The woman bent double
The woman bent double Luke 13:10-17 – Bishop Dominic
- St Luke wrote more of the NT than any other writer – even more than St Paul because he wrote the Gospel of St Luke and also the Acts of the Apostles but what is extraordinary is that he is a Greek – a Gentile and not a Jew. By tradition he was a physician and he sets out to proclaim Jesus as the divine physician who brings healing to the whole world and he has good news for all people, young and old, rich and poor, men and women, Jews and Gentiles.
- St Luke balances stories of men with stories about women and this morning we heard the story of the woman who was bent double and had been like that for 18 years.It is balanced with a story about a man with dropsy in the. following chapter and the two stories have much in common. They both take place on the Sabbath; they both involve a clash with the religious leaders and in both, Jesus contrasts the care of an ox with the treatment of a person in effect telling them that they treat their domestic animals better than their fellow humans.
- It’s a wonderful story. We are not told why the women is stooped – it was likely to be a curvature of the spine and the Greek word pantalesimplies that it was a permanent condition. It may be that she was stooped because she was poor and had had an inadequate diet or that she felt that she had been cursed or that she had a broken heart and was depressed but what is important is that she doesn’t ask for healing but Jesus notices her and heals her.
- But there is much that lies behind this story. When Jews prayed they looked up to heaven and often raised their outstretched hands but this poor woman was unable to do that even though she went to the synagogue to pray so the other Jews would have looked down upon her because she could not lift her eyes to God. She had lost status and dignity and was someone whom today we might describe as marginalised, but Jesus cures her and she immediately praises God and presumably looked up to heaven once again and Jesus restores her dignity by calling her ‘a daughter of Abraham’ and he chastises the religious leaders for their legalistic attitude.
- So what does this have to say to us today? Well, firstly there is a place for looking down when we pray because we come to God in penitence and humility as unworthy servants and so we kneel or look down but then God raises us up as he did the women in today’s gospel. The correct position for prayer is to stand or sit upright as people with dignity because God loves us, calls us and saves us. In some churches they are very cunning and don’t give people prayer books or hymn books but put the words on an overhead screen so that people have to look up to worship and it makes a huge difference. Sadly, most Anglicans are ‘book bound’ which means they have to look down rather than look up to pray.
- There is one part in the Eucharist when the priests says, ‘Lift up your hearts’ and as he says it, he or she gives an upward movement of his or her arms to encourage people to look up – but most of them are looking down and stay looking down. We are invited to lift our hearts to God and not just our hearts but our whole selves to God so lifting up our heads and our eyes is needed to see the Eucharistic action. As I get older and tetchier I am half tempted to say instead of ‘Lift up your hearts’ ‘Put your books down because you know the words – and look at what is happening – or I might as well have my back to you and face the wall’, look up so that you can see what God is doing for you as the Holy Spirit is invoked over the bread and wine to become the bread of life and our spiritual drink. This is the liturgical action which is intended to be seen so look up.
- And what lies behind this is that you come to know that you are people with dignity who can stand or sit up straight with heads held high because God has raised you up. Like the women Jesus described as a daughter of Abraham, you are sons and daughters of a king. You don’t need to be a miserable sinner because you have been forgiven, you don’t need to humble grumble because you have been redeemed. You don’t need to feel bad about yourself because God loves you unconditionally. Even if you are a bit stooped on the outside you can feel tall on the inside because God has raised you with Christ to seek the things that are above.
- So, shall I do it? Shall I tell you at the start of the Eucharistic Prayer to put your books down and look at the action? Probably not, but when I say, ‘Lift up your hearts’ that is what I shall be thinking and I might even be pleasantly surprised!