by Russell Smith
Gospel: St. Luke 13:10-17
Back when I was in Middle School, my grandfather started to slip into senility. Over five years he degenerated from an active man to a hollow shell. The man I remembered as full of laughter, the man who taught me checkers, the man who solved the Rubik's cube before I did, the man who would take me on walks with his French poodle Pierre, that man was gone. When I visited him in the nursing home, he didn't even recognize me. I think it was hardest on my dad. Dad had to be the strength and comfort for his mother, but he also had to watch his own father slowly disintegrate. As I look back at it now, I recognize the toll this took on my father. The loss, the mourning, I could see it in his eyes. It came out occasionally in some wistful comments he made about his father. Dad carried a heavy burden. He was weighed down under the circumstances of his life at that time.
Our scripture passage tells us a story of a woman who is burdened. This woman is weighed down under the circumstances of her life. As we explore this scripture, I want you to call to mind your burdens. What weighs you down? What makes you feel defeated? What are those things in your life that sap your strength and vitality, and your energy? Some of you may have a besetting sin that you just can't lick. Some of you feel outcast at work or at school. Some of you look to your future and see nothing but a question mark. Some of you may have a dysfunctional friend or relative who completely drains you. Whatever your burdens are, bring them to mind as we explore the gospel together.
Our ongoing series has been on "The Kingdom has come," and we've seen over the past several weeks how Jesus Christ, the Messianic King, has come to usher in the kingdom of God into our present reality. We've seen that both Jesus' teaching and his miracles proclaim the arrival of this kingdom. Therefore, every miracle has a purpose. The miracle in this story proclaims the freedom from bondage that Jesus achieves for us in his kingdom. We'll see that we are freed from bondage in the spirit, and that we are freed from bondage to the law, and ultimately we are freed so that we may respond with praise and rejoicing in the mighty acts of the Lord. That having been said, let's dig into the text.
"Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And 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" (Luke 13:10-11).
Luke starts us off with Jesus teaching in the synagogue. Then he presents us with a picture of this bent over woman. If you've ever seen a woman with this condition, you know it's got to be painful. You see it most often in elderly women who didn't get enough calcium over the years. This happened to my grandmother she was bent almost like a question mark, and the vertebrae in her spine had fused together so that she was unable to stand up straight. It's a painful condition, and the poor woman in this story endured it for 18 years.
Now notice something else. In verse 11, Luke attributes this condition to a spirit. The KJV and the old RSV translate the Greek much more explicitly, calling it a "spirit of infirmity." Luke is subtly telling us that this woman had much more than a physical problem. In this case, the pain of her condition was caused by an evil spirit. Please note that this is not demon possession like we saw with the Gerasene demoniac. Rather, this is more like the torment that Job endured when Satan afflicted his body.
Now look at verses 12 and 13. The woman does not call attention to herself, crying out, "Lord Jesus, have mercy on me." No. Jesus notices her, Jesus calls out to her, Jesus frees her from her bondage. By freeing this woman from the evil spirit, Jesus demonstrates his authority over the spiritual realm. He demonstrates that the new kingdom has come. He demonstrates the truth that Satan has been bound and the kingdom of God is victorious. Think back to Matthew chapter 12 when the Pharisees accused Jesus of being in league with demons. In verse 28, Jesus replies, "But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you." Then he goes on to ask, "How can one enter a strong man's house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man?" The strong man is Satan. Jesus has bound Satan, and Jesus unbinds those who trust in him. The kingdom has come and has freed us from spiritual bondage.
Not only have we been freed from spiritual bondage, but we've also been freed from bondage to the law. Look at verse 14. The synagogue leader responds in a very interesting way. He doesn't address Jesus; he addresses the crowd. He doesn't refute what Jesus has done; he says, "Here is my teaching." What we see is a battle of two authorities: the synagogue leader desperately trying to hold on to his control by binding the people to his narrow interpretation of the Law, and Jesus proclaiming freedom freedom to follow the intent of the law.
Luke takes great pains to show Jesus' concern for the Sabbath. In Luke 6:1-11, Luke gives us two stories: Jesus and his disciples picking grain; and Jesus healing a man with a withered hand. In the first, Jesus declares himself Lord of the Sabbath. In the second, Jesus orients us toward the concept of doing good on the Sabbath. Later, in chapter 14:1-6, Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath and gives us the ox-in-the-ditch principle helping those who are in need on the Sabbath.
