This day marks 400 years since the first arrival of enslaved Africans in English-speaking North America.
They landed in late Aug. 1619 in Hampton VA. And the history of America was changed forever. The burdens we place on this people still remain today, with African American’ males being imprisoned at a rate far higher than any other racial group. African American kindergartners being handcuffed for bad behavior in school, and being placed in the school to prison pipeline.
It’s been 400 years of back-breaking injustice, which has violated every tenet of God’s desire for us.
It reminds me of a woman Jesus once met.
It’s been eighteen years. Eighteen years, since this unnamed woman has been able to see the sky.
Eighteen years since she’s been able to look the people she loves in the eye.
Eighteen years, since she’s been bent over double, unable to raise her eyes from the dirt below her.
Eighteen years since she’s been able to take a deep breath, and feel life enter into her.
Eighteen years of bone-aching, constant pain.
And for eighteen years, her friends and neighbors have seen nothing but her bent-over back and the top of her head. Not being able to look someone in the eye… you start to not see them at all.
Eighteen years is a long time. After eighteen years, hope can die.
And yet… and yet… there she was at the synagogue, still claiming her place as a member of her community. That takes chutzpah. But did she come out of hope, or out of sheer, stubborn determination? Eighteen years is a long time to hope, but if we’re stubborn enough, we can drudge our way one day at a time. I doubt that, in her stubbornness, she had much hope of change that day. One day is like the next; why should this day be any different?
And so there she is in the midst of the crowd at the synagogue, when suddenly a man calls her over. “Woman! Come here!” She can’t look up to see His face. Who is it? And what does He want with her?
And then those life-changing words, the words of salvation: “Woman, you’re free.” And the man lays His hands on the back of her head, and suddenly her bones straighten, and her muscles strengthen, and she breathes deep-
and she is standing straight and tall, giving glory to God.
The man is Jesus- Jesus who touched her, and called her out of her misery, and brought her back to the community who has not seen her face in eighteen years. What is she feeling? What would you be feeling?
congregational response… shock, disorientation, joy, unbelieving that this could have happened…
All these emotions, roiling around inside this free and able woman, who raises her eyes to the skies and is part of the world again.
And what happens next? Some jerk in charge who yells, “Hey! You can’t do that! It’s the wrong day!” Here she is, free at last, free at last, and the first thing she hears is, “You can’t do that! It’s the wrong day! You can’t heal on the Sabbath, because that’s work, and you can’t work on the Sabbath!”
What do you think her response is? How would you respond if you had just had the burden of a lifetime taken from your shoulders, and some mean-spirited person comes up and says you have to go back to your hunched life, unable to breathe, unable to see beyond the dirt beneath you, in constant pain?
congregational response… shock, anger, confusion, self-doubt…
But this Jesus won’t put up with that kind of life-destroying response. He comes right back: “You frauds! You hypocrites! Each Sabbath every one of you always unties your cow or donkey from its stall and leads it out for water, thinking nothing of it. So why isn’t it all right for me to untie this daughter of Abraham, and lead her from the stall where Satan has tied her these past eighteen years?”
The following section is adapted from Ira Brent Driggers in the workingpreacher.org commentary for Aug. 25, 2019:
This story gets straight to the heart of Jesus’ mission in Luke. Remember when Jesus first announced his mission towards the beginning of Luke? He was also in a synagogue on the Sabbath on that day (Luke 4:16). Jesus proclaimed His life work like this: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).
This is what Luke’s Jesus is all about. Liberation. That first proclamation of His mission reverberates powerfully in this story: Jesus insists that the bent-over woman be “set free” (apoluo, verse 12) and “released” (luo, verse 16) from her “bond” (desmos, verse 16).
And today, when Jesus is locking horns with the synagogue leader about Sabbath law, Jesus draws directly from Deuteronomy 5:15, the Ten Commandments: the commandment that connects Sabbath rest to Israel’s liberation from slavery in Egypt. “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.”
What is the Sabbath about? Liberation! And one form of liberation says that we don’t work on the Sabbath. We take our lives out of the rat race, and allow ourselves and those around us a day of rest. That’s liberation. But it is also liberation to take off chains, to heal, to breathe, to stand up and sing praises to the God who has released us from bondage. I mean, we feed and water our livestock on the Sabbath, because, even though it’s work, it would be an act of cruelty to make them suffer thirst and hunger. How is it any different that a woman should be healed of her suffering on the day of liberation?
Jesus never says we should abolish the Sabbath; it is at the core of trusting in God for our needs. It is at the core of our liberation. But as Jesus says in Luke 6:15: “The Sabbath is made for humankind; humans were not made to serve the Sabbath. So the Chosen One of God is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
What is it that this healed woman is hearing when Jesus speaks?
When others would try to take her healing from her, blame her for her joy?
What is this woman hearing when Jesus stands up and defends her?
I imagine that what she hears is the voice of her Savior. Not a Savior for some far-off, celestial future, but for today, right now, in this suffering and healed body. That’s liberation. The liberation that God cried for 400 years ago when the first slaves landed on our shores. The liberation Jesus gave to a woman bent over with pain. The liberation that God desires for us, and desires us to work for in this world, in this time, so that by our cooperation with God’s will, all God’s creation will one day be free.
Lord, hear us when in body and spirit we are bent over, and cannot see the world as you have made it to be. Heal our bodies, and minds and spirits, so we can stand tall and help another to stand.
In the Name of the One who will never let us go, even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Resource: workingpreacher.org, Aug. 25, 2019, Ira Brent Driggers
Scripture for Aug. 25, 2019 Luke 13:10-17 (translation: The Message)
Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. There was a woman there, so twisted and bent over with arthritis that she couldn’t even look up. She had been afflicted with this for eighteen years. When Jesus saw her, He called her over. “Woman!,” He cried, “You’re free!” Jesus laid hand hands on her, and suddenly she was standing straight and tall, giving glory to God.
The leader of the synagogue was furious because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath. “Six days have been given to us as work days!” he shouted. “Come on one of those six days if you want to be healed! But don’t expect healing on the Sabbath!”
But Jesus shot back, “You frauds! You hypocrites! Each Sabbath every one of you always unties your cow or donkey from its stall and leads it out for water, thinking nothing of it. So why isn’t it all right for me to untie this daughter of Abraham and lead her from the stall where Satan has tied her these past eighteen years?”
When Jesus put it that way, His critics put to shame, and the entire crowd rejoiced at all the wonderful things He was doing.
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.