by John Petty, Progressive Involvement
Gospel: St. Luke 13:10-17
10Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 17When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.
But he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And behold, a woman having a spirit of weakness, and she was bowed together and was not able to rise up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called to her and said, "Woman, you have been released from your weakness." And he placed the hands on her, and, at that moment, she was made straight and was praising God.
But the leader of the synagogue answered, displeased that Jesus had healed on the sabbath. He was saying to the crowd, "There are six days in which it is necessary to work. In them, therefore, come to be healed, and not on the sabbath day."
But the Lord answered him and said, "Hypocrites. Does not every one of you on the sabbath release his cow or donkey from the stall and lead (it) away to drink? But is it not necessary (that) this (woman), being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan bound--behold--18 years, be released from this bond on the sabbath day?"
And when he was saying these things, all his adversaries were shamed, and all the crowd was rejoicing upon all the glorious things coming into being from him.
Background and situation:
The passage is Lukan. For the first time since 12:1, we have a change in venue. Jesus had been speaking to disciples and large crowds. Now, he appears in "one of the synagogues." His presence in a synagogue is his first since leaving Galilee, and he will not visit another in Luke's gospel.
Key texts that lie behind this story include 4:16-19. This account of the beginning of Jesus' ministry was centered in a Galilean synagogue, and featured the key concept of "release for captives." The injunction against work on the sabbath is in Deuteronomy 5: 13-15.
The story is one of several in Luke that touch on issues of sabbath and healing. See also Luke 4:31-37, 6:6-11, and 14:1-6.
"Behold"--not translated in NRSV--"a woman having a spirit of weakness (asthenias)." Asthenia meant "weakness" or "infirmity" or "lack of strength." The word is still used today in medical and psychiatric circles and has much the same meaning as it did then: "lack of energy and strength." You can see it contained with the words of the disorder known as myasthenia gravis.
This woman, known since as "the bent woman," was "bowed together" (sugkupto) and "was not able to rise up at all" (me dunamene anakupsai eis to panteles). The last word in that phrase--panteles--seems unusual in this situation. It is formed from pas (all) and telos (goal, consummation). Literally, the word means "all-complete."
Panteles is usually translated to indicate that the woman was not able to raise herself up "at all." She was "completely" unable to do so. The word includes meanings greater than this, however. Panteles has a whiff of the eschatological about it. Telos, for example, usually refers to the consummation of the universe. Pan intensifies the meaning to "all-complete."
In sum, the use of panteles, with its eschatological overtones, suggests that this woman is not able in any sense--physically, spiritually, psychologically, eschatologically--to raise herself up.
She is the kind of person--crippled, female--that people tended not to see, but Jesus did. In verse 12, "Jesus saw" is in the primary position in the sentence, a subtle emphasis. After he saw her, he called her to him. Marginalized and in the shadows, the woman is brought to center stage by Jesus. In the new world of Jesus, it is precisely people such as the "bent woman" who are moved from the periphery of society to the center, which is what Jesus has done here.
He says to her, "Woman, you have been released (apolelusai) from your weakness." Note that apolelusai is perfect passive, meaning this has already been done, with continuing effects into the present. Moreover, in this situation, the expected verb here would be therapeuo--"to heal or cure." Yet, Luke uses apolelusai, a word which means "released" or "set free" or "forgive."
This makes sense in terms of Luke's larger point. The "weakness" of the woman is being caused by demonic powers. Recall that a "spirit" had brought this ailment in the first place. In Luke, physical illness is often paired with "unclean spirits" or demons. In verse 16, Jesus himself will attribute the woman's "weakness" to being held in bondage by Satan. What is called for, then, is not therapeuo--"healing"--but apolelusai--"release from bondage."
As in Mark, Jesus both heals and exorcises in Luke--in some cases, both at the same time. Healings and exorcisms are signs of the kingdom of God. Luke's special emphasis is that "release to the captives" had been explicitly stated in Jesus' mission statement (4:18). Here, indeed, such release has taken place.
"And he placed the hands on her"--healings which include the laying on of hands occur in 4:40, 5:13, and 8:54--"and, at that moment, she was made straight and was praising God." The woman had been unable to raise herself (anakupto). In 21:28, however, the people will be enjoined to "stand up and raise your heads (anakupto)" in expectation of Christ's coming. In her former condition, she would not have been able to do so. Now, with Jesus' intervention to release her from this bondage, she can. The woman is not confused as to the source of Jesus' power. She praises God.
