Set Free For Living

by Sean Foster on August 25, 2013

Luke 13:10-17 NRSV
Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But 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.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing. A-men.

Earlier this week I was reading some news articles from the BBC about the turmoil in Egypt, and I stumbled upon a story from 2004 entitled: Wheat Intolerance Invalidates Girls First Communion. At first I thought, this must be a joke, and my curiosity piqued, I clicked on the story to read it.

Turns out it is a true story. In Brielle, New Jersey, 8 year old Haley Waldman has a severe gluten allergy. She is a celiac. If she eats anything with gluten, such as wheat, she gets very sick to the point of death. So instead of celebrating her first communion with a wafer of the church that contains gluten, Haley celebrated with a rice wafer. And it is because she celebrated communion with a rice wafer that the church invalidated her first communion. Can you believe it?

Roman Catholic doctrine holds that communion wafers, like the bread that was served at the Lord’s Supper must have at least some unleavened bread.

This issue caused quite a stink for the church and leaders of the Diocese of Trenton, in consultation with the Vatican; the church was extremely reluctant to change anything about the Sacrament.

But Haley’s mom took it public. She and her daughter in addition to newspaper interviews and public television interviews, MSNBC also interviewed Haley and her mom, no doubt to put some pressure on the church.

The Roman Catholic Church believes in a doctrine called transubstantiation. And basically to summarize the doctrine, the Roman Catholic Church believes in a real eating of the body of Christ. They believe that Christ enters into the bread so that the people as they eat, they are eating the real body of Christ. (For more on the doctrine of Transubstantiation see:

So, in the interview that I watched by MSNBC, ( Haley’s Mom poses what I think is a really good argument. If Christ can enter into a wafer that contains wheat, should Christ not also be able to enter into a rice wafer. Christ who is not limited. And would Christ really want his Sacrament to cause sickness?

Now I did some further research and found that they would not overturn their decision. Haley’s celebration of communion was deemed invalid. In fact, it wasn’t until 2010, that the church came out with an alternative wafer for those with gluten allergies, but the new wafers still contained some gluten. (

Now, we in the Protestant church, regardless of the denomination, have no problem with rice wafers or gluten free alternatives. But, fair enough, neither do we believe in a real eating of the body of Christ, or a literal drinking of the blood of Christ.

But Protestants are not exempt, we too allow the rules to get in the way of the real purpose or the real meaning of what we are celebrating. Sometimes we allow the rules to get in the way, instead of just setting them aside. That is certainly true of our lesson today that was read to us from Luke’s Gospel chapter 13.

As the lesson begins, it is the Sabbath, and Jesus is teaching in one of the synagogues. As he is teaching, Jesus notices a woman in the congregation who has been crippled for 18 years. A careful reading of the text, Luke tells us that a spirit had crippled her. She was bent over and not able to stand up straight.

And right in the middle of His teaching Jesus stops and calls the women over to him. Woman, he said, you are set free from your ailment. Jesus laid hands on her and immediately she straightened up and gave praise to God. And this is where we want the story to end. We want the story to end on a happy note. We want it to end with praises to God, … but it doesn’t end there.

The leader of the synagogue is indignant. He is furious and he say’s to the congregation: There are six days on which work ought to be done, come on those days and be cured, not on the Sabbath.

One of my friends said that the leader of the synagogue, his complaint, even though it had to do with what Jesus did, the comment is directed at the congregation. Anyways, my friend say’s, it the same in churches today as well. Somebody get’s upset with the minister, but instead of going to the minister about the problem – they pick up the phone and call their friends. Do you know what the minister did?

But truth be told, we know that what Jesus did was bound to cause a stir. Jesus healed a woman on the Sabbath. In other words, Jesus broke the law. According to Deuteronomy chapter 5, six days you shall do labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work. Healing is work, and if you don’t believe me, just ask any doctor or nurse, or mother for that mater, healing is work.

Now, certainly Jesus knew the law, and yet still … Jesus heals this woman.

And I mean, I respect the rules. There are good reasons for the rules. Jews were fastidious about what they could, or more importantly, what could not be done on the Sabbath. Some of those rules may sound nit-picky, but Sabbath keeping was a way for Jews to keep their identity. Through centuries of devotion to God, Rabbis had set up all kinds of fences around the Sabbath to ensure that it remained a special and sacred day to the Lord. By the time Jesus was on the scene, there were some 1,521 rules. But again, keeping Sabbath, and keeping the laws of Sabbath was a way to remind the Jewish people of who they were, and more importantly, whose they were. The seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord, and you shall not do any work.

There were all kinds of rules. Even wearing a pin on the Sabbath was prohibited because it was carrying a burden – it was a work.

In Mark’s Gospel, there is an account of some Pharisees complaining to Jesus because his disciples were gathering corn on the Sabbath. Reaping was work. They were breaking Sabbath law.

Nevertheless, Jesus does not back down. Jesus responds, You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day? I mean, how do you argue that?

Luke tells us that the synagogue leaders say nothing, and the whole story is summed up with: and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

Presbyterian minister, John Ortberg argues that Jesus teachings and his ministry may have made a small impact on the people of his day, but over the centuries, they have and continue to make a great impact on our society today. Jesus has made an impact for the better for children and women in profound ways. In this lesson today, Jesus was trying to wake up the people to the kind of life that God wanted for them.

In fact, Jesus breaks at least 6 strict cultural rules. And this is significant because Jesus is fully aware that he is breaking these rules.

First of all, it was a big no-no that Jesus spoke to this woman. Culturally this was wrong and not only that; it takes place in a synagogue. In Jewish society, men did not speak to women in public.

The story where Jesus speaks to the Samaritan woman at the well in John’s Gospel chapter 4, she was shocked because here was a Jew speaking to a Samaritan. But listen to the disciples. They were astonished that Jesus was speaking to a woman.

