I have been thinking about the things that cause the deepest sorrows in our lives, and I have come to believe that there are two broad categories. The first is sin—including my sin and the sins of others by which we are somehow affected. And if you have been in this church for long, I hope you will soon get the message that the Son of God, a man called Jesus, came to earth and died for our sins. Salvation by my Lord Jesus is therefore something I know and accept, and it is a part of the healing of my soul for which I am and will be daily and eternally thankful. I am sorry when I think about my sins, but most days, despair of sin is not what keeps me awake at night, or sends clouds of sadness into my days.
No, it is the second category of sorrows in our lives that seem to cause the days, even years of sadness, and they are not necessarily the results of our sins. On a broad scale there are things where hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people can be affected. Things like hurricanes, tsunamis, famine, systemic poverty, and massive illnesses. Did you know that in the 14th Century 50 million people died in Europe from the plague? That was 60% of its population. But there are also things on an individual scale that cause as much sorrow in our everyday lives. Things like loneliness, lost chances, loss of a job, loss of people we love, chronic illness, sorrow in the lives of my children or friends. The millions of ways which have the ability to cause deep pain and distress to those of us who spend time on this earth. These are the things that seem to cause the deepest sorrows and tears. These are the other types of sorrow that so capture our minds, our emotions and our lives. These are the things that can cripple us.
Which is why today’s gospel is one that should give us great hope and perhaps even peace.
Now Jesus 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.
This story is one of the lovely miracle healing stories of Jesus which on its face has nothing to do with sin. Crowds have been following Jesus to witness or receive a miracle and to hear his teaching. And since it is the Sabbath, Jesus is in the synagogue. This woman has come to the synagogue too, and she very well may not have been expecting to see Jesus that day. At this point in the service, when Jesus began to teach, he and the congregation would have been seated. From his position at the head of the building, he therefore would be able to see her come in over the crowd. She is late and you can just see her quietly coming in the back. But then he calls out to her, which may have startled her. Can you imagine me up here at the front watching the door back there and then calling out to the late arrivals? I am certain she was nervous and afraid when he asked her to come forward. You can you picture her carefully making her way, her eyes and her body focused downward. Bent in humility, looking down toward the depths, where dark spirits reside. She carries the posture of misery and pain. She after all has a dark spirit. She therefore cannot meet the eyes of the people she passes and so it is easy for people to look over and past her. To avoid her eyes which had to be filled with sorrow and pain. Certainly not eyes filled with life and joy and light. But then she meets Jesus. He calls her to come. He notices her. He sees her. He does not mind that she is late. He’s been waiting for her and watching for her and he calls her when she finally arrives. He knows all about her. He knows she is crippled and he knows it’s been 18 years and he knows what caused it, Satan. I do not know if you believe in the devil or not, but Jesus certainly did and therefore so do I. Because when I listen to our Lord I realize that the dark spirits among us are nothing to be trifled with, nothing to play around with.
But Jesus has the power to heal her with a simple touch. He is showing everyone who is really in charge, over the powers of darkness and creation. He can literally change how things are shaped. He can take a bent over woman with tendons and bones and nerves that are stuck, frozen and crippled and make them straight and new and supple and whole.
I feel certain that this woman did not expect the healing she received that day. She did not go to the synagogue looking for a miracle. I can picture her painfully getting ready for the service. Dressing, doing her hair, trying to do it all from her bent position. And then walking slowly to the meeting place. All of this causing her to be late as she walks into holy place of the unexpected.
Miracles do happen today, in the space where the unexpected occurs. Babies are born who were never supposed to be. The loss of a job leads to a career that one never could have been imagined. Reconciliations occur in the messiest relationships whom experts would say are beyond repair. People live through the worst things they can imagine, and come through on the other side with hearts eventually filled with peace and hope and even joy. These are the unexpected places touched by God where he has brought miracles of peace and healing. Maybe not of bones and tendons, but certainly of perspective, putting this world in its place, under the scope of eternity.
Before the woman of our story knew Jesus, before he called her, before he touched her, she was a woman of this world. Ruled by the powers of darkness, touched by Satan and ruled by his darkness and pain. But after a simple touch by our Lord, Satan is obliterated, she is completely healed and became an example of his healing power and light. Because of her, we know that God can heal anything that cripples us. He has complete power over our bodies, over our souls and over our darkness.
This same touch of God is with us all day, every day. It is through His Holy Spirit within us, that we are able to encourage one another to be strong and courageous, to not be afraid. It is why Christians can say such crazy things like “we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance, character and character, hope.” And it is why we can say to one another, let our Lord guide you and advise you and watch over you always. It is why we know that our Lord truly knows us and will guide us even if we are hunched over and all we can see is our toes.