(based on Psalm 71 & Luke 13:10-17)
Four hymns, call to worship, light the candle, read the scriptures, give an inspiring message, pray (several times), take up the offering, and send people back into the world, and do within an hour. That’s the rule, right? Well, maybe into not the rule, but it is the tradition, or the pattern, or what I think folks are comfortable with. But I want to break out. Especially with a congregation so `intimately sized’ as ours. Life is so much more interesting when you are a part of the conversation! It truly is.
When I hear this story of the bent-over woman, it is so rich and inviting. In one newer Bible translation called the Message, edited by Eugene Peterson, verse 11 reads… “There was a woman present, so twisted and bent over with arthritis that she couldn’t even look up. She had been afflicted with this for 18 years.” 18 years, my friends- that’s a long time.
Now, I’m glad that we have different biblical translations to read from and compare, and although I like much in Eugene Peterson’s style, I think he misses the point in this verse. He makes an assumption that what afflicted this woman was arthritis. If you suffer from arthritis, I’m sure you would agree it is not a pleasant thing, and certainly it would be a relief to be done with it for once and for all.
But the translations more closely transcribed from Hebrew and Greek, don’t use the word arthritis. The NRSV says, “10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 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.”
Hmm, a crippling spirit…. That could be a little different couldn’t it. There is some ambiguity in that which calls us to pay attention. Psalm 71 celebrates God as the solid rock we can lean on; it’s a symbol of strength and protection. But what if I held this rock (weighing five pounds) – what if I carried it on my shoulder, or held it out in front of me… how long before I would begin to stoop in order to compensate for the weight of it? How long would it take for this rock to become a burden?
What are the invisible burdens that bend us double?
What is it like to walk through life with an invisible illness? What is it like to walk through life being told day after day that you’re not good enough, smart enough, strong enough, beautiful enough? What is it like to walk through life with a judgement or a memory that haunts you, and won’t let you go, and keeps you from celebrating and honouring the child of God that you are?
It begins to weigh on you… what might this woman’s story be?
Then there’s the synagogue leader. What’s it like to be trained meticulously in the proper procedure for everything. To understand that the only way to please God is to do the right thing, the right way. How would you feel is someone came along and turned your carefully crafted world upside-down?
What if you were someone else to just went to the synagogue that morning because that’s what you always do? You find out after the fact that you have a guest preacher who totally messes up what you expected. Would it be disturbing? Would it be refreshing?
I’m breaking the rules now. Well – I’m breaking the pattern.
I’ll number you off – 1,2,3,4
1) – the role of Jesus
2) – the role of the bent-over woman
3) – the role of the synagogue leader
4) – the role of a congregational member
Tell this story from your experience.
(*a beautiful thing happened, – everyone did get into groups of four and had amazing conversations. I was the only `extra’ so I got to stand back and hear the gentle buzz of conversation and see the interactions)
Some questions to ponder this week:
When have you experienced healing of mind, body, or spirit?
For what are you most grateful?
What surprised you?
Where is there still a need for healing?
When do you think it’s necessary to `play by the rules’?
When do you think it’s necessary to break the rules?
Jesus touches the woman and says, “Woman, you are set free.”
What do you need to be freed from or freed for?