15 March 2015

posted 12 Mar 2015, 09:05 by C S Paul
15 March 2015

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Fifth Sunday of Great Lent (Kpiptho/Crippled Woman)

Scripture Reading for this Sunday

Gospel Reading - Luke 13:10-17King James Version (KJV)

10 And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath.

11 And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself.

12 And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity.

13 And he laid his hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.

14 And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the sabbath day, and said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day.

15 The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering?

16 And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?

17 And when he had said these things, all his adversaries were ashamed: and all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him.

The Healing of the Bent-Over Woman

by Fr. Stephen Ziton

There are few things in life more difficult to bear than a prolonged illness or permanent debilitating condition. Just the other day on TV, I watched the story of a beautiful teenage girl struggling to walk after being crippled by a bullet at a school shooting. This is something she will struggle with all the rest of her life, all because of a senseless and self-indulgent act.

In our gospel today, we meet a woman who probably expected a similar lifetime of struggle. For eighteen years she had been dominated by her malady. There was no reason to believe her situation would change. She was bent over at the waist - she had a most abnormal crease in the middle of her body. She couldn't straighten up. In a kind of forced humiliation, she saw life from the level of half her stature. The horizon of her vision was the dusty realm of wagon ruts and hoof prints. Bent double, she had to look at the people she met at a strange and unnatural angle. Her life had become a forced bow.

It’s easy to envision how others reacted her on the dusty streets. Those afflicted with a visible handicap, such as cerebral palsy, would understand it well. Many undoubtedly quickly looked away when her sideways glance met their stares. We can readily hear in our own ears the innocent questions of the children: "Mommy, why is that lady bent over like that?"

There were probably those who were even been cruel enough to tease and torment her. Hers was a sad condition indeed. Sadder yet, she had no reason to believe it would ever be better. Bent as this lady was, however, we might notice that her priorities were a lot straighter than those of many who walk erect. Did you notice where her healing occurred? Luke tells us that it happened in one of the Synagogues on the Sabbath.

Let’s take a moment and consider this question: "What was this lady doing in the synagogue?" Well, obviously, she was there to worship. But you know what? It couldn’t have been easy for her to be there. If she had been looking for an excuse not to be there, she had the perfect one!

You can imagine it: "Rabbi, I just prefer to stay home. It’s hard for me to walk to synagogue, my back hurts terribly by the time I get there. When I’m there, people stare at me and I feel so uncomfortable. It’s just better for me to stay home!"

Put yourself in the position of the rabbi. What could you say? The bottom line is that she was there because it was important for her to be there. Here body may have been bent, but her priorities were straight. God came first. She didn’t care if it hurt. She didn’t mind if it was humiliating. Or maybe she did care and she did mind. But you know what? She didn’t let it stop her. She was there. That’s the point.

Her example certainly points out the utter lameness of so many of the excuses that priests, ministers, and rabbis hear to this day. If it’s important to you to be here, you’ll be here as long as you’re physically able. Let’s face it: most people usually figure out a way to do the things they really want to do. We all have our priorities. So in spite the raw deal life had handed her, this woman had hers: God would be honored first. So, she was there. That’s our first point: she was there.

Now I want you to notice another feature of this story: her healing was the result of her presence in the synagogue that day, not the cause of it. There is no indication in the text that she came looking for healing. She just came to the assembly where God's people were gathered as was probably her custom. Jesus saw her and called out to her. She didn't see Him and call to Him. She was simply there being faithful to God in worship. So we can see that because she was there, she was available. She was available to receiving the healing grace that Jesus offered that day. Had she just stayed home that Saturday, her back would have remained just as bent as it was on Friday.

A couple of weeks ago, we considered the example of the woman with the issue of blood – the one who reached out, touched Jesus and was healed. It was clear in that account that she took the initiative. Had she not reached out, Jesus just would have passed on by.

But this story is different. The bent woman did not reach out. Unlike so many others we meet in the gospels, she does not beg for, or even ask for her healing. Jesus simply fixed his gaze on her, and once he saw her condition, her healing was underway. The only condition for her healing was that she was available for Jesus to do his work.

Here’s the point for us: A most basic condition for the grace of God to act powerfully in our lives is that we be available to God. But not everybody understands this.

I’ve known people who did not pray, did not attend church or receive the sacraments, did not study the Scriptures or any other pious literature, and even lived openly immoral lives, complain that God deserted them when grave problems or tragedy visited their lives. And so they became very angry with God.

The basic philosophy seems to be that "I can utterly ignore God, but when I have a need he’d better be there for me." Well, let me ask: Do you think God was there for them? Of course, he was there. What was the problem? They were not available to God.

They were not there. They were not in the place where God’s mercy, power, and healing were available: neither alone in the quiet of their hearts - in prayer; nor in church, nor in any good spiritual relationships – whether with clergy or friends. On the contrary, our Orthodox tradition teaches us to make ourselves available to God, and offers us many ways how to do so:

In addition to prayer & sacraments generally, in particular, I might mention the Jesus prayer (Hesychasm) – silence, visitation to monasteries, pilgrimages to holy sites, observance of fasts and feasts, and much else. All these have the purpose of rendering us available to God.

So we can see, when we consider it, that the true Orthodox way of life is the cultivation of heightened availability to God; it leads us to place ourselves in those settings and locations where His power is greatly manifested.

My brothers & sisters in Christ, the bent over woman in our Gospel had no special claim to the mercy and grace of God. God simply was a priority in her life; so much so, that she was willing to endure pain, suffering, and discomfort to be faithful to him.

But in that process of putting God first, she found the solution to her life's biggest problem. When the mercy and salvation of God entered that synagogue on that day, she was there. She didn’t have to plead for anything from God; but she was available. And so the abundance of God’s goodness was poured out on her. One can’t help but recall Jesus' statement: "…seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you."

Let us take those words to heart. Seek first the kingdom of God; be there; make yourself available to God; and may his great mercy be poured out on you now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

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