Christ is in our midst! He is and ever shall be!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Perhaps the healing by our Lord of the woman severely disfigured in her body, suffering from hunchback syndrome, is a commentary or illustrative of the apostolic words heard today from Ephesians:
But God, Who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (Ep. 2:4-10).
Christ God is front and center, the proverbial heart and soul of all healing – be it the healing of body or the healing of soul. And it is all the mercy of God, an act of His great love for us trapped by the disfiguring power of sin and enslaved to death. It is all a prelude or foreshadowing of what we shall experience in, as St. Paul says, “the ages to come.”
This is not the first time our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ has gone head-to-head with the Pharisees over healing on the Sabbath. This is the second time (Lk. 6:6-11) now and there remains still a third time in this Gospel (Lk. 14:1-6). There is a skewed understanding on the part of the Pharisees, it seems, about God’s doing good on the Sabbath day of rest. Our Lord will certainly put that into perspective when, on Great and Holy Saturday, we will find Him at work resting in the Tomb all the while ransacking, plundering, and pillaging the depths of Hades, that is, doing the work of salvation and completing His divine rescue mission of fallen Adam and Eve by the undoing of the stronghold of sin, death, and the devil!
We find our Lord quite fittingly – and expectedly as Lord of the Sabbath – attending the services of God’s people (Lk. 4:16). In fact, He is teaching both by His word – and soon – by His very action. We find there as well a woman severely malformed, having, as the Gospel says, “a spirit of infirmity” from which she suffered emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually for 18 long and agonizing years. Whether or not there is a demon involved in her disfigurement, we’re not sure. What we do know is the devil is very much at work in this affliction because the devil is the source of all physical, psychological, and spiritual ailments. Indeed, “the whole of creation groans” – including us! – under sin’s bondage, and, together with all of creation, we eagerly await “the glorious liberty of the children of God,” which is to say, “the revealing of the sons of God” (Rm. 8:18-27).
Whether or not this is a chance encounter between our Lord and this sorely disgraced daughter of Abraham, we can’t say with absolute certainty. But, we can say with relative certainty that rarely are such encounters happenstance, especially when they involve Jesus. Jesus, the God and Lord of the Sabbath is at prayer in the synagogue and so is this nearly-disabled woman. As one Biblical commentator observed regarding this passage, this woman, despite her severe malady, is nonetheless at worship and prayer with her fellow believers. Although most of us would use such physical debilitation as an excuse to forego the sacred assembly of the people of God, she, on the other hand, militates against it, not permitting the evil one to hold sway over her soul. And, in so doing, she teaches us a thing or two about the perseverance of faith and hope in God despite all things to the contrary! Her malady does not define her or dictate to her. Rather, she rises up to enter there into the courts of the Lord’s House, to gather with Israel to worship and to pray and to offer up thanksgiving (Ps. 5:7; 99 :1-5). And, it is there that she will be raised up, no doubt, in answer to 18 years of persevering, unceasing prayer (Lk. 18:1-8; 1 Th. 5:17). There, in the house of prayer, this woman who had every right to stay home and surround herself with self-pity and bemoan her condition, finds consolation. She finds – or better – she is found by the God Who has come in the flesh, bearing faithful testimony to what our Lord says a couple of chapters later in this Gospel: “’And shall not God avenge His elect, who cry day and night unto Him, though He bear long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily.’” And, then, Jesus closes that promise with an ominous comment that, in the Greek, is answered in the negative, “’Nevertheless when the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?’” (Lk. 18:1-8).
Beloved, if we desire to receive the good things of God, we need to take this woman, this daughter of Abraham, as our guide and do what she, I’m sure, has at times had to do: compel ourselves into the House of God despite our emotions, despite our maladies, despite all those things we typically accept without question that keep us out of the House of God and keep God at bay. Thus, denying ourselves the very riches of God’s mercy and grace – the very love of God we yearn for and need the most. Of course, I can hear the very arguments being mustered already that we don’t need to go to church to be found of God or to have Him answer our prayers or to honor God. Let me answer as gently as I can, beloved, but without mincing my words as a shepherd of your souls, “That is a Gnostic and Non-Orthodox argument.” Without such incarnated faith like that of this daughter of Abraham, Sacred Scripture tells us, “it is impossible to please [God], for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a Rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Ps. 33 :1-22; Hb. 11:6).
In another synagogue on another Sabbath day, our Lord once declared to those souls gathered there the words of the great Prophet Isaiah as He inaugurated His messianic ministry:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the Gospel to the poor. He hath sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord’ (Is. 42:7; 61:1-2; Lk. 4:16-18).
And the Evangelist notes that “the eyes of all those who were in the synagogue were fastened on Him.” Jesus concludes, “’This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears’” (Lk. 4:20-21).
Now, to be sure, there were those who had heard Him who were astounded by His words of pure grace – the nectar of God. But, there were others who were filled with wrath and who sought to silence Him and to kill Him because they thought they knew Him because they knew His family. But, they were mistaken and misguided because they didn’t really know Him (Lk. 4:22-30), just like the synagogue ruler today. The synagogue ruler thought he knew the Scriptures, but only displayed his lack of knowledge of the Word of God by His encounter with the Word of God made flesh. If sinners care for their beasts of burden and other livestock on the Sabbath, how much more should this severely bent over woman who is a daughter of Abraham, moreso, the daughter of the true and living God in Whose image she has been created and Whose likeness she is created to bear, how should this human being not benefit from the same kindness and grace shown to animals?
But, she does indeed receive the saving and healing grace of God. Even on this Sabbath day – the divine day of rest. The Sabbath is a day of creation (Ex. 20:8-11); the Sabbath is a day of the Exodus – of deliverance from slavery and bondage by the mighty hand and outstretched arm of God Himself (Dt. 5:12-15). And so, on this Sabbath day, mighty God in the flesh of the Son stretched forth His hands and there broke the disfigured woman free of her bondage, free of her shackles, re-creating her and restoring her as she was created to be. The God who created animals, fashioned with His own almighty hand man – male and female – and to these He gave the ability to be partakers of His own divine nature (WS 2:23; 2 Pe. 1:4). If animals can receive mercy, why not even moreso sinners disfigured by sin and enslaved to death? Indeed, here on this Sunday and every Sunday, the day of the New Creation and commemoration of the New Exodus in Jesus Christ, we are being set free – loosed from our infirmities and raised up in the dignity befitting the sons and daughters of God – restored, renewed, regenerated, saved, healed, and loved, if we avail ourselves of God’s rich mercy and great grace here in His Church. For it is here that we come face-to-face with the Truth Himself and are enabled to believe in our hearts and to confess with our lips (Jn. 8:31-36; Rm. 10:9), “Thou art a good God and lovest mankind, and unto Thee do we send up glory, to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.”
But God, Who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Ep. 2:4-10).
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!