25 August 2019
By The Revd Robert Jordan MA
Weakened. Bent. Called
What do you think are the best words you hear in this Bible passage? Take a look again and let me know what you think….
To me, there are two, creating a tension of opposites: the best words pronounced here are Jesus' words to the woman: "you are set free" and then Jesus puts his hands on her, and she is straightened up. The other is one word only, when Jesus calls the synagogue rulers "Hypocrites". This highlights the tension of the whole passage. There is nothing more beautiful to hear than the words - you are set free. And these are words for all, but it seems only she reacts and takes them to heart, notice those in this narrative who dare not feel freed; those who condemn Jesus for what he has done, those that have ignored this woman for so long, summed up by "Hypocrites" - They are tied up in the chains of legalism and become prisoners of it. They are far from free.
This woman has been weakened, bent by a spirit for 18 years where all she can see is the ground below her, condemned to a miserable life, and ignored by so many. We never will know her name, we never hear her voice, though we are told she praises God. Her praise leads to others complaining - to them the Sabbath is more important than her life, and Jesus calls them hypocrites because in Jesus' eyes human life is central and Sabbath can never be honoured if human life isn't. And finally the people who see all this, those who have been rejected, those who has suffered just like she has suffered are delighted with what has gone on (see vs 17). This reading led me to question our reality today, the life of so many people who live weakened and bent. Those who add weight to those who are already bent. Is Jesus still calling? He is!
And then I came across this poem written by a friend and colleague in Argentina, with the challenging title: You are free. It got me thinking of this Bible passage and all the bent people today, bent by spirits that condemn them to a miserable life, those that are hungry for Jesus' freeing presence. And the way this reality also touches our own lives in ways we often don’t realize have us bent looking down and only seeing the ground. READ the Poem that is below -or follow the link.
How many people (including ourselves) long for the words "You are free". Bent because Sabbath is more than life when Sabbath has to be for life, and Jesus reminds us of the priorities of life where Sabbath is for humans and life fulfilled.
prophetic text to accompany the readings today is Isaiah 58 (by far
one of my favourite OT text!) and this included these words:
you refrain from trampling the Sabbath,
from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
if you call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honourable;
if you honour it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs then you shall take delight in the Lord,
While reading the September issue of REFORM magazine, I came across these words written by Balazs Odor, from the Reformed Church in Hungary: "…I realize how much we Christians are inclined to become slaves of any ideologies promising stability, protection and identity. We want a stability that comes from combating the fear, anxiety and hostility which we first created. It reminds me of John Calvin's deep insight into human nature, whose favourite preoccupation is fabrication of idols…do you know what the most depressing this is, about creating idols? At first they seem powerful - giving you a homey feeling, promising meaning, community, orientation, values, and also a feeling of superiority. But with time you realize that idols betray you. You cannot rely on them…they keep you away from truth…" (Reform. Sept 2019, page 10). I believe this to be true and this just adds to the list of those things that weaken us, bend us and of which we are called to be free.
Clearly, freeing people who have been weakened, bent and kept bent is the honourable way to delight in the Sabbath. As Jesus call this woman and frees, we too are called, and freed; to be really free we first have to become aware of what it is that is bending us down. And when we do this we should remember that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, not Lord of the Rules.
Then we will be able to live as freed children of God in this world with God's children everywhere as the joyful community of the freed women and men. Amen.
Bent by the cruelty of lifestyles that deprive us of dignity,
by impositions that weight too much,
by cultural heritage that pull us down,
by secrets we have been forced to keep
and guilt which is not ours, but yet we carry still,
by traditions we dare not let loose,
and creeds we repeat with no conviction,
by words kept for too long,
and because we don’t know how to look people in the eye,
for not standing up to injustice,
because we have neither received nor given enough hugs,
because we have not lain on the grass a bit more
and forgotten to look up to the stars,
we have hid for too long from all the things we fear,
and not asked for help when help was needed.
Not having been allowed to grown freely and
been forced to walk on our knees,
because we were led to believe it was better to
drag ourselves along and give up hope than to stand defiant
resisting all oppression and all tyranny.
Bent we walk through life
expecting alms from a system
that has marginalized and excluded,
that hasn’t healed or liberated or saved,
condemning people to walk facing the ground.
Bent even in churches under the yoke of
theologies that alienate and
preaching that adds more and more weight to those bent already,
denying any possibility of a
Bent we walk in our inter-personal relationships
victims of patriarchies and fundamentalisms
which rejoice in seeing people lick the boots of
the false gods.
Suddenly Jesus walks in, the amazing Jesus,
He extends his hand and says
"let no one deceive you,
let no one lie to you, let no one exclude you,
stopping you from becoming who you can be".
In spite of all the powers that want
to keep you bent, defeated
You are set free. You are free!
Nobody, ever again, will bend us.
Rev. Gerardo Oberman. Argentina.
Used with permission.