The Crippled Woman
There are times when we come to church feeling a sense of guilt and shame, because of certain words and actions that have caused pain to others, and we so much want to say sorry to God, for not being the Christians we ought to be.
Then we hear a reading like the one from the Old Testament today, where Isaiah is telling God's people that they will be like well watered gardens and springs that never run dry’ if they act graciously to others, not pointing the finger or speaking cruel words . . . and all of a sudden we feel that this message is aimed straight at us!
We convince ourselves that the preacher is looking directly at us and we wonder if he have some special spiritual insight into our lives.
In our reading today the preacher, that is Jesus, has his eyes fixed on a woman in the synagogue who is crippled and bent right over.
She had been like that for 18 years.
She didn't ask to be healed, she didn't plead to him for mercy or ask him for help, but he noticed her even though she could not even raise her eyes to look at him. Jesus called to her, laid his hands upon her and immediately she was set free.
She straightened up and she began to praise the God who had delivered her.
Big mistake, big problem. . . for it was the Sabbath!
Just as Jesus had his eyes fixed on the woman, so too the leader of the synagogue had his eyes on Jesus and the healing he had just performed. He was well aware that it was a Sabbath day, and he began to lecture his flock on fulfilling the law, that the Sabbath must not be violated in any shape or form- nor even spectacular healings.
Here was this leader, like so many others there in that holy place, steeped in law, in tradition, not able to see beyond the rules and regulations to the Healer…the very Word of God himself, the Lord!
Jesus then began to look directly at the leader of the synagogue who had spoken, and at the Jews around him. He saw immediately their hypocrisy.
In chapter 23 of St Matthew's gospel Jesus chastises them for placing heavy burdens on others; he accused them of corruption and for the way they loved praise and recognition. And here too in our gospel reading today he says that they too were people who broke the Sabbath, and redesigned laws to suit their own purposes. Did they not feed their own animals and lead them to be watered on the Sabbath?
He could see quite clearly that these men were crippled just like this woman had been. They were so blind to love and compassion, so closed to feeling a real empathy for others.
Rather than rejoice and celebrate this woman's freedom, rather than celebrate their Saviour was in their midst, they spoke words of judgement and criticism.
I don't know about you, but I often feel that I fall short of all that I was meant to be as a Christian.
I know I have many faults but what I never want to be is blind to my faults.
At least when we have a conscience and feel guilt or shame, at least there is hope that we may put right our wrongs.
Far better than being blind and doing nothing at all to correct ourselves and grow.
But how do we go about undoing damage we've caused? How do we mend broken situations? How do we put right our cruel and hurtful words?
Better still how can we become that well watered garden that Isaiah talks of, that spring of water that will never run dry?
We can surely begin by asking for forgiveness.
I remember a story of a famous preacher who was rushing our to an appointment where he was due to speak. Unfortunately he had had a terrible row with his wife. As he left her in the kitchen he found that God seemed to be telling him he should go back and apologise. He reasoned with God that he would be late for his talk. 'Alright' God said. 'You go ahead, I'll stay behind here and comfort your wife. You do without me'. Needless to say, he went back in and apologised.
The story of the crippled woman illustrates to us that our eyes need to be on Jesus. What indeed would he do, what would he say, if he were in our position, with our problems right now?
Whatever he would have done or said we, as his followers must do the same.
Incidentally there are two plants mentioned immediately before and after the story of the crippled woman.
The first is to do with a fig tree, stunted and unfruitful, being given another chance to bring forth fruit before the owner cuts it down.
It teaches us that we're never too old to change our attitudes.
The second is about a mustard seed with tremendous potential for growth, which teaches us that as long as we have breath there is the chance for God's kingdom and God's ways in us to grow.
Let me offer you one more plant. It's a stephanotis.
Some weeks ago now I was passing a flower shop in Penrith, when I saw a very sad looking plant outside on the pavement. Next to it was a little sign which said, 'Free to a loving home'
Looking at it you could see that it was pot bound and in need of nourishment, and it presented a big challenge to me. Could I give it a loving home? I went in and claimed my prize.
Its three flowers dropped off immediately with the trauma of being moved; nevertheless, I removed one or two yellow leaves, I gave it a bigger pot, compost, food, water. I spoke to it and encouraged it. I gave it love and now it's on the mend and growing furiously.
Jesus healed, his arms embraced others.
He longed to embrace his own, whether they were crippled in mind or body.
His was a message that was not pot bound with rules and regulations, judgements and condemnations. He brought life and freedom to others.
He comes to bring his healing to us today, to release us restore us, feed and provide for us, so that we, healed and restored can bring life to others. We have been given so much, and much is expected of us.
If we can treat others with the same kind of mercy and compassion, then we too can bring healing into this world.
Let us make every day a Sabbath, a holy day; not pursuing merely our own interests and having only our own agendas; but let us straighten up to our full stature and be guided in all ways by our Saviour's example in everything we do, and in whatever comes our way.