Our story today is about "the bent over woman" Isn’t that an interesting way to be identified? She has no other name that we know- history has named her, judged her and labeled her by her appearance… by what’s wrong with her.
It is the Sabbath; the Jewish people have congregated in the synagogue and Jesus is teaching. Like every first century synagogue, the men are in front and the women are in back. And somehow Jesus notices a latecomer; a woman - bent over, or in the Greek, "bent double." She is quietly making her way toward her seat with her head bent towards the ground. She has been
living this way for the past 18 years, which in biblical language, means a very long time. We know what happens when we spend a very long time looking at the ground – we miss a whole lot of life that goes on around us. The text tells us that she was crippled by a spirit.
Now crippled by a spirit says to me that something has gotten hold of her, or assumed power over her, or taken control of her life. We don’t know what "spirit" had crippled this woman, but it seems that for her there was no way out – it enveloped and surrounded her. And we know that when we find ourselves under the power of a crippling spirit, it can seem like there is no getting away from it, no moving on – whether the origins are in a traumatic childhood event; an abusive relationship; an addiction; a compulsion; a tape that keeps playing over and over in our head telling us we are no good. …the options are endless. And when we cant find a way out, or when we try time and time again to stand up against it only to fail, we start saying “I guess this is just who I am now:. And we start identifying ourselves and even let others identify us with labels – like she’s fat, or he’s a drunk, or she’s so controlling, or he’s so self-centered. And the labels stick. We become bent down by them. That’s the bent over woman. She is everyone who has ever struggled to rise above the pain of oppression and low self worth and judgment – she is everyone who has struggled with illness, addiction, loss of value, loss of a significant relationship, loss of self-esteem or innocence – she’s anyone who has been told “you can’t” and believed it, anyone who has lost hope…
Yet Jesus reveals the heart of God, and cuts through all that gets in the way. With love Jesus proclaims “Woman …you are free from your ailment…Free to be who you are and not who others tell you, you are. Free to live in the grace and mercy of the one who loves and cares for you. Free to love yourself because you are precious and cherished. And Jesus lays his hands on her and immediately she stood up straight, and began to praise God. (vs.13)
But human ways kick in again, and in the face of a miracle, the people became confused. How could this happen on a day where the rules said it shouldn’t. The leader of the synagogue looked at the faces of the amazed people who had questions he could not answer; and not knowing what to say, he deferred to the rules. And here’s how Jesus responds. He calls the leader of the synagogue a "hypocrite"; And then he turns to the woman, and he calls her "daughter". He looks at the crowd and lovingly reminds them that this woman, the one who they have made to feel "less than," for all of these years, is as much a part of them as the leader of the synagogue. He reminds them that the family of God is not about shaming people into community, or marginalizing those who struggle, or reaching outside the circle to help those who can’t help themselves as if it’s some magnanimous gesture on our part.
But reminding them (us) that no one is outside the source of all love. . I don’t know what may have you "bent over" today- what may or may not have a hold on you, or how far into the margins you may feel. I don’t know the name you have come to know yourself by or what labels you wear… but I do know this. All of us, to some extent live bent double. And most of the
time, no one sees or knows that. Except the one who loves us exactly the way we are and who calls us beloved. I know the temptation is to turn a deaf ear… to think, when you hear the word “beloved” from the mouth of God, that it can’t be for you.”
And here’s one more thing to think about. When Jesus addresses the crowd, what does Jesus call the spirit that has kept the woman crippled all these years? He says,"this woman has been bound by satan for 18 years!" Now "satan" in Greek doesn’t mean the guy in red with the horns and a tail…"satan" means “accuser.” I leave it to you to decide who are the accusers in this story, and I’ll leave it you to decide who the accuser(s) are in your own story. But it doesn’t end there, because I invite you to listen to a different voice as we share communion together…Jesus the Bread of life longs to meet you where you are, and free you with the voice of love.