ENCOUNTERS WITH JESUS

THE CRIPPLED WOMAN

 

Imagine a synagogue somewhere in Galilee or Judea. A woman is there, standing upright for the first time in eighteen years. Miraculously healed, she is praising God for this wonderful deliverance.

Around her, relatives, friends and neighbours share her wonder, her thankfulness, her joy. For eighteen years she had lived and worshipped among them, bent over, unable to straighten up. Now their tears and smiles mingle as they witness her liberation.

But a harsh, indignant voice cut through the joy and jubilation, silencing the praise, silencing the joy, condemning the liberating action of Jesus, cutting off the hope, the possibility, that others also might be touched by his healing hand: 'There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.'

The leader of the synagogue, trapped in a mindset in which spirituality, or godliness, or righteousness was defined by the strict letter of the law, sees only that the Sabbath law has been broken.

In his zeal for God's law, in his commitment to keep the Law of God in all the meticulous details into which it had been itemized by the teachers of the Law, this man has failed in at least two ways:

He has failed by focusing on the Law instead of focusing on loving God and loving his neighbour; and he has failed by making his religion something that he does instead of something that he is. His religion is religion in a box, religion that he puts on as a Roman actor put on a mask to define and portray a role.

In addressing this man 'You hypocrite' Jesus identified the pretence, the double-mindedness, of this form of religion, pointing out that they all looked after the physical needs of their donkeys or cattle on the Sabbath day, yet they criticized him for looking after the physical needs of a human being on the Sabbath day.

Jesus' response humiliated his opponents and delighted the people. In identifying the hypocrisy of a religion absorbed in meticulous keeping of laws, Jesus exposed the weakness and error of this religion, and relieved the people of the impossible burden that this religion had imposed upon them.

The Sabbath was never intended as a burden. Its original, God given purpose was to remind us of his grace, and to point us to Jesus Christ, the ultimate reality, the ultimate expression of God's grace, whom it symbolized and anticipated.

Scriptures: Luke 13:10-17; 14:1-6; Matthew 23:13; Mark 7:6-8; Exodus 31:13; Ezekiel 20:12; Colossians 2:16,17.

Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2004,2009