Jesus healing women

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

Luke, always the medical man, explained this woman had actually been crippled with this ailment for 18 long years, as a result of a ‘spirit.’ There is no indication of how old she was. We might jump to the conclusion that she was older, and had, maybe, a curvature of the spine, or osteoporosis. But that’s not how Luke told the story. He doesn’t say she was older. Because Jesus noticed her, my guess is she was actually relatively young. And my guess is, the way she was bent over indicated something very different than a physical malady.

Where was she, in the synagogue? Was she walking passed the door? Was she in the balcony, traditionally considered the place where the women and children were to worship, while the men worshipped below in the main hall? How would she have been noticed by Jesus?

I did a little research on this question, and here’s the latest:

  • From the Patheos blog, Rabbi Joshua writes, “During the Second Temple period in ancient Israel, women were able to actively participate within the larger society, both socially and religiously. Women served as leaders of synagogues, participated in ritual services, learned and taught Jewish law, were counted in a minyan, and from archaeological evidence, do not seem to have been physically separated from men during prayer. There was active participation of women in all facets of Jewish ritual life. According to Shmuel Safrai:

“In the Second Temple period women were religiously the equals of men: ancient Jewish sources from the land of Israel and from the Diaspora show that women frequented the synagogue and studied in the beit midrash (study hall). Women could be members of the quorum of ten needed to say the ‘Eighteen Benedictions’…and like men, women were permitted to say ‘Amen’ in response to the priestly blessing.”

Archaeological evidence supports that women were not necessarily separated from the men in the synagogue. This is the result of no apparent evidence from any of the numerous synagogues that have been excavated that would seem to indicate men and women were required to sit separately….

Inscriptions discovered in ancient synagogues from the early centuries also testify to women having served in various leadership capacities throughout the Jewish world. These inscriptions include heads of synagogues (αρχισυναγωγος), leaders (αρχηγισσα), and elders (πρεσβυτερα and other parallels). These inscriptions (in feminine conjugations) bear witness to the very public roles of women. Thus further proving that women were indeed active members within their spiritual communities.

  • Another source, this time from the CBE, International journal, Priscilla Papers, confirms the above, saying, “In the time of Jesus there was no separation of the sexes in the synagogue, and women could be counted as part of the ten individuals needed for a religious quorum. This allowed women to be much more active in the religious life of the community than they are today.”

I’m glad I researched it! This is all news to me, but it’s what I’ll be teaching from here on in. In any case, this bent woman must have been sitting in plain view, not hidden by an upstairs balcony grill, and when Jesus saw her, He called to her.

Would that have made you uncomfortable, to be called out in the middle of a worship service, and especially if you were in some way disabled? How about for the other worshippers? When a worship service has a set liturgy, it can be as alarming as the sudden wail of a siren to stop mid-sentence and ask someone from the congregation to come to the dais. But, that’s what Jesus did. This would not be a quiet healing, but a very public proclamation of freedom.

There evidently was no question she was the one Jesus called out to, so the bent woman made her way to the front of the synagogue. I imagine there was a hushed silence, that tense, yet excited unsureness of what is going to happen next. It may have taken her a while, though I imagine the press of worshippers parting like the Red Sea to let her through. When she finally stood before Jesus, He said, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” It had been eighteen years. Some, so far, who had heard these words form Jesus leaped for joy, become suddenly animated with the sheer elation of being set from their sickness, or oppression, or disability. But she remained still.

So Jesus then put His hands on her, it seems in the most gentle, yet powerful way. She possibly felt heat radiate out from the warmth of His hands, and in that moment experienced the reality of His spoken word. She was free! What she had thought would be permanently crooked had been made straight.

Watching her in mind’s eye, I see a face well used to sadness and resignation, lit up from within by joy. Jesus had added His love, and His presence, all in His touch, which made the reality of His power and His word real for her. You and I need that, too.

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.