Is there anything more pitiful than seeing someone who is in so much pain that they can’t even stand straight?
All of us have aches and pains; circumstances like the weather or climate may alter how we feel from time to time; we all have good days and bad days, and we learn how to cope with feeling less than 100 %.
In today’s Gospel reading, we hear St. Luke’s account of a woman who had a “spirit of infirmity for 18 years.” Recall that St. Luke was a physician by trade, and he tends to go into more medical detail in his style of writing, as compared to the other evangelists. The number 18, in and of itself is quite interesting. The Hebrew equivalent for the number 18 is “chai.” This same word also means “life,” so, in the English translation of the Gospel, we are told this poor woman was bent over for 18 years. In actuality, she could have been ill in this way for her entire life; we’re not absolutely certain, since none of us were eyewitnesses to these happenings. As we set the scene, it’s a Saturday morning, the Sabbath, and Jesus was in the synagogue, teaching His Disciples and the local townsfolk who are Sabbath observers. Jesus, upon seeing her, was moved with pity, and called to her. Again, according to St. Luke’s style of writing, Jesus, each time he encounters someone ill or infirm, is moved with pity upon them and interacts with them. Over the last several Sundays, we have read a portion of St. Luke’s Gospel, and have heard for ourselves the result of Jesus’ pity on the people he encounters: he raised the widow’s son when he was in Nain; he raised Jairus’ daughter; he cured a woman who had a bleeding problem; even in the parable of the Good Samaritan, he used the Samaritan, a despised person, hated by the Jews, as an illustration of caring and concern, of hospitality and righteousness. Today’s Gospel is no different; he called to this woman, and told her, “Woman, you are freed from your infirmity.” He simply laid his hands on her, the True Physician of Body and Soul, and immediately she straightened up and praised God. Wonder of wonders! Miracle of Miracles!
Except for one thing…it was the Sabbath. Jesus worked on the Sabbath. He cured a woman who had been ill forever…on the Sabbath. This is still an issue even today among Orthodox Jewish observers. You cannot work on the Sabbath. No exceptions. Don’t take my word for it; take a ride to
This is why we hear the indignation of the synagogue ruler who chastised this woman, and those gathered in the synagogue, when he says, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” The synagogue ruler was more concerned with the letter of the law, rather than the spirit of the law. For this ruler, and in fact, for all of the Pharisees, the law was the law, as commanded by the Torah, specifically in the book of Exodus, "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day , and hallowed it." (Exodus 20: 8-11)
The ruler of the Synagogue was ticked off that Jesus broke one of the Ten Commandments. Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day, otherwise known as Thou Shalt Not Work.
Jesus fired right back at the synagogue ruler, and used the very commandment from Exodus against him when he said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it?” The book of Exodus clearly states that you cannot do any work, including moving your cattle or donkey, even to get them a drink of water. That is the letter of the law, but the Pharisees conveniently forgot about that when they tried to trap Jesus. Jesus was raised in the Pharisaic tradition; he fully knows the letter of each and every law that the Lord commanded to Moses. And this wasn’t Jesus’ first run in with the Pharisees over healing people on the Sabbath. Elsewhere in the Gospel Jesus was chastised for working on the Sabbath, and responded by telling them our Heavenly Father works on the Sabbath; after all, the sun rises and sets on the Sabbath, the birds fly, the sheep graze, the cattle move around, the whole earth is abuzz with activity, even on the Sabbath. This is the Spirit of the Law that Jesus is trying to teach His Disciples when he tells the ruler, “Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” What Jesus is saying is there is no better time or place for this poor woman to be made well than on the Sabbath. It’s a release for her from her pain and agony to be made well on the Sabbath, and it’s a sermon without words for those gathered in the synagogue. The Lord takes care of His people who follow Him.
Let’s consider this woman for a moment; she’s bent over, all hunched down, unable to look up and see what is going on in the world around her. She’s resigned to look at the ground, in a lowly state, made to feel pain and looked upon pitifully by the people, who believe that she’s been cursed for her sins. And yet, despite feeling so low, despite the embarrassment of shame in the way she looks, she was in the temple on the Sabbath. Despite the hardship of walking bent over, of journeying, perhaps a long way, she managed to faithfully find a place to worship God, without any expectation of her condition changing. She was resigned to the fact that this was her fate, and to make the best of it.
My brothers and sisters, if any of us were faced with these same difficulties, would we react the same way? Do we have that same level of faith as this poor woman? Would we continue to show up each Sunday and Holy Day for Liturgy, unable to stand, or walk, or see, or hear, or speak? When the going gets tough, do we get going to church? Or do we shrug it off, allow ourselves to become despondent, and perhaps blame God or our fellow man for our condition? Don’t get me wrong – there are some physical ailments that simply won’t allow us to get to church. But, you can allow the church to come to you. When someone is ill at home or in the hospital, Father Lucas, or Father Cmur or I are only too happy to bring communion and pray with them. Hospitals and nursing homes don’t call and ask for us to make a visit; families do.
That is the difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. The letter of the law says be here every Sunday. No exceptions. The spirit of the law says you can miss church when you are sick, or when you must work or risk losing your job, or we can come to you if you’re unable to get to us. We simply need to know so we can make arrangements accordingly.
The woman in today’s Gospel didn’t ask for anything; our Lord was able to perceive in His heart that she was a woman of faith, and his heart was moved with pity in seeing her struggle to worship God, given the great difficulty she had in getting there. My brothers and sisters, our Lord will recognize that same faith in each of us, if we don’t allow ourselves to despair when illness or tragedy strikes. Jesus called to the lady to come to Him, and in doing so, she was healed.
We are almost half way through the Philip Fast, as we spiritually ready ourselves for Jesus’ coming in the flesh. He is calling to us to come and worship Him, as did the wise men who journeyed with the star. We have been celebrating each Monday evening since the fast began to enable us to make ready our hearts for Jesus’ Divine Birth. Sadly, the attendance hasn’t been too great, but I hope and pray that tomorrow will be better. My friends, this is the perfect opportunity to escape the madness surrounding the outlet stores and shopping malls, the perfect place for the quiet away from the radio’s constant playing of Christmas music, the perfect escape from the trash on television that lures us into mindless thoughts and gossip. Honestly, my own salvation is infinitely more important that whether Britney Spears shoplifted, or got her lips botoxed, or is pregnant again…and I don’t even watch that junk. You just can’t get away from it! However, she’s a poor soul too, and needs our prayers, especially for her kids.
Come to church tomorrow night, and treat yourself to some quiet time to reflect on what is more important. Invest an extra hour for prayer and song that speaks to the soul. Let the time spent in the Lord’s house free you from the infirmities of the pagan world, even if for a brief moment. Finally, let Jesus’ sermon without words penetrate our hearts, as we ponder the healing of a faithful woman. Let her faith be an example to all of us as we continue this day as one of Jesus’ Disciples. Amen.