But look what Jesus says in today's story. Notice the language that Jesus uses of freedom and bondage. The synagogue leader uses the word therapeuo the word for healing. Jesus, however, keeps coming back to the words luo and apoluo the words for releasing and loosing the bonds. I believe that Jesus is making the point that something greater than healing is going on here. Yes, there is healing, but there is also something more than healing. The synagogue leader talks about the finer points of the Law while Jesus talks about freedom from bondage. Think about Paul's whole discourse in Galatians about freedom from bondage under the Law. He culminates in Galatians 5:1 with the bold phrase: "It was for freedom we have been set free." It seems to me that Jesus, in his disputations with the teachers of the Law, is making the same point. Jesus has shown his authority over Satan by casting out demons, and now he shows his authority by refuting the teachers of the Law. The kingdom has come and has freed us from bondage to the Law.
So we've seen that Jesus has come; he's bound the strong man and freed us from spiritual bondage and bondage to the law. What relevance does that have to our burdens those burdens that make life weary and toilsome and drab? What does Christ's victory hold for us? In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus says,
"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
What hope does he offer here? The woman in the story is freed from her physical affliction, but we live every day with the painful fact that life is difficult. Where's our victory? Must we live the rest of our lives with these burdens of having an alcoholic relative? Of living with attention deficit disorder? Of being the outcast at work? Where is my freedom?
In one sense, we all know that the freedom will be fully attained in the new heavens and the new earth. Christ, through his death, resurrection, and enthronement at the right hand of God, will lift our burdens. We will enjoy the fullness of abundant life with him. But I want to suggest to you that the freedom that King Jesus brings works for us right here and now. Jesus frees us to be more than our burdens. So many people let their burdens define them, and they are bound to these definitions. In effect, their lives become centered around the nucleus of their burden, and they shape their whole identity around that burden. Ted Turner is a great example. He was never able to win approval from his father. No matter what he did, it wasn't good enough. He never got close to his father. We all know that Turner went on to build a media empire, becoming one of the richest men in the world. A prominent business magazine voted him the most successful man of the year, and Ted Turner, while giving a speech to a group of entrepreneurs, produced that magazine as evidence of his own success. And then he held the magazine up in the air, he looked up and said, "Is this enough Dad? Is this enough?" That is a man who has let his burdens define him.
Jesus says it doesn't have to be that way. In Christ we have a new identity. We're not just some poor player strutting on the stage of life until the curtain comes down. We're children of God. I think it quite significant that Jesus, in refuting the leader of the synagogue, calls the woman a "daughter of Abraham." She has an identity that is greater than her burdens it's the identity that gave her hope those 18 years of suffering, and that was the identity of being a child of her Father, the identity of being special to God, the identity of being the apple of God's eye.
Our burdens don't define the limits of who we are. This came clear to me when I was getting to know one of the new couples in our church in North Carolina. I knew that the wife had to take insulin shots, and trying to be sympathetic I asked her what it was like being a diabetic. She corrected me, "I'm not a diabetic. I'm a person with diabetes." Did you hear that? "I'm not a diabetic. I'm a person with diabetes." Our identity as children of God fits in there nicely. "I'm not a paraplegic. I'm a child of God in a wheelchair." "I'm not an alcoholic. I'm a child of God who struggles with alcoholism." "I'm not a social outcast. I'm a child of God who lives on the fringes." You may feel weighed down by your burdens, but Christ sees you as so much more. Christ sees you as a delight, and he calls out to you, "Come rest in me and be free."
We've seen that the freedom Christ offers is freedom from Spiritual bondage, it is freedom from bondage under the Law, and the whole point behind this issue of identity is to say that Christ offers us freedom to be children of God. The passage itself tells us how we respond to that freedom. Look at verse 13. When the woman was freed, she stood up and began praising God. In verse 17, when Jesus put the synagogue leader in his place, the entire crowd began rejoicing. Remember the Westminster Catechism: man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. What response do we see here: glorifying God and rejoicing in his works. We've been given this new identity to respond with praise and rejoicing.
I'll close by reminding you of a scene from the movie Braveheart. It's the first major battle scene between the Scottish and the English Armies. The Scottish lords are preparing to negotiate a treaty, and the soldiers, disgusted by the lords and afraid of the superior English cavalry, are starting to turn away and go home. Then William Wallace rides up with his men. And he gives a rousing speech. Basically, he says, "Yes, you can run away and live, but you'll live forever defined by your fear. On your dying day, you'll look back and want to come back and say to the English, No!'" He closes his speech riding his horse, wind whipping his hair, bellowing out, "They can take away our lives, but they can't take away our freedom!" The world can burden you. The world can weigh you down and abuse you. The world can even take away your life. But it can't take away your freedom your freedom to live as a child of God.
Source: IIIM Magazine Online, Volume 2, Number 29, July 17 to July 23, 2000
Sermons, Bible Commentaries and Bible Analyses for 5th Sunday in Great Lent Kfiphtho / Crippled Woman)
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