Meditation for Proper 16, Year C
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.
Eighteen years is a long time. It’s longer than my daughter has been alive. It’s longer than I’ve been married, longer than I’ve lived in Richmond, longer than I have been an Episcopalian.
When I first read this passage from Luke’s Gospel, I began to think about what was happening in my own life, 18 years ago, just so that I could understand a bit more about this woman who Jesus sees. To save anyone else from having to do the math, let me just mention that eighteen years ago was 1998. I had to pause and think about that…1998 was a long time ago, and a whole different time in my life.
In 1998, I was living in Buffalo and feeling pretty trapped. I found myself living alone, having just ended a relationship that wasn’t healthy. I wasn’t sure how long I could stay where I was currently living, and I definitely wasn’t sure where I would go if I left. I was working several part-time jobs trying to make ends meet. I knew I wanted to do some things with my life that just didn’t seem possible or realistic at that time: go back to school, find something that gave me joy, make healthy new friendships and relationships.
At some point that year, it occurred to me that I always enjoyed art when I was younger. Art seemed to be an affordable and much needed hobby…paper, pencils, maybe some paints. This, I thought, was within my grasp…I just needed some structure or perhaps a class to get me started. I browsed through the newspaper and found an art class that seemed affordable…only $15, as I recall. I called for a slot in the class, and heard an answering machine message that said the class was cancelled. Dejected, I felt like giving up but left a return name and number in case there was another class. Several days later, my phone rang. It was the teacher of that art class, who apologized for having to cancel the class. She invited me to her studio for a free lesson since she felt badly to have cancelled. So, I went a few days later thinking at least I had nothing to lose.
Her studio was a tiny, open space above a car mechanic shop, which is where she worked as a part-time receptionist. I learned that afternoon above the auto garage that my art teacher, Betty, had taken up art late in life while she was the caregiver for her husband who had Alzheimer’s disease. She was wonderfully gifted, and a patient teacher who helped me see the beauty in the world around me, a beauty I had been unable to see myself. It just so happens that my job at that time was as a bereavement counselor, and my prior work was as the social worker for an Alzheimer’s unit of a skilled nursing facility. Betty and I clearly had gifts to share with each other. For several years we met, and sketched, and talked, and cried, and healed together every Sunday afternoon.
Eighteen years is a very long time. But even across those years, Betty and I are still friends. She’s written a book about her caregiving to help other caregivers. I’ve integrated art as a regular part of my life, in fact just returning from time as the Chaplain to our diocesan art camp. Healing sometimes comes to us before we ask. And often, it comes to us through the hands and hearts that see us as already as healed and whole, before we even see that in ourselves.
In the Gospel of Luke we meet, through Jesus’ eyes, another woman who is hurting. This woman has been bent over for eighteen years. We’re told she was unable to stand up straight. So, her view probably never reached the horizon line, let alone ascend upward to the heavens.
Eighteen years is a very, very long time to only see the ground beneath your feet.
This story of healing in the ministry of Jesus is different than others. Here, we don’t have someone coming to Jesus and asking for healing, or even reaching out in faith to touch the hem of his garment. In this story, we have Jesus teaching…preaching…gathered in the holy space of the temple. He is the One who sees this woman perhaps, because of her limited vision, before she can even see him. And the first thing Jesus does is call to her to come near, to tell her she is free of her ailment. The second thing Jesus does is touch her. He lays his hands on her, making a human and divine connection in which healing resides. What we know from the story Luke tells us is that at that point this woman stands up, and gives thanks to God. At that moment, health and healing are hers again. The colors of the sky, the trees, the far off horizon, the eyes of those near her…the eyes of Jesus, who has lavished healing upon her…these are hers to see again. It isn’t just her body that is healed but also her spirit; when hope returns and healing fills her, her response is to stand up and give thanks to God.
What Jesus knows, and what this woman knows…and what those in the story who criticize him for healing on the Sabbath do not seem to know…is that healing is not about work. Healing is about freedom. Healing invites us to see ourselves in our divine potential, rather than our human limits. Healing is extended to us in the form of hope, relationship, divine touch through human hands. Healing invites us to share in God’s vision of ourselves in that moment where we realize there is so much more to see as our eyes are opened and our vision is expanded beyond our present circumstance and to a view of the holy within us, and around us.
Today, we are invited to hope and healing. We don’t have to be in a place to name what is ailing us. We don’t even have to have the courage and confidence to ask for healing. We are invited to be open to the possibility of living in the hope of who we are, how God sees us, and through the eyes of people who see that divine image reflected in us. Healing and hope come in the form of those we may least expect: art teachers, social workers, hands that reach out to offer love and support. I believe that hope and healing are present in this world, in our lives, in this place and this time that we are together.
No matter how many years we have been afflicted, in Christ there is hope and healing, even before we ask.
[prepared for Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, A Public Service of Healing: August 19, 2016]