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ALL SHOOK UP Hebrews 12:18-end and Luke 13:10-17

Introduction – a story
A woman has been bent double from her youth. Slowly her shoulders curved. She was left behind by sisters who married whilst she remained alone. She was ridiculed and treated as an outcast. Children shouted “Hunchback!” at her or scurried by looking scared. She made friends with ants and caterpillars and marvelled at the anemones in the spring. Her only chance to gaze at the moon was in a rare puddle of rain. She saw the high Judaean hills only as reflections in the lake. But she has waited and listened and learnt the wisdom of patience, and the patience of the wise. She saw only a fragment of life. But who really sees the whole?

Her wisdom and patience include regular attendance at the synagogue. She could have grown bitter, turned against God and religion, but instead she comes and listens to the chanting of psalms and the reading of the Holy Scriptures. She hears words of hope for her people. She contemplates how others may be bowed down in ways that are not physical like her, but are none the less burdened. Her people, once freed from slavery, are once again suffering under the yoke of foreign power. The rich are weighed down by worldly cares and concerns. The rulers have their sights set only on what they can see at their feet. The poor are crippled by unpayable debt. Even the synagogue leader is bound by the rules and spends his energies on trying to keep the people in line.

Jesus sees and acts
Then one Sabbath her life is changed. She did not beg or pray for a cure – perhaps she used to, and has given up, or found that her prayers were answered in other ways. She hears Jesus has come to her synagogue and indeed he is there, explaining the scriptures in a way she has never heard before. It lifts her heart. She feels free, begins to sense a joy creeping over her heart. She stays in the shadows, in the corner where she has felt safe, away from too many gazing eyes, in the furthest part of the women’s enclosure. She has no friends to lower her on a mat through the thatched roof of a crowded house. She does not push her way through a crowd to reach out and touch the hem of the saviour’s robe. She does not expect healing, but she does know what it is to receive divine wisdom in her heart.

The teacher’s voice stops. There is silence in the congregation. She wonders what caused him to break off his sermon and then realises that the heads of women near her have turned in her direction. She only just has time to realise the teacher’s gaze has landed on her before she hears him speak again: “Woman, you are set free!” There is a disturbance, the preacher is making his way through the men, has even entered the women’s section, and is coming to her. She feels hands on her back – gently moving over her crooked spine. She has never felt the hands of a man on her, let alone a healer’s hands. The hands move and lift her chin. Instead of resistance in her back as she tries to look up, the stiffness falls off. There is the man! He smiles, and then breaks into a laugh. She holds her back, stares round in amazement, and is then engulfed in an enormous embrace by the shaking, laughing healer. All the years of patience and wisdom gather within her, falling back from the embrace, she flings her hands in the air and lets out a cry of relief and joy. The bonds which kept her imprisoned have been released. She is free! She is able to stand up straight! She can look everyone around her in the eye!

Commotion uncontrolled
The synagogue is in an uproar. The congregation is shouting and the service has come to an abrupt end long before the proper ending. Some are rejoicing with the healed woman, jumping up and down in their glee. Some are complaining at this interruption to their worship. Others are remarking loudly about what they have just witnessed. Trying vainly to be louder than all of them is the synagogue leader. He is shouting for order, for calm. He is trying to regain control of his congregation. But if only he could hear himself! Has he any idea what he sounds like? When his attempts to be heard by everyone fail, he starts turning to individuals. “There are six other days of the week to do work. Come to the synagogue on those days! The Sabbath is sacrosanct, meant for rest and worship! This teacher is a scandal! Throw him out! Order, I say, order!” But no-one listens. The people of his congregation know what they have seen and how good it all is. God seems to have come alive in their worship, despite the commotion. It gives them all hope.

Commotion controlled
The Jesus motions for order and for silence. The synagogue leader is relieved that some semblance of order is regained, but looks humiliated that it was not he who managed to get control. He attempts to repeat himself, appealing to the wide-mouthed congregation: “Six days shalt thou labour and on the seventh do no work! Healing is work! The synagogue is open every other day of the week, and all may come and be healed then!” The congregation laugh at him. He retreats to his special seat. Jesus takes centre stage: “Hypocrites! Play actors! This woman has been coming here for years and you did not do anything for her. Hypocrites! Play actors! I know full well you will go out from this Sabbath worship, go straight to your animals, untie them and lead them to the water trough. Work? What is work? What is healing? Is it not to unbind that which is bound? Is it not to lead the tethered to refreshment? Is it not to show humanity? This woman is a child of Abraham, like all of you. Why should she not be treated as such and shown compassion, no matter what day it is? Is this not worship, to lose the bound, to free the yoke?” Cheers broke out and the service ended with a spontaneous psalm of praise that all knew off by heart. Alleluia!

Telling the story
Who told this story? Who were the ones to whom it was told? It was told immediately afterwards by the congregation members as they went to take their animals to water, as they sat in the cool of the shade contemplating what they had witnessed in the morning. It was told the disciples as they walked along behind Jesus as he travelled to the other villages in Galilee. It was told by the woman herself, countless times over, perhaps in old age to her children and grandchildren whom she was able to bear after Jesus had touched her on that glorious and wonderful Sabbath. The people who heard it first were those who lived in the same culture and recognised all the overtones and resonances of the story. They clapped their hands in delight and exclaimed how they could hardly believe it. They laughed at how stupid the synagogue leader looked and clucked their tongues incredulously.

But then the story continued to be told and retold. It was told in places other than Galilee and in the decades after Jesus had died and gone to heaven. It was told in Greek and Latin to people who were interested in the story of Jesus. As it was told over and over its hearers and tellers reflected on what it might mean for them.

Commotion recalled
This story was connected to other stories of Jesus. The stories of Jesus were connected to the stories God’s people heard and told. They realised that others had said similar things as Jesus: that rules were all very well, but sometimes those rules can become crippling in themselves. The synagogue leader, in his way, was just as bent as the woman who had been healed. He was weighed down with laws and regulations. Perhaps he needed healing just as much as the woman. Perhaps God’s people tend to act too much like those who came to Mt Sinai when the Ten Big Rules were given, and cowered when the earth shook, and God seemed to come down in fire and storm. They are crippled over in fear of God, and can never look at the wider scene. There is another sacred mountain, Zion, and God’s Son invites all to approach with joy and confidence. God cannot be kept at arm’s length, tied up in rules. He sees each one, comes over and embraces you with healing and freedom when you least expected it. Now doesn’t that leave you all shook up?

Copyright © Rev Paul Smith

 

   


 
 

God of glory,
the end of our searching,
help us to lay aside
all that prevents us from seeking your kingdom,
and to give all that we have
to gain the pearl beyond all price,
through our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Amen

 


 

 



Acknowledgements