10 March 2013
Gospel Reading for this Sunday
A Spirit of Infirmity
10 Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath.
11 And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up.
12 But when Jesus saw her, He called herto Him and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.”
13 And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.
14 But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.”
15 The Lord then answered him and said, “Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it?
16 So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound—think of it—for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?”
17 And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him
by The Rev. Dr. Jana Childers, Dean, San Francisco Theological Seminary
In those four brief verses, Luke tells us a great deal about the life of faith. You can hardly imagine a more vivid picture of helplessness than the one suggested by Luke's story about the Kyphotic Woman. Kyphotic. The original Greek word used to describe her gives a fascinating clue to what Luke wants us to see. The word translates not just "bent" or "bent over," but a better translation would be "bent together" or "bent with." This is a woman who is bent in on herself. It's a picture of someone who has not only born the yoke but bought it. She is not just a woman with an infirmity but, as Luke says, with the spirit of an infirmity. Whatever it was that had bent her, whatever emotional or physical burden she had born, Luke suggests, ultimately became part of her until her very body was conformed to its image. There is nothing she can do now to help herself out of the spiritual pretzel her life has become.
I don't know if you have ever known anybody like that. Have ever been anybody like that. Somebody, perhaps, who has started to believe that the job or the break or the ship is never going to come in. Somebody who has bought the idea that all the problems in the marriage are her fault. Someone who can't even imagine being debt-free. Some one who can make his mouth say, "God loves me," but cannot say it in his heart. Some one who every day runs a race against a low self-opinion and every day loses. I don't know if you have ever known anybody like that. Have been anybody like that.
If you have ever been caught on the horns of the faith dilemma—knowing that the one thing you need to straighten yourself out is the very thing you can't seem to come up with—maybe you can understand. Maybe you can imagine how astounded she was by Jesus. "Startled" or "surprised" doesn't really begin to say it. She was bumfoozled, she was gobsmacked, not by what Jesus said, but by what he did. Did you see it? Did you see what he did?
"And seeing her," the text says, "Jesus called her near and said to her, ‘Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.' And he put his hands on her, and instantly she was made erect."
Did you see it? Maybe the movie that is playing on your mental motion picture screen is not exactly the same as mine – so let's see. Let me ask a couple of questions.
"And seeing her, Jesus called her near..." How near do you suppose he called her? Near the text says. It's like saying "he called her to him." But how near do you suppose he called her? Near enough that a moment later he touches her. So near enough to look her in the face, don't you think?
Now let me ask you, do you think he would have pronounced those words without looking her in the eyes? "Woman you are loosed." Would he have said that looming over her? This is Jesus we're talking about here. He called her near and looked her in the face, don't you think?
How do you suppose he looked her in the face? If she is bent together, as the Greek so picturesquely puts it, I'm thinking he had no choice but to get down on his knees—way down on his knees, down in the dirt on his knees—and crane his neck up to look into her face.
Now here's the last question and the kicker. How do you suppose he touched her? Where do you suppose he touched her? How could he have, as the text says, laid his hands on her? If you are kneeling on the ground, looking up into somebody's face, what are your options?
Do you know what I think? I think he put his hands on her feet. Tenderly on those dirty, broken toe nails and scabs that were the only thing she had seen for eighteen years. I think he put his hands on her feet. Now, if Luke hadn't said "he put his hands on her," I would have said he kissed her feet. I would have said he let his hair fall over them the way the Alabaster Jar Woman's hair had fallen over his. I would have said he wept on the Kyphotic Woman's feet. But Luke says hands, so I'll just say maybe he wept on or kissed her feet. Maybe he just held them.
The scene Luke describes is a dizzy one—a familiar picture taken out of the frame and put back in upside down. Ancient Israel had a very nice painting of the God whose feet we grasp. The God whose ankles we throw our arms around. The God to whose skirts we cling. Luke introduces the God who gets down on hands and knees with us. Luke's God is a God who runs to fall on the neck of the prodigal and the feet of the broken. A God who bends to us…when we cannot even lift our own head!
We have a God, Luke assures us, who is soft, empathic, gentle; whose kindness is unfathomable. We have a God who cranes, who reaches, who loves us before faith kicks in and when it gives out. Don't let anybody tell you that you have to scrape yourself together and run to God, that you have to screw up your will to do the right thing, that you have to dig deep and find your faith and offer it to God before God will speak to you. You have a God who loves you, who yearns for you, who, as the poet Roberta Bondi remind us, is in love with you.
It may be possible theologically to overstate God's power. I don't know. It's an interesting theological problem. But I'll tell you what I do know. According to Luke, there is no overstating the tenderness of God's love. There is no overstating the tenderness of God's love. There is no overstating the tenderness of God's love. Or the healing power of tenderness.
I heard the story told recently about a little girl living in a rural community, light years from where I live. It was just a few years ago, but it was one of those towns where driving down Center Street is like driving back into the thirties. She lived in a little house and went to a two-room school. She had loving folks and, from time to time, a good teacher. But the way she was growing up was not the way you would want your little girl to grow up. She had a cleft palate and the money for the repair hadn't been there. By the time she was seven, she knew what the world was. She had heard the phrase, "only a mother could love that" and she understood it.
One day a special teacher visited the school and put the children through some basic speech tests. When it was her turn, the little girl went into the classroom that had been set aside for the exams. "Just stand over there by the door," the teacher said from her desk at the far end of the room. "I want to test your hearing first. Turn your back, face the door and tell me what you hear me say."
"Apple," the teacher said in a low voice.
"Apple," the little girl repeated.
"Man," the teacher said.
"Man," the little girl repeated.
"Okay," the teacher said, "Now a sentence." The child knew that the sentences where usually fairly easy—she wasn't the first child to take the test, after all. She'd heard you could expect something like, "The sky is blue" or "Are your shoes brown?" Still, she listened very carefully.
So it was that standing with her face against the door, she heard the teacher's whisper quite clearly, "I wish you were my little girl."
The God who saw a daughter of Abraham in a Kyphotic Woman, is the same God who sees God's own child in you. Before, between and after you reach out in faith; before, between and if you never deserve it, that God is reaching out to you. You have a God who loves you as her own. Because you are. From the top of your head, right down to the bottom of your feet.
About The Author:
The Rev. Dr. Jana Childers is Dean of San Francisco Theological Seminary and Professor of Homiletics and Speech-Communication. She is the author of several books, including Performing the Word: Preaching as Theater, which incorporates her training as an actress into the art of preaching. Dr. Childers is a popular and frequent guest preacher at gatherings throughout the country.