The healing sparks controversy because it was done on the sabbath. (The word "sabbath" appears five times in seven verses.) The leader of the synagogue does not protest to Jesus, but rather, in an attempt to sway public opinion and establish his own authority, flatly declares to the crowd: "There are six days in which it is necessary (dei) to work. In them, therefore, come to be healed, and not on the sabbath day."
This is not an unreasonable argument. The woman has been afflicted for quite some time. What difference would one more day make?
The synagogue leader's remark is cagey. In his response, he alluded to Deuteronomy 5:13: "For six days you shall labour and do all your work." He argues from scripture--even Torah--but made a slight editorial addition to the text. He inserted the word dei--"it is necessary." (Dei does not appear in the Septuagint text of Deuteronomy 5.) He slightly reframes Deuteronomy 5:13 in such a way as to intensify it--"there are six days in which it is necessary to work"--and does so, apparently, on his own authority.
Luke usually uses the word dei in connection with divine imperatives. For example, Luke had recently used the word in 9:51 in stating that "it is necessary" for Jesus to go to Jerusalem. The synagogue leader's response not only asserts Torah, but also his own authority to interpret the will of God.
Lest anyone doubt for a second who has real authority here, Luke immediately follows by saying "the Lord answered him":
"Hypocrites. Does not every one of you on the sabbath release his cow or donkey from the stall and lead (it) away to drink? But must not this (woman), being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan bound--behold--18 years, be released from this bond on the sabbath day?"
Jesus is making an exceptionally strong argument based on Torah. Since the synagogue leader has invoked Deuteronomy 5:13, Jesus will invoke the verse that follows it. Not only are people not to work on the sabbath, but neither is anyone or anything else (Dt 5:14).
There were, however, exceptions and Jesus notes what is apparently a common practice, i.e. that of giving water to a cow or donkey a drink even on the sabbath. Later, the rabbis would allow for watering animals on the sabbath, provided that their halter could be removed with one hand, and that the water be on the owner's side of the fence. Though perhaps not yet codified, this appears to have been the practice to which Jesus is referring.
His point is that the woman is far more important than animals, yet animals are allowed more freedom on the sabbath than is the woman. This woman is a "daughter of Abraham," heir to the same promise as Abraham. She has been held captive by Satan for--"behold!"--18 long years. What better time for a "daughter of Abraham" to be released from the grip of Satan than the sabbath!
After all, as Deuteronomy goes on to say, the very reason for the institution of the sabbath is to celebrate freedom from slavery:
Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day. (5:15)
Jesus has taken the synagogue leader's very argument, and its same scriptural source, and turned it against him. Jesus' message is clear: "If the sabbath is about freedom, as your own passage from Deuteronomy clearly says, then it is entirely proper to celebrate the freedom of this woman from the bondage of Satan--yes, on the sabbath, even especially on the sabbath."
This is what lies behind Jesus' using the word "hypocrites." The word appears only three times in Luke--6:42, 12:56, and here, 13:15. The sense of its use in this context seems to be that current sabbath practices show greater compassion to animals than to a woman. Worse, they contradict the very meaning of sabbath.
Plus, Jesus asserts his own dei--"But is it not necessary (that) this (woman), being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan bound--behold--18 years, be released from this bond on the sabbath day?" If the synagogue leader is going to (attempt to) interpret the will of God, and get it wrong, Jesus will do so and get it right.
Give credit to the crowd. They recognize all this. They knew Deuteronomy 5 as well, and they know that Jesus has deftly but thoroughly skewered the poor synagogue leader. Not only the synagogue leader, but "all his adversaries" are made to look foolish as well. They were "shamed." The crowd sides with Jesus.
The final sentence of the lection rings with exultation: "...all the crowd was rejoicing upon all the glorious things coming into being from him." His healing action, advocacy for the woman, and articulation of the meaning of sabbath strike "all the crowd" as "glorious things" (endoxos).
Note especially the phrase "coming into being" (genomenois). Most translations have "were done by him." There is a perfectly good Greek word for "doing"--poieo--but Luke does not use it. Instead, he uses genomenois, which comes from ginomai, which is a word associated with creation.
"Coming into being" is not only a better translation, it associates Jesus' healing action on the sabbath with God's new world breaking in, and himself as "new creation." Such a one, incidentally, is certainly well-qualified to interpret Torah, and in the view of Jesus, the sabbath means freedom.
Bent and Broken: Sermon on Luke 13:10-17
by Rev. Dr. Luke Bouman, Valparaiso University
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The Kingdom's Inevitable Victory
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Devotional Thoughts for the Fifth Sunday of the Lent/Crippled Woman
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Sermons, Bible Commentaries and Bible Analyses for 5th Sunday in Great Lent Kfiphtho / Crippled Woman)
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