Crippled, in pain, bent over…
too young, too new, too old, too experienced –
too burdened, too much.
Holy One, we gather as your people, seeking your goodness.
When I was little my Mom would have us walk around the house
with a book on our head.
Posture… that was important.
We also would walk with the yardstick behind our backs.
That was done outside as the ends tended to knock things over.
At 12 years old, my brother was very tall for his age,
and he was often made fun of at school,
so he began to slouch… to look shorter, I guess.
This posture exercise was for him,
but I loved to ‘play the game’ as well.
Head up, look where you are going, see what is coming,
look people in the eye. Rise up! Shoulders back and relaxed.
We do not know the name of the woman in our scripture reading today,
not surprising… women were mostly invisible.
I was going to leave her un-named, but as I began to imagine her story…
I needed to call this person... something other than ‘she’.
So I have called this un-named woman… Ruby.
Jesus was teaching in the Synagogue... it was the Sabbath.
On this Sabbath a woman, Ruby, whom others called ‘bent over’
like on most Sabbaths, eagerly walked the distance to the Synagogue...
but today was warmer than usual and her pain was harsh.
We can only wonder if her spirit was crippled as well.
Was it internal suffering that caused her to be bent over…
were the burdens of life, just too much?
Going to the synagogue was one of the last pleasures Ruby had.
The familiar words and sounds provided some comfort.
Sometimes she could forget her troubles for just a moment.
Faint hope... seemed better than no hope.
Ruby had waited until the end of the day,
so that most people would have come and gone.
Looking into their faces was no longer possible,
but Ruby knew they looked at her.
In her heart she felt the pity of each glance….
and there were whispers.
Yet today, as tired as Ruby was, and even with increased pain,
she walked with a bit more hope.
The whole village had been buzzing about Jesus all week long.
He had been speaking on the village paths
and his words had stirred people.
There were rumours that he had healed many people.
Some said that he was the greatest storyteller
who had ever travelled through these parts.
Surely such a great teacher
would be asked to speak in the synagogue, on the Sabbath.
It had been such a long time since Ruby felt the pangs of curiosity.
She also felt a small sense of freedom, as everyone would be looking at Jesus, no-one would even notice her.
The ground beneath Ruby was familiar.
For eighteen years her hunched back had limited her vision.
Her face looked out at a limited world.
Bent over as she was, Ruby could not see the tops of the olive trees.
Mostly she could see feet and animals and dust.
Ruby could only dream of dancing clouds and finding pictures in their shapes.
At least she could see the faces of children…
and often they would smile at her.
Today the town was empty.
Everyone was inside the synagogue.
Quietly, Ruby slipped in the side door,
relieved that she had once again avoided contact with her neighbours.
As she made her way to the back of the crowd Ruby heard his voice.
She could not see the person,
but somehow she knew that the voice she heard
was the Voice of Jesus.
Perhaps it was the authority with which he spoke.
Perhaps it was the trace of a Nazarene accent.
Ruby barely had time to wonder.
He was calling her. Jesus was calling her.
Ruby saw feet shuffle and the crowd part.
Then… she heard him call her again.
The voice was kind and gentle… encouraging.
‘Focus on the voice’, she told herself,
as she felt her neighbours’ eyes upon her,
and for a moment wondered what she had done wrong.
Why was he calling her?
Why was Jesus singling her out?
Standing before him she watched as his chest moved up and down.
She wondered what his face looked like.
She wished she could see his eyes,
and imagined that they were gentle like his voice.
Focussing on the steady movement of his chest
she was startled when he began to speak.
“Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”
What was he saying? Could it be true?
After so many years of longing? Was she finally free?
Ruby felt the hands of Jesus, gentle upon shoulders.
Softly, yet firmly...... his touch eliminating the deep aching.
As the pain streamed away,
a clearness flooded her mind and spirit.
Jesus had called her. Not only was the pain in her body gone,
the burdens of her whole being were gone as well.
Jesus had called her up to the front of the synagogue
and in front of all the men and women of her village.
Jesus… had declared that she was set free.
Immediately Ruby stood up straight and began praising God.
Praising God in the synagogue!
She, a woman who had been ‘bent over’ and incapacitated for 18 years;
whose weakened spirit and crippled body had made life so difficult,
she... was released from her prison and stood up straight
and began praising God.
Ruby praised God, in the synagogue.
I wonder if the rest of the people also praised God?
I wonder if they rejoiced with Ruby and gave God praise?
I hope so… but if that happened, it would have been short-lived.
The praising continued... only until the leader of the synagogue stood up.
Now Ruby could look this person straight in the eyes.
He was indignant because Jesus had dared to cure on the Sabbath,
and he 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.”
For the first time in eighteen years, Ruby... who was ‘no longer bent’
looked closely at the faces around her.
Perhaps Ruby was about to bow her head when Jesus shouted,
“You hypocrites! Does not each of you, on the Sabbath
untie your ox or your donkey from the manger,
and lead it away to give it water?
Shouldn’t this woman, a daughter of Abraham
who has been bound for eighteen long years,
be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?”
Still standing tall and proud,
now with tears of joy streamed down her face
Ruby remembered that she was a daughter of Abraham and of Sarah.
She remembered that she too, was an heir to God’s promises.
The entire crowd began rejoicing
at all the wonderful things that Jesus was doing, and saying.
Shall we stand tall and rejoice at all the wonderful things,
that Jesus / God is doing?
Or are we letting the negatives of life
burden us and bend-over our hearts and spirits and lives?
We’ve all had days when the burdens of life
have weighed us down.
And ... we’ve all had those days when we have been set free
to be the people God intended us to be
and we can’t help but sing God’s praise.
If this was just a story where you could relate to a crippled woman
who is healed….
and a self-righteous leader who only knows how to play by their own rules….
then our mood, would depend on the kind of day we are having...
but this is not just an ordinary story.
Gathering in this place… as the Body of the Christ,
each of us is called to be Christ to one another.
Which means that in addition to identifying ourselves
with the one who is healed and the ones who are self-righteous,
we are also called to identify ourselves with the Christ
for we are called to be healers and lovers of truth and compassion.
We are called to set one another free!
We are called to lift one another’s burdens!
We are called to lift the burdens of injustice, disease,
sadness, poverty, and even the burdens of death.
Like the Christ, we are called to challenge any religious practices
and beliefs of our day, that are insensitive to peoples’ suffering.
We worship a God who created us to stand up full and free.
We are also called to have the courage to look God in the eye
and to ask God to share our burdens.
In fact, our God, the Holy One… invites us to ask.
We worship a God who yearns that we set one another free.
So do not let your burdens weigh you down.
Do not let rules and regulations and law...
turn you into self-righteous hypocrites.
Rise up, look around and in the faces of your sisters and brothers
see the face of the Christ …. and let them see the face of the Christ, that is in you.
Rise up! Let love win!
Don’t just sit there.