Today’s Gospel finds us in a familiar setting in the life of Jesus--the local synagogue. Jesus is mentioned by the Gospel writer as teaching--an activity our Lord is no stranger to. The 13th Chapter of Luke where our reading comes from is filled with famous parables and teachings used by Jesus in his ministry--each of which deserve their own sermon.
But the series of teachings and parables is seemingly interrupted by the healing of the crippled woman in today’s Gospel.
Reading the story of her healing, we are reminded of our own need for healing in our lives. We are invited to seek the healing power of Christ who alone can raise us up and lighten the burdens and yokes of daily life.
We know very little about the woman in our reading today. We don’t know her name. We don’t know her precise age. And, after her healing, we never hear from her again. We aren’t told how this woman became bent over, only that it was a spirit that had crippled her (Luke 13:11).
This story of Jesus takes place at a time when many people still believed diseases or physical ailments were the result of sin (committed either by the person or by past generations). For the record, in the Gospel according to St. John, Jesus seems to reject this idea when he cures a blind man. However, unlike other healing Jesus performed, Christ does not say for what reason this woman is healed. He doesn’t comment, for instance, on the faith of this woman as he does to, say, the woman who was suffering from hemorrhages in the Gospel according to Saint Luke, Chapter 8. He doesn’t say as he does then, “Daughter, your faith has made you well” (Luke 8:48). Nothing is said about the woman’s faith today or conversely, perhaps even her lack of trust in God.
Although so little is mentioned about this woman in today’s Gospel, we can readily see how her physical ailment is a figure of our own sin and the burdens we carry within ourselves. When we do not seek out the healing of Jesus, we spiritually carry with us those burdens of sin, of excessive guilt, of utter hopelessness, of debilitating doubt.
If you don’t think the weight of sin can have a physical effect on someone, perform this little experiment. If you ever find yourself in the line for reconciliation, watch as people walk in and out of the confessional. Many will be smiling as if weight has just been lifted. Many will be crying as they finally receive the forgiveness they’ve desired from God and the forgiveness they’ve wanted from themselves. The effects of sin on our lives and on the lives of others is very real. In the words of the Prayerbook, the remembrance of our sins is “grievous unto us” and the “burden of them is intolerable” (BCP, p. 331).
Although sin’s grip on our lives may appear stronger than we alone are able to manage, as an old Jesuit priest relayed to me once, “Sin," he said, "is just sin.” As Saint Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans, “Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies” (Roman 8:33). For I am convinced that [nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38).
Jesus’ healing of the crippled woman invites us to ask ourselves, “How long has it been since I sought forgiveness, either of God, other people, or myself?”
For instance, every time we celebrate the Mass, we have an opportunity to extend to others the peace and forgiveness God requires we, his children, live by. Oftentimes, this very liturgical act gets passed off as a sort of Eucharistic halftime, a seven-inning stretch, as an opportunity to catch up with others.
The Offering of Peace to our fellow congregants dates back to the earliest days of the Church. For instance, Pope St. Gregory the Great, who lived in the 6th and 7th Century, saw the offering of peace as a prerequisite for the reception of Communion. The Offering of Peace to others reminds us that, before we approach the Lord at his holy altar, we make our hearts as fitting and kindly a home as we can for him to dwell.
For it is in squaring our lives with others and with God that we begin to raise ourselves up from those sins that bind us to the earth. Like the crippled woman, when we carry with us the intolerable burdens of our lives, our eyes are constantly looking down, fixated on the present world with its own set of cares and concerns.
We don’t know what exactly brought the woman to the synagogue that day. It was of course the Sabbath and maybe she still saw it as her duty to attend. We don’t know how strong her faith was or even if she had any. We don’t know if she knew of Jesus before she walked into prayers or if she was confused about who and what this man was doing coming up to her that one day while she’s trying to mind her own business.
But, her appearance at the synagogue can be us today and any time we come to church if we allow God just one opportunity to transform our lives.
And how did our Lord respond to this woman's appearance at the synagogue? The Gospel tells us that Jesus saw her and called her over. This woman who may have been easily lost in a crowd or unable to stand on her own was spotted by our Lord and called forth.
No one, we are taught, is forgotten by the Lord.
No one’s pain, no one’s burden is unseen by our God.
Jesus lays his hands on her and she stands up straight for the first time in nearly two decades. We don’t know how exactly how Jesus brought about the healing of this woman, but the laying on of hands has often been associated with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Anytime priests or deacons are ordained or bishops consecrated or the sacraments administered, the laying on of hands forms an important and vital part of our religious ceremonies (BCP, p. 455, 521, 533, 545). We are reminded that when a priest or minister of the church lays their hands upon a person, they are following the example of Christ who himself administered his healing power to those whom he touched.
And just as some today may be more quick to criticize God’s ministers--whether they be lay or ordained--Christ was also criticized in the midst of his healing ministry. We read in our Gospel today, “The leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day’” (Luke 13:14).
While it may be easy to say of this leader that he is cold-hearted, unkind, or inhospitable, we must remember that Jesus responds saying, “You hypocrites,” not “you hypocrite” (Luke 13:15). Each of us need Jesus to remind us of our own inherent unworthiness to judge others, especially when part of our mission as Christians is to seek the salvation of souls.
Our Prayerbook Catechism says this quite plainly. “The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ” (BCP, p. 855). Full stop.
One of the great documents to come out of the Second Vatican Council, Gaudem et Spes which focused on the role of the Church in the Modern World said, “At all times and in all places, the Church should have true freedom to preach the faith, to teach her social doctrine, to exercise her role freely among men, and also to pass moral judgment in those matters which regard public order when the fundamental rights of a person or the salvation of souls require it (Gaudem et Spes 76 § 5.)
When the salvation of souls requires our action, we have no greater or higher obligation. Jesus sees this woman, crippled because of her spiritual burdens. She physically resembles what we are spiritually when we commit sins against ourselves, against our neighbor, and against the Lord. She physically resembles the state of our humanity when we destroy our environment, when we kill our brothers and sisters, when we perpetuate the exploitation of those overseas, when we communicate violence more than love, when we forget our Baptismal covenant which says we will strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being (BCP, p. 305).
When we open our hearts and minds to Christ, when we ask God to “cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of [his] Holy Spirit,” we become instruments of God’s grace and power on earth. As the famous prayer inspired by Saint Francis relates, we become channels of God’s peace on earth.
May we arise from this Mass refreshed and renewed by the power of having been partakers of Christ’s Most Precious Body and Blood.
May we arise today assisted by God's grace to walk in fellowship with God, with our neighbor, and ourselves.
May we arise today prepared to love and serve our Lord in the faces of all those we meet.
May we arise today glorifying the Lord by our life.
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Isaiah 58:9b-14 Psalm 103:1-8
Saint John's Episcopal Church
August 25, 2019
Brother James Nathaniel can be reached at email@example.com