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A few summers ago now for part of my study leave, I took a week-long continuing education course on an aspect of preaching. It was taught by Archbishop Melissa Skelton, the Anglican bishop at the time of the diocese of New Westminster, which covers most of the Lower Mainland. It was a really interesting course, and one of the first assignments we had was to randomly be assigned a gospel story, and then tell that story from the perspective of one of the characters in the story. One of the women in my small group of four had the reading that we just heard. She re-wrote it from the perspective of the woman. I found this version, written by Jeannine Brown. It is still written as narrator, but the focus is on the woman’s experience, rather than on Jesus’ actions, as in Luke. It goes like this:
After eighteen years, she could hardly remember any other way of seeing the world. On this particular Sabbath, there was a special excitement at the synagogue, where she regularly went to worship. A Galilean preacher and prophet, Jesus of Nazareth, had arrived in town and would be teaching there. She and the others in town had heard reports about Jesus–how he talked about God’s reign arriving soon and how he healed sick people. She was not sure how many of the rumors to believe, but she was trying not to get her hopes up. Her life already had too many disappointments to count.
When she entered the synagogue, the place was abuzz. As Jesus began to teach, however, the room was hushed. Moments later, his words turned from teaching to invitation. He had caught her eye–no mean feat, given that he had to lean over and incline his head to do so. “Come here,” he said to her. She slowly made her way to the front of the assembly.
What happened next amazed the whole congregation. “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When this man, Jesus, spoke those words and put his hands on her broken, bent body, she felt power surge through her. Without hesitation, she straightened her once crooked back. She stood tall and praised her God . . .
Such freedom I hear when I explore this passage from her perspective. We witness the profound impact that Jesus’ healing had on this woman’s life. Imagine – 18 years – which in those days was half a lifetime – of pain inhibiting her daily health and interactions. She was forced to spend life looking down at the ground, and she couldn’t look people in the eye. Her healing frees her from the burden and pain of her physical limitation, allowing her to feel alive and set free. For the first time in 18 years she can look into the eyes of her friends and raise her head to look up at the sky. The whole world is now in her line of sight. She can look around at the crowd around her and see Jesus – this teacher who has just given her new life and a new beginning. She may even feel part of the larger group, perhaps for the first time. She stood among them, praising God for the incredible grace she received.
And then… the leader of the synagogue interrupts the joyous atmosphere and addresses the crowd about upholding the Sabbath. His words indirectly reprimand Jesus for healing on this sacred day of rest. The leader of the synagogue faithfully reads the Torah, upholding the strict interpretation of the law, which leads him to the understanding that the seventh day was set aside as a day of rest. No work was to be done on the sabbath. It was to be a day of rest and renewal, not work.
But Jesus responds with a question that challenges their understanding of Sabbath practices. He asks, “Wouldn’t you untie your animals and lead them to water on the Sabbath? How much more valuable is this daughter of Abraham, whom Satan bound for eighteen long years?”
Jesus, in his compassionate wisdom, reminds them that acts of kindness, mercy, and healing are not violations of the Sabbath but rather expressions of its true purpose—to honour God and find rest from the burdens that bind us. What better time to do healing than on the Sabbath, to bring freedom and life and renewal to this woman!
Jesus goes beyond simply defending his actions; he dignifies the woman by calling her a daughter of Abraham. In doing so, he gives her a name and a place of belonging within the community. Jesus tears down the barriers that society had erected around her, pulling her more deeply into the fold of God’s people. No longer an outsider, she becomes an insider, seen and understood by Jesus.
Imagine the mixed emotions that must have flooded this woman’s heart when the leader of the synagogue criticized her healing. After experiencing such liberation and joy, she may have felt instantly shut down, pushed back to the margins once again.
Healing this daughter of Abraham – one of God’s people – on the sabbath frees her and liberates her so that she can truly experience Sabbath time. If the purpose of Sabbath time is also to honour God – Jesus highlights that he is honouring God in this act of compassion on the woman. It is holy work to show compassion on the Sabbath.
God shows up, and draws the circle a little wider to let this woman in. Jesus doesn’t reject her, which would appear to be pushing her back to the outside of society… instead he pulls her more deeply into community.
Because Jesus saw her and healed her, this woman is now able to see the world differently. Through Jesus’ healing touch, her perspective is transformed. She can see where she is going, she can see what Jesus sees and who Jesus sees and who needs healing like she did. No longer confined by her physical ailment, she now sees the world through the lens of compassion and grace. She becomes attuned to the needs of others, just as Jesus saw and met her own need. She experienced the mercy, grace and love of God offered without hesitation by Jesus and now enables her to extend the same to others.
Jesus did not allow religious traditions or static rules get in the way of God’s grace. Jesus operates well within the Jewish tradition of the day – I don’t think he would consider himself a Sabbath breaker – but he is also not one to allow religious traditions to get in the way of people being included in the community and experiencing God’s healing love. Jesus always errs on the side of inclusion and compassion.
In our own journey as a community of faith, we are called to emulate Jesus’ example. We strive to be a community that breaks down barriers, welcomes the marginalized, and extends compassion without hesitation. Do our practices here at MSUC help us to become that kind of community or get in the way?
When people come here do they feel seen, understood, and embraced? Do they experience the liberating power of God’s grace, like the woman in the scripture, whose burdens were lifted, and whose heart was filled with praise? Do they hear the welcome that we share at the beginning, and then FEEL that welcome through their experience?
Some of you are in that category. You came here to check us out and never left because this felt like home. Maybe you felt like the woman in the scripture that your burdens felt like they were lifted and you could raise your hands and look to the sky, praising God for the experience of grace.
Last year our Thrift Shop Manager’s daughter Jolene, made a video for Instagram, which featured the students who were working at the shop for the summer through the federal summer job grant for students. She asked them, what does Mount Seymour United Church mean to you? One of the students said “it’s a place for me to express myself truthfully, and where I can feel welcome and safe.” Another student said “the community”. Another student said “It has given me opportunities to better myself and help others in an impactful way.” My heart was so warmed when I saw that video and what these students said, but you also may remember that video went viral – or at least viral for us… it had been viewed by 6500 people within the first few hours. We had several new customers come in on Thursday to the shop who came in to “check us out” because they saw that video on Instagram.
Sometimes it is difficult to spread the message of God’s love and inclusion that we are trying to share here through our worship and our programming, but it is a message that we want to go viral!! I wish that everyone had a place where like our summer student said – they feel welcome and safe, or they feel like they have the opportunity to better themselves and help others in meaningful ways.
Jesus healed the woman by making her feel seen and understood in that crowd. Who are the people in our community who are not being seen? What barriers might we still have up that are preventing people from engaging in our community or feeling like they belong?
And let us reflect on our individual lives. Are there patterns or habits that keep us from experiencing the fullness of God’s grace? Are there areas in which we need healing and liberation? Just as Jesus reached out to the woman with compassion, he invites each of us to stand up, be set free, and live fully.
With gratitude, let us celebrate a God who breaks down barriers, even on the Sabbath, and who invites us into a community of love, inclusivity, and transformation. May we continually extend the liberating grace we have received, embracing all those who seek healing and belonging. Thanks be to God, who offers us new beginnings and the freedom to live fully in the abundance of love. Amen.