Scripture for the week: Jeremiah 1.4–10; Psalm 71.1–6; Hebrews 12.18–29; Luke 13.10–17 (Jesus is criticised for healing a woman on the sabbath)
In the three-way exchange between Jesus, the crippled woman and the synagogue leader, there is a notable shift in positions. The woman enters, bent double, looking down, but she becomes straightened, able to face the world and her neighbours again. The leader enters looking up in righteousness, but soon finds himself looking down, wondering, as his world seems to unravel.
Jesus frees the woman from bondage – not only that of physical affliction, but stigma and isolation resulting from chronic illness as well. The leader finds his own bondage – to self-righteousness and judgementalism – exposed. It is likely that Jesus intended healing for him, too. The purpose, the mission, the goal of Jesus, was wholeness for all.
Unfortunately there are times when we shut ourselves off from Christ’s open, welcoming, healing spirit of inclusion and compassion, and allow ourselves to be tied in knots within and the man seems to have turned himself away from what was offered.
This links the leader with the woman, in some ways: her affliction is described as being “of the spirit.” We do not know how this occurred, but all too often we find that what afflicts us in mind or spirit affects our physical health.
Churches are no exception to having people who find themselves “tied up in knots” within, which in turn leads to being tied up in knots in the body. What ties us in knots is not necessarily always serious. For example, like the synagogue leader, we can be prone to unease and distress when matters of religious practice stray into unfamiliar ground, when we face basic questions about the nature of our ministry. We need to recall that “doing the right thing is more important than doing things right.”
Doing the right thing means looking at the world around us and trying to follow the example of Christ. This week, the image of a 5 year old Syrian boy, sitting dust-caked and bloodied, has been projected around the world. Reminiscent of the women healed by Jesus, the Syrian people are bent over, stricken with an infirmity that does not allow them to stand and face the world; afflicted with a kind of uncleanness that restricts their ability to be a whole part of the world community.
Jesus seems to have affirmed the importance of everyone, even a woman who was not only infirm but also unacceptable: ritually untouchable. I believe that he would have looked with compassion upon the struggling people of Syria, and sought to make them whole. And he reaches out across the centuries and asks: “What are you going to do?”
Can one image move hardened hearts to action and find ways to peace, to avoid having more little boys like Omran Daqneesh subject to the nightmare of warfare and aerial bombardment? Sometimes it takes an icon to change things.
Syria needs someone to notice its people’s suffering and tell them, in the words of Jesus, “you are set free from your ailment.” If we are the body of Christ in the world, perhaps that someone needs to be us, working through and with every tool available to us, no matter how small and useless it may seem to be.
Otherwise, we may end up like the synagogue leader, staring at the floor and wondering why Christ seemingly breaks the rule to reach out to the untouchables of his time – and ours – to heal them.