Prepare to be Unbound

Aug 21, 2022

Sermon 8-21-22
11th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Luke 13:10-17
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
     Here we are at the end of summer, at least as far as the school year is concerned. It hardly seems possible that August 21 has arrived and our journey during this Pentecost season is nearing the half-way point. How is our quest to become more devoted and less distracted followers of Jesus progressing, do you think?
     Today’s gospel lesson paints a picture of devotion, but it is not the devotion of the religious folk that is featured, but something new, even starting. We see in this account the devotion of God for struggling people, a display of deep empathy, in spite of human-devised obstacles.
     Jesus was teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath when he notices a woman “with a spirit that had crippled her for 18 years.” She was bent over and unable to stand up straight. Please note that she does not approach Jesus, but he sees her. Her fully sees her – he sees her physical suffering and emotional pain. He sees what she has lost – freedom, relationships and joy. He sees her.
     Pastor JoAnne Taylor gives the woman voice in her sermon on this text, and it goes something like this: “Eighteen years, my back has been bent for eighteen long, painful years. At first it was just a little hunching over, poor posture you would probably have called it. But the fact was I could not straighten my back, no matter how hard I tried. And, over the years, it grew worse, until I was completely bent over. Oh, I could walk with a stick to lean on. But I could never stand up straight. I could not look you in the eye or see the stars at night. I could not watch a hawk soar or admire a rainbow. Mostly, the only direction I could see was down. If I craned my neck, I could see what lay ahead of me in the street, but that took a lot of effort, and the pain was unbearable. It was easier to stick to pathways I knew well, stay out of the way, and get by as best I could. I had resigned myself to being bent.
      “On that Sabbath, when I slipped into the back of the synagogue, behind the other women, I heard a strange voice speaking. As this new teacher spoke, I felt – I don’t know how to describe it – I felt loved.” (1)
     She felt loved. Indeed, she was loved. And what better day was there for her to be loved than the Sabbath? In the Old Testament books of Genesis, Exodus and Deuteronomy, the Sabbath is presented various ways.
     It is a day to delight in God’s creation; remember, God brought forth the world and its inhabitants in six days, but on the 7th day rested, delighting in the goodness of all that was made. The Sabbath also is a day to celebrate God’s redemption, especially the freeing of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. And, it is a day for rest and renewal for everyone, including servants and livestock, not a day for work.
     But by Jesus’ day the Sabbath had become a day for rules, a day for worrying about not breaking those rules, particularly the ones prohibiting that which was defined as work. Those definitions were arbitrary. For example, since no one wanted to see expensive livestock die of dehydration on the Sabbath, an exception was made for untying an animal for the purpose of taking it to a watering trough. However, helping a human being on the Sabbath, except in the most critical of circumstances, did not meet with approval; that was work.
     So it was that religious authorities had granted a higher status to a donkey than to a person. But not Jesus. That day in the synagogue, when he saw the bent-over woman, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” Then he laid his hands on her, and immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.
     The leader of the synagogue objected to the woman’s healing on the grounds that she had suffered for 18 years, what did one more day matter? She could have been cured on another day when work was allowed. It’s interesting, isn’t it, that he does not object to the fact that she was healed, but to the breaking of the rules.
      I like the way Pastor Matthew Skinner describes the why of the healing; it’s because, he writes, there’s no excuse for willfully extending suffering and delaying wholeness. While the synagogue official says, “Wait just one more day,” Jesus answers, “No. The sabbath is a pretty good day for setting people free. In fact, the purpose behind the sabbath – the value God places on wholeness – necessitates that I do this now. We can’t wait.” (2)
     Healing her fit into the original intention of the Sabbath. Additionally, the Gospel writer Luke indicates that evil (a spirit) was the cause of her ailment. What better use of the Sabbath is there than to defeat the crippling effects of evil? So it is that in this Sabbath-healing the Gospel message of God’s triumph over evil is revealed; love replaces hate, forgiveness erases sin and life triumphs over death. Now, that calls for a devoted response.
     It’s a story that continues today. Commentator Debie Thomas writes that through Jesus hunched, crippled, exhausted people are invited, encouraged and released to stand up straight. If we were to name them, we could include people of color, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, the poor, the homeless, the elderly, the incarcerated, the mentally ill, the differently abled, the uneducated, the spiritually broken, victims of violence … the list could go on and on. The church’s ministry is to serve people so they can metaphorically stand up and have their full potential recognized.
     Consider again the leader of the Synagogue, he was not an evil man; his focus was on right worship, right practice. He cared about honoring the Sabbath. But, he missed the heart of the Sabbath, which is compassion that consistently sees the broken body, the broken soul, the broken spirit before it sees the broken commandment. Jesus responds as he does because he rejects that which would keep him and his followers from responding with deep empathy.
     People’s experience in our church, as well as our ministry beyond these walls, should cause those who feel hunched over and exhausted to have an experience like the woman who stood up straight for the first time in years. That is, it should cause people to be seen, cherished, invited, unbound and released to praise God – each one with their unique stories of healing. (3)
     Being a devoted follower of Jesus mans we open our hearts and hands to show deep empathy – by the power of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes doing so required us to set aside the rules, the judgments, the norms that have framed our lives, so that wholeness is not delayed for even on more day. That’s how devoted Jesus is to us. AMEN
  1. “Getting Unbent – Sermon on Luke 13:10-17” by JoAnne Taylor, August 25, 2013,
  2. “Why We Can’t Wait” by Matthew L. Skinner,
  3. “Sermon for the 11th Sunday of Pentecost” by Debie Thomas, August 21, 2022,