I wonder how many of us have met a bent over woman? If we shared our stories, we might discover that those afflicted with sloped shoulders and an aging spine have their own stories to tell, stories of endurance and courage. Stories of overcoming the perils of living in a world of decidedly taller people with greater physical strength. Stories that encompass patience and maybe even a story about what it takes to have a certain strength of character and faith when the body doesn’t allow for a physically engaged life and for complete wholeness.
I met a bent over woman in my very first church. Actually, I knew her even before being appointed to the church. We were both United Methodist Women. She was a very active member of her local unit and had a strong relationship with the, then, Southern New England district UMW. Florence Pomeroy was a faithful and committed member of the church, a church I had been sent to serve as the second-only-in-its history, Associate Pastor. As I came to know Florence, my admiration for her grew; she did so much in and beyond the church.
One of Florence’s true gifts was to mentor novice clergy, like me, so she willingly, and without a great deal of fuss or self-congratulatory behavior, took me under her wing. One of my tasks as the new Associate Pastor was to head up the Christian Education ministry, particularly the adult Church School classes. It was a task I was woefully unprepared to tackle but Florence was someone I knew I could lean on. It did come as a pleasant surprise and delightful experience when Florence asked me to co-teach a class based on this very scripture from Luke…the story of the Bent-Over Woman. Under her tutelage, I learned quite a bit about Luke’s gospel and even more about Florence, this amazing and gracious lady.
What I find interesting about this story of the bent over woman is how quickly Christ makes the extraordinary decision to heal her. He doesn’t ask her if she’d like to be healed or wait for permission nor does he allow for a more reasonable non-Sabbath moment to accomplish the healing. Compassionately, he just heals her giving the religious authorities yet another reason for condemning him. Putting her need before his own safety…Christ just does what he must…he heals her.
I’m not sure why Jesus chose to heal the bent over woman at that very moment. It certainly wouldn’t have hurt to wait one more day…there had been 18 years of days that had passed for this woman. How could it hurt to wait another? But then again, we aren’t very good judges of another’s pain. We understand our own. We can appreciate the sense of anguish we might feel if the pain was ours but to fully place ourselves in the shoes of another whose life is racked by the kind of pain that tormented this poor woman, well, this is difficult for us. Compassion for another – we can indeed feel that, but to really experience the pain of another is almost impossible unless our circumstances have mirrored theirs.
I tend to think that like many of the scriptures and stories in the New Testament, this one is mirroring or, more accurately, forecasting the pain Christ will suffer on the cross – God’s unique gift of sacrificial love for us. Christ had been tormented by a deceiving evil in the person of Satan just as this woman had shouldered her burden of pain for 18 years, a pain also attributed to Satan. Like her, Christ had wandered in a wilderness of loneliness, isolated often from both family and friends. Christ had been chased from the inner sanctum of the Temple, as had this woman, and like her, would have been thrust out the doors and over a cliff if God had not laid a restraining hand on the Temple persecutors. Christ had already experienced the pain of being different, the distinction that held him apart from those who thought they knew better and believed their religious understanding outweighed Christ’s faith in a Father God whose love would always hold him in safety and in the certainty of abiding peace. Christ knew what this woman felt, knew and shared her pain just as Christ knows and shares our pain, our grief, our feeling of loss, our sense of isolation or our struggle to fit in and not be viewed as “different”.
But, there are others who live out lives of unmitigated pain, who live in a world of difference and indifference…who are ill, misshapen, poor, without legal status in any country, people who are torn apart by rules that describe or try to, the “right way to be”, who are hungry in body and spirit and can’t find enough food for their children; who work at jobs that don’t provide necessary, life-saving health care, who slip through the societal and governmental cracks and are harmed by the systems, the churches, the town agencies committed on paper to be helpful but often are not as helpful as we might hope. These unfortunate individuals are the ones who share our world; they are the epitome of the bent-over humanity, which touches Christ’s compassionate heart.
But, the gospel never ends simply with a Christ response; it requires our response too. Christ calls upon us to have compassion as well. Jesus Christ tosses out all the rules and regulations that breed indifference and foster safety for the would-be givers of the world, all those of us who have what we need and so much more. Christ does this just so he can reach the ones who really need to be touched and healed. Gone is the Sabbath safety net, the church walls, the sanctity of a solemn sanctuary; instead Christ draws upon both his own experienced humanity and then, and always, reminds us of ours. We are sent out to remember those in our lives who lifted us up and who helped to heal us but the gospel does more than this; it calls us to follow. In like manner, we are called to offer the same love, compassion and healing to another, called to make room in our pews and in our hearts to someone in need, called to share the good news of God’s gracious and abiding love with all humanity, especially to the ones bent over in distress. “When Christ laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.” Amen.