Jesus healing women

The healing of the woman on a Sabbath, bent double with a spirit of infirmity (Luke 13:10-17)

Here’s the story

On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, ‘Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.’  Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

“Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, ‘There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.’

“The Lord answered him, ‘You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?’

“When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.

This story has a number of fascinating themes. One is infirmity brought on by spiritual oppression. Another is Jesus’ seeming insistence on healing people on the Sabbath day, which never failed to infuriate the Jewish religious leaders. And finally, there is this swirl of opposites: the people loved Jesus the religious authorities, and those who considered themselves religiously conservative and upstanding, hated Him.

Have you ever been asked “Who’s side are you on, anyway?”  Do your friends want you to pick sides sometimes, or maybe your kids, or maybe your boss?  We like to say the middle road is the wisest. We try to help both sides find a compromise. We say to our kids “Moderation in all things.” But sometimes there isn’t a middle road.

This story opens on a Sabbath day, Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues. Jesus’ teaching was already somewhat edgy. He spoke with authority, and without citing other theologians or commentaries. He expected everyone to accept His teaching based on His character, and the merit of what He said. He used only scripture as His foundation, and built on that foundation in unusual, and usually unexpected, ways, to the delight of the people, and to the consternation of the Pharisees, rabbis, and teachers of the law.

Israel didn’t always have scribes, or Pharisees. Before Judah and Israel had been deported, God’s law was protected and kept by the Levites. But when Nehemiah led the tribes of Judah and Benjamin back to rebuild Jerusalem, Ezra the scribe went with him to help, you can read all about this in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.

The Jews must have learned about scribes from the people who deported them. Nehemiah eventually gave Ezra the scribe full authority to teach God’s law and rule over religious affairs so that never again would Israel allow idols, neglect the temple and its sacrifices or dishonor the Sabbath.

Over the next few hundred years scribes took on more and more honor. The scribe was considered to have ultimate authority on all questions of faith and practice. It was said a scribe’s dignity and importance were unlimited. It was believed that scribes would be first in heaven, that even God Himself paid honor to scribes, and the angels would praise them. They were to be absolutely believed and obeyed, even if they said that from now on your right hand was your left hand and vice versa.

In their own writings they claimed that their words were even more binding than God’s, and had more weight than the prophets. What rules in your own home have taken on that kind of aura?  Do you say, “Because I said so,” or do your children know that your rules harmonize with biblical principles?

The scribes and Pharisees laid the most stress on the observance of the Sabbath. No other subject in the rabbinical teaching got as much space, or as many detailed regulations. According to the Mishnah, Sabbath desecration was one of the most grossly wicked crimes a person could commit, and the penalty was stoning to death.

So then, Jesus was teaching, and there may have been a sense of anticipation in the air, as the religious intelligentsia listened closely for something to pounce on, and the worshipers listened with amazement. At some point, Jesus noticed a woman bent over with some kind of an infirmity.

(Next blog reveals some surprising new research about the religious life of Jewish women living in the first century)

All passages taken from the New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.