What happened to me? According to the roster of my high school basketball team, I’m 5′ 11″ tall. But nowadays, I’m barely 5′ 10″.
According to an article on the Medical University of South Carolina website, every one of us experiences numerous changes in our physical characteristics as we age. For example, we start to lose height as we age, which becomes most noticeable after age 70.
In addition, our posture changes, and many of us will notice a distinct curvature of our spine. This is because our skeletal structure often changes as we lose bone density.
The primary factor contributing to spinal curvature is the hardening of the intervertebral discs. Between each vertebra, there is gelatin-like cartilage that separates the vertebra. With age, these discs harden and lose flexibility with the inevitable result of a compressed total length of the spine and a forward tilt called kyphosis.
These aging changes are called senile kyphosis and are a normal part of aging.
However, a curvature of the spine can begin earlier. According to an article by the Mayo Clinic medical staff, Scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine, is most often diagnosed in adolescents. The cause of most childhood scoliosis is unknown.
The writer of Luke tells a story about a synagogue somewhere in the region of Galilee. The synagogue was more crowded than usual as word got out that Jesus and his closest followers were in town. The synagogue leader knew that keeping order would be more difficult than expected. He had heard rumors that this well-known Rabbi from Nazareth could be disruptive.
“Please, it’s time for us to begin,” the Synagogue leader announces, “it’s going to be crowded, so make room. Save the choice seats for those whose status warrants them, so we don’t have to ask you to move.”
As the people entered the synagogue, they found their usual seats with the men on one side and the women on the other. It was noisy as those who had never seen Jesus whispered among themselves about the stories they had heard.
Barely noticed, a woman shuffles in. She is hunched over as she walks, focusing on a few steps in front of her. She entered on the women’s side just as she always did.
It had been 18 years since an illness had left her in this position. She had long grown accustomed to the inconvenience and lived a life of isolation on the margins of society. Many wondered why she chose to come at all. Couldn’t she see that God had dealt harshly with her for whatever she had done in her past? Why parade in here among those whom God is clearly pleased with coming together to learn and worship? The nerve!
Jesus notices the woman as she searches for her seat. “Woman, come up here,” Jesus shouts. But the woman didn’t know that she was who Jesus was speaking to. “He’s talking to you,” her friend says as she settles in the seat next to her. “Me?” the woman responds.
The woman slowly gets up from her chair and walks toward Jesus, who encourages her in a voice loud enough for her to easily find Him. The noise of the crowd dies down to whispers, and every eye is glued to the unfolding scene.
Should not this woman be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?
As the woman gets close enough to see the feet of Jesus, He puts His hands on her shoulders and says in a voice that creates goosebumps for all who heard Him. “Woman, you are free from whatever is holding you down.”
With Jesus’ hands still on her shoulders, the woman’s eyes move upward to see the figure in front of her. As her eyes met the eyes of Jesus, she realized that she could now stand up straight. She looks into Jesus’ eyes and begins singing: “Praise the Lord – Praise God – let all the people praise Your Holy Name. You are mighty and loving – Your grace and mercy are unending.”
The Synagogue Leader, fearing that the crowd would join in, shouts, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath! This is not right! The Sabbath is holy!”
You could feel the shift in the air. The crowd’s attitude moved from awe and approval to anger and disapproval. Jesus felt it also.
The Synagogue Leader wasn’t wrong. In fact, his understanding of the laws handed down since the time of Moses is evident in this respect. And the creation story in Genesis ends with God resting. The Sabbath was intended to be a day when work stopped, and everyone took a knee.
Well, sort of.
Jesus responds to the situation with this retort. “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water?”
Well, of course, we do. I make sure that our dog Duke gets fed and has fresh water every day of the week. And wasn’t the Synagogue Leader working that day in his role of leading the people in worship? As a pastor, I work every Sunday. I suspect that we all do at least some work on the Sabbath.
Jesus continued, “Then should not this woman be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” Of course.
“Haunched over” is a powerfully visible metaphor. When hunched over, we can’t see what lies ahead beyond our restricted view. As a result, we may miss out on a lot. In our story, the woman is physically crippled, but she is healed by Jesus. However, healing on the Sabbath was considered work. Medical clinics were closed so doctors could celebrate Sabbath. Jesus broke the rules, setting a bad example in the opinion of the other synagogue leader.
The stooped woman symbolizes all of us. As do the Synagogue Leader and the crowd.
First, whenever our field of vision is limited. We struggle to see the whole picture, whether by a physical limitation or by a weakening of the Spirit that affects our lives and attitudes. The woman’s physical limitations are symbolic of the blindness we all have in varying amounts. Fortunately, like the woman in Jesus’ story, we all are children of God and loved by our Creator.
The Synagogue Leader knew the rules and tried to live out his beliefs faithfully each day. The crowd was there because worship took priority for them over all other activities that ordinarily had their attention.
Jesus calls us to the front. Not to be humiliated but to be recognized. To be recognized for the beauty in us that was created on purpose and for a particular purpose.
Imagine what we can do together if we each accept Christ’s offer of releasing us from whatever is holding us back. Imagine what we can accomplish when we look forward rather than backward or down. Heaven on earth is possible when we work together for the common good.
Jesus didn’t just heal the woman. Instead, the crowd in the synagogue witnessed compassion and justice taking precedence over a tradition that created nearsightedness. So, likewise, our church is a place of healing where all are welcomed to experience the healing Spirit of God.
Come, let us worship God together.
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Content for this series is based in part on:
Candace Simpson. Who Can We Be Together? A Biblical Exploration of Luke 13. New York: United Methodist Women, 2022.
Mayo Clinic Staff. “Scoliosis.” © Mayo Clinic, 2022. Retrieved from: link
“Posture Change With Age.” © Medical University of South Carolina, 2022. Retrieved from: link