Recently, I dug deeply into a story about one of the lesser-known women of the Bible—the woman Luke describes as “bent over.” And I loved learning more about Jesus’s interaction with her.
But first, the backstory: Jesus and his disciples are walking somewhere on a Sabbath, and they feed themselves by taking some heads of grain in a field. And what do the religious leaders do? They object, because Jesus and his team have done “work.”
When this happens, Jesus reminds his listeners of a story in the Scriptures about how a priest gave David and his hungry men leftover consecrated bread on the Sabbath. And Jesus concludes by declaring that the Son of man is “lord of the Sabbath” (Luke 6:5).
Soon after that on another Sabbath, Jesus does something more public and equally unexpected: he heals a man with a withered hand (v. 10). But again the Sabbath-police object, because their traditions have turned God’s designated weekly vacation day into a time when they prohibit others from showing mercy.
In both scenarios, Jesus establishes himself as lord of the Sabbath. He is not actually breaking Sabbath law; he is showing how their interpretation of Sabbath law has led to practices that actually contradict the intent of the day.
And now yet another Saturday has rolled around in the ancient Near East. And Jesus is where we expect to find him—in a synagogue. Teaching. And this rabbi sees a woman who has endured being bent over for eighteen years. (What were you doing eighteen years ago—the year of the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster? That’s a long time.) Sometimes Luke, the Gospel writer, attributes physical problems to disease, and sometimes he attributes ailments to spiritual bondage. In this case he attributes the suffering to a disabling spirit (13:11).
The woman in question is not standing in line for a healing. Instead, Jesus initiates the interaction. He sees her. And he calls her over. “Woman, you are freed from your infirmity,” he says. And he touches her.
Imagine her shock when she can stand straight. “Praise God!” she exclaims. She’s vertical for the first time in nearly two decades! Instead of seeing people’s shoes, she sees their faces. She stands slack-jawed. And the crowd marvels.
But the president of the synagogue scowls. Why? You guessed it—Jesus has healed, once again, on the Sabbath.
So what does the angry man do? Rather than address Jesus—the one who committed this so-called crime—the man turns to the least powerful person in the room, the woman who came expecting nothing but a worship service. And he bullies her: “There are six days on which work should be done,” he insists. “So come and be healed on those days. But not on the Sabbath.”
But the healer intervenes. He has zero tolerance for grace-killing. Instead, he publicly answers the man with words intended for the entire group of joy-smashers: “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or his donkey from its stall and lead it to water? (Yes. Duh.) Then shouldn’t this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be loosed from this imprisonment on the Sabbath day?”
The Anointed One indeed releases people from prison (Isa. 61:1; Luke 4:18)—just not the kind of prison in which John the Baptist was locked up. And isn’t the Sabbath the best time to release a daughter of Abraham from such a prison? In suggesting as much, Jesus clarifies the true meaning of “Sabbath”—as a day for replacing bondage with freedom, a day to bring shalom. What better day to celebrate the rest of God and provide a reason for God’s people to rejoice—a day for joy?
Jesus’s response humiliates his adversaries, but the crowd loves it. Jesus has loosed a woman from prison, yet another evidence of the kingdom.
Everyone looking forward to the kingdom has expected a new ruler to ride into Jerusalem on a trusty steed and overtake their occupiers, the Romans. But in Jesus’s first coming, he brings a different kind of deliverance, freeing captives from a different kind of prison.
Seeing the opportunity to help his listeners understand how the kingdom differs from what they expect, Jesus borrows examples from the farm and from domestic space. First, he compares the kingdom to a mustard seed. Sure, such seeds are smaller than a pinhead, but they grow large enough to support birds’ nests. The kingdom is like that. And the kingdom is also like yeast—“that a woman takes and mixes with three measures of flour until all the dough rises.” Yeast infiltrates invisibly, changing everything.
That’s what the King’s kingdom is like. Shalom-rest. Freedom for captives. Defense of the bullied. JOY!
King Jesus changes everything.