Summary: The very thing that the woman cannot, yet yearns to, do is precisely the thing Jesus gives her the power to do.
In the days of the Fitzgerald Inquiry, Woolloongabba was the home of pimps, prostitutes and people of pious intent. We belonged to the latter group, for The Gabba was also our home, living almost in the shadow of the famous ground itself, right next to Holy Trinity Church where I worked as the Rector of the Parish and Chaplain to the Mater Hospital.
I only mention the pimps and prostitutes because the Police Minister of the day didn’t believe the media reports that such a type of person lived and worked in the area. My kids, however, knew better because it was them, and not the Courier Mail, who told me all about them.
My kids were also helpful in identifying the very first person I’d ever seen who suffered from kyphosis, a curvature of the spine. This person was well known in the Gabba area. She completely disregarded the traffic and crossed and recrossed Stanley Street at will, wherever she wanted to cross. The locals knew her well and the visitors watched in amazement and with bated breath yet, not once, to my knowledge, did she get hit.
When she walked along the street, things were not much different, although people avoided as best they could from bumping into her and the local kids teased her when they saw her coming. It’s amazing, therefore, for us to read the story in today’s Gospel about a woman who’d been bent over for 18 years, just like the old Gabba lady, who suddenly appeared. That’s what the text says: in verse 11, she “appeared”. That sounds sudden, doesn’t it? My simple question is: How does a bent over, hobbling woman just “appear”?
The old lady in the Gabba was bent over at the waist, and had to crane her neck at an uncomfortable angle to look at anything else other than the road or the footpath. How did this woman, this bent-over woman in our Gospel, not only appear but appear “just then”?
I really don’t know the answer. What we do know, however, is that we are given 3 pieces of information about her infirmity, as if Luke wants us to take the message on board.
In the first place, we are told that she has been “crippled for 18 years”; it’s a condition with a numerical detail that conveys the seriousness and length of her suffering.
Then we are told that she was “bent over”.
Finally, we are informed that she was “quite unable to stand up straight“.
In response to this thrice-detailed affliction, we are now told that “When Jesus saw her, he called her over”. Why did he do that? Wouldn’t you have thought that the Lord of love, compassion and fairness would go over to her?
What if the text said, “The woman had been in excellent physical condition for a long time; she was quite fit. In fact she was able to jog for miles each day. When Jesus saw her, he got up and went to her.” That would be weird, too, wouldn’t it? So I’m not sure why he made her come to him. What follows, though, is a three part healing that addresses the things we’ve been told about her infirmity.
First Jesus addresses the spiritual condition she’s in by proclaiming her freedom from the ailment which he later labels as “Satan binding her”. He speaks to her condition, her crippled nature, and pronounces freedom.
Second, he lays hands on her: he gives her physical touch, the assurance of his presence, something that has probably been missing from her life for a long time.
Then, simultaneously, she stands up straight and begins to praise God. What a moment!
The phrase “stand up straight” appears twice. The first time describes what she is utterly unable to do (verse 11). Then we are told (in verse 13) that it is what she is immediately able to do when Jesus lays hands on her. The exact thing that she cannot do and yearns to do is precisely the thing Jesus gives her the power to do. And therein is the theme for today. The very thing that the woman cannot, yet yearns to, do is precisely the thing Jesus gives her the power to do.
There are some words of caution here. First, let’s not assume that Jesus is here referring to the ice-cream parlour of skin-deep blessings. He’s not. There are deeper issues at stake. Second, let’s not confuse physical healing and spiritual healing. They are not the same; if they were, we can easily heap guilt on those with mental health issues simply because you can’t actually see emotional issues in the same way as, say, you can with a broken leg. Third, the theme doesn’t apply to selfish or unrealistic desires either.