Sunday, August 18, 2013

Jesus, the Bent Over Woman and a Pastor Who is Still Learning...

Luke 13:10-17

The story we hear today is one we can't help but feel deeply, it seems to me.  To hear of a woman who has been unable to stand up straight for eighteen years is to begin to feel how her every waking moment must have been marked by physical pain. To understand that she would not have been able to easily gaze into the eyes of another --- not her husband, her child, her grandchild, her neighbor, her friend ---  must have resulted in her feeling cut off from those who meant the most to her.  To experience the truth that her deformity would have led to her being unwelcome in the synagogue where she is called into the presence of Jesus today --- well, she must have even felt cut off from the promise that belongs to those of us who claim faith in a loving God. Jesus' words offered healing on so many levels.  Still, prior to that seemingly chance encounter in the synagogue, hers was an existence I cannot imagine.  Just as I know I can hardly begin to imagine the struggles of many --- even those I encounter every day. 

Or maybe it is that I don't want to. For the suffering of others taps into my own. The struggles of another remind me that I am one poor decision, one bad diagnosis, just a few years away, perhaps,  from experiencing the same.  If I'm honest, often I am not so different from those who would rather not have looked upon the suffering of this one daughter of Abraham.  For it is so.  Too often, we seek the easy explanation, try to assign blame, or simply look the other way in resignation, judgment, or despair.

Now there are, as always, a number of different ways one could run with the marvelous story before us now, but the one I find myself returning to is this.  It seems to me that in the moment after Jesus called the woman over to him and before he healed her, he must have bent down to look into  her eyes. Luke's account does not say this, of course, but I've never been able to imagine it any other way.  We know for certain that Jesus must have felt what troubled her deep down in his own being else he might not have taken notice of her at all.  And I can't help but think that her first step towards wholeness was Jesus getting down on his knees and looking up at her.

I am not proud of the fact that I did not learn this lesson long ago, but I was brought to a deeper understanding of the importance of this not that long ago. 

Oh, I make hospital and nursing home calls, I always have.  But it is also so that I have made those stops itching to keep moving.  Like everyone else,  I am busy, of course.  Too often I am fitting in these visits between a dozen other pressing obligations.  Still, I was brought up short a year or so ago when I was in conversation with  a woman who told me the story of her daughter's experience.  It was and is a wonder to me that she would have had no way of knowing that this was something I needed to hear.  Or maybe she did...

For you see, her daughter died a few years ago from a fast moving cancer and, like many in her circumstance, spent more than her share of time in hospital beds.  During that time she was visited by dozens of doctors.  The one she loved and trusted the most was the one who got down on his knees so he could look into her eyes when he talked to her. 

I listened to the telling of this a while back and I realized how seldom I did that --- how often I stood when I visited and prayed.  I thought of this and realized that by not even taking the time to sit down I was keeping one foot on the threshold --- ready to move on as soon as I could --- unable or perhaps unwilling to fully encounter the pain of the one I was there to visit.  As I sat and listened that afternoon I realized how often I have not begun to understand much less begin to meet the needs of those I have called upon in my time as pastor. 

I am no less busy now, of course.  And I don't always do it, but more and more I try to at least sit down and listen to the struggle, the questions, the pain of the one I am called to be with in that moment.  It not that I think I can ever fully emulate who and what Jesus was for that bent over woman so long ago.  But maybe, just maybe, my looking the suffering of another in the eyes will be the beginning of some kind of healing.  And maybe, just maybe, I also begin to have a sense of the wonder of the truth that Jesus bends over to look into my eyes every single day.

  • Where do you enter the story before us now?  Can you begin to understand the suffering of the woman in this story? Why or why not?
  • Can you also understand her joy at being made whole again?  Why or why not?
  • Why do you think Jesus picks her out of the crowd in the synagogue?  Why do you think others protested her healing then?  Was it simply a violation of Sabbath law or do you think there was more going on?


  1. Pastor Hunt - My thanks to you for "Dancing with the Word." I am just returning to parish ministry and the privilege/burden of weekly preaching after 13+ years of calls in specialized ministry. Yours has become one of my "go to" sites each week, and I am grateful for your particular insight into the texts. I think this gospel lesson (and your commentary) in many ways is about "presence" - Jesus seems always to have been truly present for people - acknowledging them as children of God, reading their needs, responding with compassion. The doctor who kneels at a bedside, the pastor who sits down to truly listen without thinking about the three other people she also has to visit that afternoon, the person who focuses less on what she's going to say next and more on what her friend in pain is saying - well, they are really following Jesus' example of being present for another, in a very powerful way. It's not easy work, but I thank God for the call to do it.

  2. What a beautiful story! When Jesus looked her straight in the eyes, I can feel her shame and rejection drain right out of her. I wonder if it was hard for her initially to return the look into Jesus' eyes. I can see Jesus being persistent and having eyes of deep compassion toward her. It is risky to look at someone straight in the eyes in their pain, because "I can get in the way" due to my own fear. But that is exactly what one aches for. What a powerful image of Jesus bending down to look up at the "bent over woman's" eyes and a beautiful reminder for those who care for others in search for healing.

  3. Thank you, Pastor Hunt, for helping us to see things in a new way. Your message did make me think of how I am when I visit the elderly or ill in their home, in a nursing home or in the hospital. I will try and be mindful of taking the time to sit down and really look at the person I am visiting, even if they can't respond in the usual way. I do so appreciate it when I visit a person or a couple in their home and they offer me a chair to sit on. Many are lonely and so welcome a kind word and a hug. They want to know what is happening at church and ask about friends they haven't seen for a long time. By the time that I leave, I am sure that I have been blessed way more than I have blessed them by my visit! One thing that I do try to remember, though, is not to overstay my welcome! If I see that their eyes are glazing over, I know that I've stayed a bit too long! Thank you for helping us to think and feel and act in new ways.

  4. I shall visit my people more focused on their eyes. Sitting at the bed when a chair is available. Often other family members are sitting and I don't want to inconvenience them. They stay there for hours and need any rest they can get.
    Thank you for your eye opening words of wisdom.