move. They all knew this woman of whom they had whispered and wondered. Was she really deserving of a miracle?
Then He put his hands on her…
– 13:13a (NKJV)
After 18 years, Someone finally touched her. The hands of a Carpenter, rough and thick with callouses, beaten by the elements. The hands of God, heart-shatteringly tender. The hands of the Savior, soon to be pierced in order to complete a healing beyond anyone’s imagining. She, this bent woman, was privileged to receive a taste of what was to come.
…and immediately she straightened up and praised God.
– 13:13b (NKJV)
Did you catch that? Immediately. Then and there, her aching, stiff back straightened as if it had never been hurt. Her eyes, meeting those of anyone around her for the first time in so long, must have shone with the wonder and thankfulness at such a precious gift. I have no trouble imagining that she did a little leaping and dancing, just as another cripple would do upon receiving healing. (Acts 3:8) Jesus had made her well!
I want to stop here for now, awash in the glow of this wonderful, intimate scene of an outcast woman and her Glorious God. There are other players on the stage, however, waiting to make their appearance and put this healing to the ultimate test. I’ll address the rest of this remarkable scene in another post. For right now, be thinking on your own life. Have you been or are you bent over? Are your eyes weary of taking in the same worn ground? What is pressing in on you and weighing you down?
He calls you, dearly loved one.
For all posts in the Bent series, go here.