The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield
On the face of it, this gospel story appears to be another lesson about Sabbath-keeping; an opportunity to notice that in Jesus’ time, strict observers of the Biblical law were so legalistic that they wouldn’t break the Sabbath even if it meant saving another human life…an opportunity to notice the irony that in today’s culture the situation is quite reversed by those of us who are incapable or unwilling to even keep the Sabbath, despite it’s healing, restorative, life-saving power.
But, I’m not going to talk about Sabbath-keeping this morning. I’m going to talk about something else in this story I think Luke is inviting us to notice. Something our focus on the Sabbath controversy could trick us into overlooking.
“…there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years…When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment…
A woman crippled by a negative spirit…who Jesus sets free…not because she has earned it or deserved it or because of anything she did, but because of who and what Jesus is: divine love incarnate — compassionate, merciful, generous and life-giving.
Now, we all have spirits that cripple us, don’t we? In today’s lexicon we might call them anxieties, fears, or phobias… depression, despair, or low self-esteem. But they’re still spirits that cripple us.
Like the chatty inner voice that says you’re not good enough, smart enough or successful enough…
Like the many “isms” that plague our world like workaholism, perfectionism, narcissism, escapism, egoism, consumerism. The list is endless of spirits that cripple us.
And need I mention the seductive power to become dependent on—if not addicted to–pretty much anything that helps fill the God-sized hole in our hearts: whether it be food, cocktails, or careers…shopping, gossiping or Googling… TV sports…the 24-hour news cycle… an obsession with good health or a predilection for bad relationships?
The truth is, we all have spirits that cripple us. These negative spirits are legion. They bend and warp our perspective. And worst of all, they make it impossible for us to embrace the deep spiritual freedom we need to become the men and women God created us to be: Men and women who– regardless of any of the externals of our lives— are spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically free to love God with all of our heart and all of our mind and all of our soul, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
For the last four chapters of Luke’s gospel Jesus has been teaching us this every which way but sideways: that nothing is more important than our commitment to loving God and one another. One story after another has illustrated this fundamental truth. Nothing–not material security or family ties, cultural norms or personal safety, or– as we learn today–observance of religious tradition at the expense of any living, breathing, brother or sister…child of God…human being–nothing is more important than the imperative to love God with all that we have and all that we are, and to love God’s people as we love ourselves.
There in lies the rub. Because the problem is, a lot of us don’t really love ourselves for the precious creatures of God that we are. When you look at how we live our lives, that’s pretty obvious (witness our inability to bathe in the healing, restorative, life-giving power of the Sabbath!)
We all know the truism that “you can’t love others if you don’t love your self.” And we’re not free to love ourselves if our modern versions of negative spirits are keeping us bent in on ourselves like the woman in this morning’s gospel–looking down at our own brokenness, absorbing the insults and indignities we either experience or imagine.
But, “Woman, you are set free…” Jesus says! And then he lays his hands on her bent over frame. Jesus touches this woman from whom others recoil! Touches this woman crippled for years. Touches this broken soul– and she is finally, at last, free to be the woman God created her to be–both loved and loving. Beautiful.
The woman stands up straight (I imagine her unfolding and blossoming like a wilted flower brought back to life in time-lapse photography) and what does she do? She begins to praise God.
She begins to praise God, and I’ll bet she does it with her life. I’ll bet she “begins to praise God” by loving God with all that she is and all that she has, and by freely loving others now that she’s finally free to love herself. And I’ll bet that love is Christ like: compassionate, merciful, generous, and life-giving. I’ll bet it reaches out beyond itself to those still bent and broken, those still marginalized or excluded, those still absorbing the insults, injuries and indignities of life.
Because relationships…people…the freedom to love and flourish and become who God is calling each of us to be—this is Jesus’ top priority. This is his mission. It is always to free us from what ever cripples us or binds us, so we are then free to love God and neighbor. Jesus’ mission is to set us free just as he set free the bent-over woman, so that like her we will stand up straight and begin praising God– each in our own way– with our words, our music, our art…our work, our relationships, our priorities… how we spend our time and who we spend it with…praising God with our lives: lives in which nothing is more important -– regardless of any of the externals– than our vocation to love the Lord our God with all of our heart and all of our mind and all of our soul, and our neighbors as ourselves. Amen.