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Luke 13:10-17

This is a passage that contains a variety of possible lessons for us: lessons on physical healing and the laying on of hands, lessons on church hypocrisy, on following the letter of the Law as opposed to the Spirit behind the Law, lessons on liberation and setting people free from their bonds both physical and spiritual, as well as lessons on change and transition.  If you also read the passage in the greater context of the Gospel, even just the same chapter, you get even more possibilities for lessons to be learned.  Within chapter 13 of Luke, the passage immediately before our story is about a tree that has not bore fruit for 3 years and what Jesus suggests to do with it (which is give it one more year with some fertilizer, and if it still doesn’t bear fruit, cut it down!). The rest of the chapter following our story talks about what the Kingdom is, how narrow the road is to enter the Kingdom and that there will be those who will wish to enter and Jesus will say “I tell you, I do not know where you come from.  Depart from me, all you workers of evil! (13:27-28).  It is quite the intense chapter of Luke!  

Let us look more closely at Luke 13:10-17 (NASB), using a verse-by-verse approach.

10 And He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath.

This is the last recorded time in the whole book of Luke that Jesus is in the synagogue. This is Jesus’ last opportunity to teach the people present in this same synagogue, the faithful and the leaders of the synagogue, and is Jesus’ last opportunity to do this particular healing for this particular woman. There is not going to be another opportunity for Jesus to encounter this anonymous, physically tormented woman because he is moving on and making his way to Jerusalem, to the place of his own torment and eventual death. Jesus is a man on the move with a mission and rarely stops without intention.

11 And there was a woman who for eighteen years had had a sickness caused by a spirit; and she was bent double and could not straighten up at all.

She dealt with something like chronic pain throughout her body, hunched over during what was supposed to be the prime of her life.

12 When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your sickness.”

Just like that, Jesus called over this anonymous, not important to anyone, not expecting deliverance or healing woman and declared to her her liberation, her healing, and her future. The Bible gives us no indication that the woman went to the synagogue seeking Jesus out so that he would heal her. She most likely went just to worship God. It was just another Sabbath for her during that 18 and counting years of chronic and debilitating pain from which she had not received her healing nor her freedom in all that time. Yet, she was faithful and continued to believe that God was worthy of worship.

13 And He laid His hands on her; and immediately she was made erect again and [began] glorifying God.

He declared with his mouth her freedom first and laid on hands second, still finding some significance of a holy and safe touch. With his words and his touch, she stood up straight and immediately began praising God for what God did. She did not doubt that God had healed her and she didn’t laugh at the impossibilities of this healing that had not come during 18 years of prayer and worship; she simply praised through her acceptance of God’s handiwork. She knew where her freedom had come from.

14 But the synagogue official, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, [began] saying to the crowd in response, “There are six days in which work should be done; so come during them and get healed, and not on the Sabbath day.”

This sounds like us sometimes. I know I can be this way, getting caught up in the letter of the Law to the point that we restrict God’s movements and passionate working together for our good, simply because we are trying so hard to follow one of God’s lessons to the detriment of all the rest to come. Their keeping the letter of one individual law on what specifically is allowed to happen on the Sabbath was keeping a faithful woman in bondage to Satan, the Word says, and not allowing God’s liberating words and grace to set her free.

15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites, does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead him away to water [him?] 16 “And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?”

Jesus calls out the synagogue leaders, admonishing them and by admonishing them encouraging them to change for the righteousness of all involved. The phrase “Speak the truth to power” could be applicable here. If the synagogue leaders refused to change, they would never understand what happened that day when Jesus broke the rules and set a captive free. The synagogue leaders were more focused on one verse of scripture than on all of the entirety of God’s Holy Word and work in the world. Setting the captives free was what Jesus came to do and that fulfilled prophecy and scripture that they already had.

17 As He said this, all His opponents were being humiliated; and the entire crowd was rejoicing over all the glorious things being done by Him.

Jesus was the instigator, the rule-breaker, and from bondage liberator that stepped in to call her out, to call her anonymity into question and say “Woman, you have been seen by the eyes of the Almighty. Your pain has been seen. Your prayers have been heard. You were never forgotten. Now, in this perfect time, be set free.” Her liberation and her place of importance on Jesus’ priority list is a lesson for us all.

Bibliography

Gonzalez, Justo L. Luke. Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010.

Ringe, Sharon H. Luke. Westminster Bible Companion. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995.

Vinson, Richard B. Luke. Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary. Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2008.