One of the most interesting and exciting stories in the gospels is found in Luke, chapter 13. There we read that Jesus, deliberately and intentionally chose the time and the place to forcefully confront the cultural taboos surrounding women and the church.
The story takes place in the synagogue, which was the church of the day. It was the place where Jews went to worship on Sabbath. In the Diaspora, Jewish synagogues were established all around the Mediterranean world. Not only did Jews worship in the synagogues, but many gentiles who were considered “God-fearers” joined them on the Sabbath day.
But the seating arrangement in the synagogues was not like our churches. Men and women were separated by a barrier. Often there was a lattice-work screen so women could see to the front of the room but they could not be seen. Culture dictated that women were to sit in the rear of the building behind the barrier. They were forbidden to study or to engage in discussions of the Torah. Religious study in Christ’s day was limited to men only.
So on this particular Sabbath day, as was his custom, Jesus went to church.
This meant walking to church as did everyone else in the community. On his way Jesus noticed a women hobbling along with her cane toward the synagogue. He no doubt knew her name and was familiar with her story of being a cripple for the past 18 years.
It is quite likely this poor woman had osteoporosis. Today we take calcium and Vitamin D. We exercise. We know how to prevent this crippling deformity. But these preventative measures were not options in AD 30. This woman had been bent over for 18 years. She could not see the sky. She could not look people in the face. She was deformed and crippled and trapped. It probably did not even occur to her that healing was possible!
Jesus enters the synagogue and takes his seat in the men’s section. He may have been asked to speak or to read from the Torah. He probably heard the woman’s entrance into the church by the tap, tap of her cane on the stone floor. What happened next was extraordinary!
Jesus stood up and in a loud voice called out to this woman. I’m sure a gasp went up throughout the entire building. Jesus was speaking to a woman in the synagogue. Then – and this is the extraordinary part - then he asked her to come to him.
This meant she would have to leave her place behind the barrier in the women’s section and hobble over to the men’s section near the Torah. Another gasp – and I’m sure an undercurrent of murmuring started as she began to slowing make her way pass the barrier to him.
When she came up to Jesus, he did the unthinkable. He put his hands on her. Of course, you say, wasn’t this the way Jesus normally healed people. He touched them Luke, however, specifically and intentionally uses the words, “He laid his hands on her.” Jesus knew exactly what he was doing and Luke knew exactly what he was saying. In the books of Acts, Luke uses this very phrase for the church’s activity in setting apart gospel workers for their task of ministry. (Acts 6:6; 13:3) Thus it is that the gospel of Luke records Jesus bestowing his blessing by laying his hands on her. On the Sabbath. In the sanctuary. In the men’s section.
Openly. Publicly. Unapologetically.
Jesus lays hands on her and says, “Woman – Be free! Be strong again! Be free from your weakness. Be free from all that has bent and bowed you down. Be free from the weight of guilt that you have carried all these years. Be free to be all that you were meant to be!”
Jesus then gives the woman opportunity to speak to the congregants. He commissioned her, a woman, to speak publicly in the synagogue! And she did. She praised God, openly. Standing up straight and tall, looking everyone in the eye, she gave her testimony! She began giving praise to God.
Amazing! Extraordinary! Revolutionary!
Jesus not only physically healed the woman – he affirmed her as a person – as an individual – as a daughter of Abraham! He gave her the same status and recognition as that of a man. Jesus not only healed HER, he was intentionally and deliberately healing ALL womankind of their second class status and restoring to them their rightful place within the worship space.
The Apostle Paul spoke of Jesus as removing the “dividing wall “between Jews and Gentiles. He said, “For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” (Eph 2:14) That Sabbath in the synagogue Jesus was removing the dividing wall that had separated men and women for centuries. Jesus knew he was going to need the efforts and abilities of both men and women to proclaim his message to the world.
Hallelujah!! Praise the Lord!
But not so fast. The story doesn’t end there. Look what happened next.
The men began to complain! The temple leader was indignant. Against Jesus? No – against her! They did not say to Jesus, why couldn’t you have waited to heal her until after Sabbath. They accused her of coming to him! They accused her of wanting to be healed. She was the one who had broken their taboos. Always blame the woman.
Poor Jesus. He must have felt so disappointed. Do you recall the story of the feast at Simon’s house when the woman washed Jesus feet with her hair – how Simon began to complain. “If you knew what kind of a women she was – you wouldn’t let her touch you.” Jesus knew all about Simon’s past actions and about his sins but Jesus did not openly embarrass Simon. He merely told a story that broke Simon’s heart.
In the same way Jesus patiently responds to these critical men. With tears in his voice, yet strongly and forcefully he confronts their prejudice. “You hypocrites!“ Jesus was not one to mince words. “Men, don’t you untie your cattle and let them drink water on Sabbath? Should not this woman be unbound on the Sabbath and share in the water of life? She is of more value than livestock. She is a daughter of Abraham.”
When Jesus heals persons, he does so indiscriminately. His touch restores wholeness to men, women and children. When Jesus pours out his Spirit, he is no respecter of persons. His Spirit is given to all flesh so that our sons and daughters can prophecy. When Jesus calls a person to feed his flock, neither color nor gender is a consideration. His Body can only add their blessing by the laying on of hands.1 The Greek word used in verse 12 is “astheneia”. The use of this word elsewhere in the NT does not indicate a physical defect or deformity but is used to indicate physiological or emotional weakness. Paul confessed, “I was with you in weakness and in fear” when speaking to the Corinthians and later he says, “My strength is made perfect in weakness.” 1 Cor 2:3; 2 Cor 12:9. This word is even used to apply to Jesus himself in Hebrews 5:2, “He himself is subject to weakness.” Or as the KJV says, “is compassed with our infirmities.”
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/2332