The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke 13:10-17
Can you imagine struggling with an illness for nearly 2 straight decades? That is a long time for anyone to be sick. As we can imagine, there is nothing so tough as the feeling of hopelessness. In our gospel reading today, we meet a woman who has been sick for 18 years. She is bent over and unable to stand upright. This type of life is very difficult. It is likely that the woman could not really look up but was always staring at the ground in front of her. She had suffered tremendously.
Our Lord Jesus Christ frequently amazes us by His bold words, His wisdom, His miracles, and in today’s passage, by His mercy. He is in one of the synagogues teaching on the Sabbath and He notices this poor, infirm woman and He decides that He must do something about her situation. He cannot just sit by. He has a problem however. There are others who would be quite offended that anyone would do any work at all on the Sabbath day because that is considered a day of rest from all work. This is part of the Ten Commandments and such laws are a serious business. But the Lord cannot ignore this woman and her need. When He sees something which is right and must be done, He does it right away. So Our Lord goes to this woman and lays His hands on her and He heals her completely.
How would the others behave? We would expect that everyone would be overjoyed! They would be rejoicing, and singing praises of thanksgiving to God right? But that is not what happened. Instead we see that the ruler of the synagogue tries to correct the Lord Jesus. He says “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.”
Oftentimes we can get so caught up in rules and laws that we forget the true meaning of life. Just recently I watched a court hearing of a man who was charged with fishing without a license. As he went up to the judge he said “Why should I have a permit to fish? I was very hungry and nature provided the lake, and the fish.” He made a very good point. All rules and all laws have a limit. Even the laws of God, the Ten Commandments have to be understood properly. In this case Our Lord shows us that He truly understands the law far beyond what the Jewish leaders of His day could imagine. If it appeared to others that the Lord was breaking the commandment to rest on the Sabbath, so be it. It was not only the right thing to do, it was the necessary thing at that very moment and He reminds the leader of the synagogue when He says “Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to water it?”
So it is fine to water the livestock but wrong to bring health and mercy to a Jewish woman who has suffered all these years? That is not the right application of the law. Instead of the law giving life, this law was used to hand out cruelty. The law was even used as an excuse not to do God’s work. This is why St. Paul the apostle writes “for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.” We can quote the Bible all day, but frankly we could be using it as a sword, when it is often necessary to use it as a bandage.
The truth is that many of us have sicknesses and internal illnesses, and we’ve had them for many years. We have bad habits, and temptations and internal suffering. We also need this healing touch of the Lord. But I feel that sometimes there is a voice of doubt in my head that reminds me of the leader of the synagogue. He wants to make sure I follow each and every rule in order to receive blessings. Pray exactly at specific times, fast perfectly, think perfectly, read the Bible non-stop. If you do all of those things, God might help you. Well, those are all lofty goals but is that how God works? Does God wait for us to obey Him perfectly before He helps us? Absolutely not. If that was the case, Our Lord would never have chosen to die on the cross for us. Instead St. Paul writes “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
God doesn’t want us to jump through hoops to know Him and receive His healing. God wants to heal us and restore us, body, mind and soul. The simple requirement is faith. We know that the Lord could not heal anyone in His own hometown because they lacked faith. However it seems that this woman was faithful and we might even suggest that the Lord Himself heard all her prayers for the previous 18 years as well as the prayers that very day in the synagogue.
When things are bad, even when they are bad for a long time….don’t give up, have faith. This could be true in almost any problem, for instance, in a marriage. When a marriage is rocky, we want results right away. We are impatient and aggressive and we often force ourselves into terrible situations and then wonder where everything went wrong. We often complain that certain doors are closed in our lives and instead of trusting God we get angry and bust down those doors. God saw this woman’s struggle for 18 years, I have no doubt that God sees your struggle as well.
Be patient and accept the struggles in life because that is a sign of faith and without faith the Lord’s healing hands may be tied.
And Glory be to God forever, Amen.