Second, Jesus calls the woman forward to the center of the synagogue. This is a fascinating move that Jesus makes because it challenges the notion of men having the monopoly on access to God. Remember in this society, woman had nothing without men!

Third, Jesus touches this woman. Now in our culture, it’s no big deal, but in this culture, … there is a holiness code. Men did not touch women! And it was done for practical reasons as much as it was to prevent a man from lusting and sinning in his heart. But men would have no idea if a woman was menstruating or not. And to touch a women in that condition would make the other person unclean. It is best to just not touch women at all and remain clean. Men would not even touch their own wives in public.

Number 4, and this is a really big one, Jesus calls this woman a daughter of Abraham. Now we just gloss over this term as if it were completely normal, but this was the first time that the term was ever used. A daughter of Abraham! This is absolutely revolutionary. It was believed that a woman was saved through their men. Listen to what Jesus does here. Jesus in calling her a daughter of Abraham, Jesus makes her a full-fledged member of the nation of Israel. She has been given equal standing with men before God. Absolutely revolutionary.

Number 5, the complaint from the leader of the synagogue. The allegation is that Jesus broke Sabbath law by doing a work of healing on a day of rest. But what I see Jesus doing here is demonstrating God’s compassion for the people over ceremony. And don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with the laws for keeping Sabbath, but lets not let those rules get in the way of allowing God to love his people. Jesus is reclaiming the Sabbath as a celebration of God’s goodness.

And then finally, Jesus challenges the ancient belief that the woman’s illness was because she must have sinned greatly against God. For someone to suffer physically this way, it must mean that they have sinned against God. The people believed that God punished people for their sins. But Jesus doesn’t buy into that. Listen to Jesus. He say’s, Satan has bound this woman for 18 long years.

Jesus asserts, bad things happen to good people. This woman is not crippled because of some sin against God. Evil exist in this world and bad things happen to good people.

In a matter of a couple of minutes, Jesus breaks all of these cultural rules, and he does it on purpose. It was intentional.

I mean, Jesus could have pointed out the woman and then asked the question – should it not be legal to heal this woman on the Sabbath? But what good would the debate be? The woman would still be crippled. Instead, Jesus just goes ahead and heals the woman. Sort of a: get forgiveness, not permission approach.

But we see this kind of thing happen in the church all the time don’t we? There’s lots of talk in the church. Hey, this would be a great idea or a great ministry, instead of just going ahead and doing the ministry. We like to talk about ministry, but it is much more important that we engage and do ministry.

A little while ago, and this is not meant to be a criticism but too often we get into the trap of talking about doing ministry, but never getting around to doing them.

As I started to say, a little while ago the session was given a list of good ideas for ministries – with the expectation that the session would do them. No! I mean, if you have these idea’s, I would suggest to you that God has probably planted that idea in you for you to fulfill, to do, for you to bring to life. We are all called to service, not just the session, not just the minister. All of us! The session is not in the business of approving ministry. Now that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t tell us what you plan on doing, but please feel free to engage, get involved and do ministry. The session is not going to hold you back.

18 years, this woman suffered. Was crippled and bent over. Can you imagine a life of seeing nothing but dirt and other people’s feet? For 18 years. Jesus not only healed this woman, but literally, Jesus gave her a whole new way of seeing the world.

You see to apply this text, and to ask the question, what does it mean for us, I am conscious of the fact that even though we may not be physically crippled, there are lots of things in our lives that cause us to feel crippled, bent over and weighed down by the world.
• The weight of loss.
• The weight of longing.
• The weight of not measuring up.
• Perhaps it is the weight of physical pain.
• Or the crippling weight of financial debt.
• The weight of depression.
• The weight of not knowing.
• The burden of a family crisis.
• The weight of a sick child, parent or spouse.
Those weights bend our bodies and they bend our souls.

Jesus healed this woman who was bent over for 18 years physically, but he also gave her a new identity. Jesus did not define her in terms of her weights. He did not define her according to her illness. Jesus referred to her by her true identity. She is a daughter of Abraham.

I mean, hear this today: your weights, your burdens, your diseases, your disorders – don’t be defined by them.
• God sees you as his child.
• You are a child of God.

A friend of mine shared a YouTube video that I would like to share with you today. In my ministry, I have experienced through others some really horrible illnesses and diseases.
o Lou Gehrig’s is horrible!
• MS, Multiple Sclerosis
o A good friend of mine was recently diagnosed with MS and it has ravaged her body and stolen her life.
• Alzheimer’s, and other dementia’s are horrible diseases.
o A disease that brings the curtain down on the brain.
o And yet the individual remains.
o Even as the brain loses it’s ability to process information, and to use language and to express themselves.
• Alzheimer’s locks the person up and yet as I am learning, the person still strives to communicate.

Now, relational therapist Naomi Feil reaches out to those who have been crippled and bent over by Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases. She has a special gift of being able to connect with patients with gentle child-like touches, recalling a mother’s touch, and baths the soul in familiar heart felt music.

Like the woman in our lesson today, Naomi reaches out to the most severely bent over and broken and not treat them as hopeless and senile, but as children of God with senility.

My words will not give justice, I want to show this video of a daughter of Abraham named Gladys Wilson who is treated with eye contact, and gentle soothing touches and familiar songs.

The truth is we are all bent over and locked up. It’s not just Gladys Wilson who is locked up inside. We are all locked up, and some of us are maybe even seized up. But in treating each other as Jesus treats this woman,
• as a son or daughter of Abraham,
• as a child of the King,
• we are released from our prisons.
• We are set free.

Jesus loves the locked up, crippled and bent over. And he loves us to life.
• Will you love a person to life this week?
• Will you let Jesus love you to life this week?


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