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Luke 13:10-17

Two words protrude from this pericope. “And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over (συγκύπτω/sugkupto) and was quite unable to stand up (ἀνακύπτω/anakupto) straight” (v.11, italics added).

Sugkupto. Anakupto. Both share the root word kupto, which means “bend” or “stoop down.” The prefix in the first word, sugkupto, means “with” and “being closely joined together,” adding to kupto the idea of bending fully together. We might say “doubled over.” She is bent down, doubled over on herself. The prefix in this second word is almost antithetical to that of the first, and it means “up,” “back,” or “again,” containing here the idea of reversal. Literally, “to bend back up again.” This woman is bent down, doubled over on herself (sugkupto), unable to bend back up again (anakupto); eighteen years of this.

I’m reminded of one of the saints in my first congregation, when I was an interim pastor. I was twenty-one years old, and Shorty, as she would introduce herself, was in her eighties, severely hunch-backed, barely measured over four feet tall, and with a cane for each arm, which she needed in order to walk, somehow still managed to reach up and grab my tie so she could pull me down to her and whisper something loudly in my ear. I miss sitting on her porch with her in the middle of the week, smelling the cigarette smoke drifting out from her son inside, with whom she lived, while she quietly cried about this or that and held my hand. She had long endured physical maladies. Eighteen years of sugkupto. I can’t even imagine that. Can you?

Jesus “was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years” (vv.10-11a). The text doesn’t say why the woman appeared just then, but it isn’t hard to imagine. The worship has already begun, songs sung, offering plates passed, and now Jesus is teaching. Everyone is nodding along, and just when he’s getting to his best point, someone comes walking through the door into the synagogue. She arrives late, very late. Not because she’s careless. Not because she didn’t wake in time from a nap. Not because she found something better to do on her way to the gathering place. She is late because she can barely walk, and yet she, the one who is bent down, doubled over on herself, has processed to the community of faith by herself, as fast as she could, because she wouldn’t let her sugkupto keep her from worshipping God.

This is a decisive moment for Jesus. What will he do next? Clear his throat, speak up a little louder, and move on with his point, hiding his distraction from his listeners as best as he could? That’s probably what I would do. Instead, “When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment’” (v.12). Barbara E. Reid describes it like this: “Jesus interrupts his teaching” and “affirms that she has been set free” [1]. She’s right. Jesus chooses to let go of what he was doing in order to respond to the person he sees; he is the one who derails the gathering, goes off script, and makes this about her. “Immediately she stood up straight and began praising God” (v.13b, italics added). This woman doesn’t run out of the room to enjoy her new posture, she launches the community back into their purpose for gathering and the reason she struggled to get here: worship.