SERMON Luke 13:10-17
We are once again invited into the Gospel according to Luke as we have been all through Summer.
Today’s Gospel is beautifully illustrated on the cover of the Bulletin by a French painter James Tissot. Jacques Joseph Tissot was a French painter and illustrator. He was a successful painter of Paris society before moving to London in 1871. He became famous as a genre painter of fashionably dressed women shown in various scenes of everyday life. But he also painted scenes and characters from the Bible.
The cover this Sunday is such an illustration of the story from Luke about the woman who had been crippled for 18 years. She was bend over and unable to stand up straight with a proud posture. She is far from a fashionable dressed woman from the streets of Montmartre. She is a real woman, bend by ailment, bend by a cruel fate, bend by hopelessness and bend by the pitying and even condemning eyes of her time.
The painter Tissot did illustrate the moment of power, presence and change. The moment this bend woman was touched by the presence of Jesus and his healing hands.
“Woman, you are set free from your ailment….”
How often have we not longed to hear these words when we are bend back by worries and buried by burdens , by illness and hopelessness, by trials and tribulations?
“Woman, you are set free….”
How often do we not dream about being set free of everything that might bend us to our knees, from everything that limits our joys, movement, life and happiness, from everything that truly bends our spirits down.
“Woman, you are set free….”
There are so many women I think of when I read this story. Women who truly have been bend by illness, despair, heartache, abuse, fate or bad luck. And unfortunately we all know them, these bend women.
But I also think about the literary bend crippled woman that I used to visit when I was a pastor in rural Denmark. Far far out in the countryside as far out you could get, where eve the crows had turned around, - this old crippled woman lived by herself on the farm that she inherited from her father and brother. The farm, the kitchen, the stables, the living room and the restroom were all as frozen in time. Nothing had changed since her father passed away in the 1950’ies. She and her brother had been living on the farm, dividing the duties among them, carrying the burdens and the responsibility.
I met Ellen when she lost her brother and we were planning the memorial. She was so sweet, made her homemade coffee for me on Madam Blue, and offered me some cookies that I was not sure if I dared tasting. We were seated in the kitchen, as that was the only room with heat on from the stove… the rest of the house was freezing cold. And she told me about her life, and how her life was not exactly as I had throught. Ellen had always been a bright girl in school and was eventually offered a scholarship and later and apprenticeship to become a bookkeeper. She had moved away from the farm and her family, her younger brother, her mother and father - and she was happily starting to make her own independent life, when her mother suddenly died. And she was called to come home.
Ellen moved back, took over the duties of her mother, became the hardworking housekeeper for her ailing father and grumpy brother…. And Ellen stayed and left her dreams behind her. It was a rough life on the farm. She and her brother really didn’t get along, he lived in the fields, and she maintained the animals and lived in the kitchen. But they managed and lived 40 years together like that, and now the brother had died. With time she was truly bend and crippled. And in my heart I felt so sorry for her and felt that she had lost a chance of freedom and life and ended up being bend, crippled and alone.
I kept visiting her, always amazed when she greeted me with a smile and a laughter and a cup of coffee, even if she was completely bent and crippled. She was only able to look at her feet and the ground. She had to sit in order to look at me. But she truly carried her burdens with a smile…. She never complained, she managed with help of nice neighbors and incredible persistence. Oh, how I would have loved that she would have heard the same words: “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus heals a nameless woman, unbends her and makes her stand up straight. The woman did not ask to be healed, she simply finds herself in the presence of Jesus – and that leads to healing and life for her.
The beautiful story is not without conflict. Jesus heals the woman in a sacred space (a synagogue mentioned twice) and within sacred time Sabbath (noted no fewer than 5 times) and he is strongly criticized for breaking the law.
Jesus insists that the synagogue and the sabbath are not the only things that are holy – so is this woman’s life. Any life. Jesus states it very unequivocally “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” Life, compassion and love is more important than rules, regulations and creeds.
Women are bent and crippled in so many ways.
Amnesty Int. launched a 2004 campaign to stop violence against women: From the battlefield to the bedroom, women are at risk.” Statistics confirm this sad statement. There are 60 to 100 million fewer girls than boys in the world due to selective abortions, selective infanticide or neglect or because of uneven allocation of basic recourses. such as food, health care and education. The battering of women results in more injured than auto accidents, muggings or rapes combined.
Woman, you are set free……
Women are bend by cultural forces and perceptions like cosmetic surgery, clothing and obsessive form of dieting. And then there are all the evil forces that have bend and humiliated women due sexual harassment, abuse, human trafficking etc.
Forces that bend and cripple the lives of woman are many. In a world and time that continues to bend the lives of women, we must follow Jesus in claiming that the lives of women are sacred, and that women are invited to be healed, touched and seen and saved through Christ. All lives are sacred, and how we treat our children, our elderly, our women, our poor, our strangers, our widowed and our orphaned show if we are truly following the call of Jesus.
Jesus tried to unbend. Jesus tried to respect all lives. Jesus tried to show us decency, respect, care and commitment as vital parts of our faith and worship.
Woman, you are set free….
Jesus read in the synagogue at the beginning of his ministry:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
The oppressed, the bent, the abused and the silent, let them and us believe that we are set free to live by the amazing grace of God. And that each and every life is worth saving, seeing and healing.