Preached on Sunday, June 19, 2022.
As he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath, a woman was there who had been disabled by a spirit for over eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called out to her, “Woman, you are free of your disability.” Then he laid his hands on her, and instantly she was restored and began to glorify God.
But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, responded by telling the crowd, “There are six days when work should be done; therefore come on those days and be healed and not on the Sabbath day.”
But the Lord answered him and said, “Hypocrites! Doesn’t each one of you untie his ox or donkey from the feeding trough on the Sabbath and lead it to water? Satan has bound this woman, a daughter of Abraham, for eighteen years—shouldn’t she be untied from this bondage on the Sabbath day?” When he had said these things, all his adversaries were humiliated, but the whole crowd was rejoicing over all the glorious things he was doing.Luke 13:10-17
Our story begins with Jesus teaching in a synagogue. And we’re told that there is a woman present who for 18 years has suffered a horrible disability. Jesus says that she has been bound by Satan. More is going on than just the physical symptoms.
Let’s think about this poor woman. She’s a part of this Jewish community but yet is an outsider. Both because of her disability but also because she’s a woman. She’s there in the synagogue but very likely feels unseen by those around her. Now, can’t you imagine how she feels, at least a little? An outsider looking in. Unseen by others. Suffering in silence. No one who speaks on her behalf. Alone.
And so while none of us have been in her exact situation, we can probably each identify with what she might have been going through. And it’s for this reason that what happens is so profoundly important. What do we read? In the midst of teaching in the synagogue on this Sabbath, Jesus saw her. He noticed her. He paid attention to her. He gave her the dignity of being seen.
And he didn’t just see her in the sense that he was aware she was in the synagogue on this particular Sabbath. Jesus also saw her pain. He was acutely aware of her condition and of her need, of all that she had suffered over the last 18 years. Jesus saw her.
But we wonder sometimes, don’t we? Does God see me? Does he know how much this hurts? Does he understand how hard this is?
One of the things we see about Jesus in the gospels is that he saw and understood the people around him. He knew their hearts, he knew their pain, and he knew their stories. And while it may not always seem like it to you and to me, Jesus sees us. He sees you and he sees me. We have a Lord and God who sees us, who knows us, and who loves us. Even now. In this very moment. Let me ask: Do you believe this? Do you believe that right now Jesus sees you? That he sees your deepest hurt? Your biggest regret?
And this is where it gets personal, right? This is where we are challenged to take a risk. To move from seeing Jesus as an idea or as a doctrine to seeing Jesus as personally present among us. That he is here, now. That there is more going on in this room than what we’re doing.
Yes, we believe things about Jesus. But do we know him? And do we trust him? Do we trust that he actually sees us? That in seeing us, he also loves us with a compassion that words cannot convey.
Think about other stories of healing in the gospels. It’s interesting that in so many of the healing stories the person either comes to Jesus or is brought to Jesus by someone else. Here no one brings this poor woman to Jesus. Nor does she approach Jesus herself. It makes me wonder: did she know about Jesus? Had she heard the stories of him healing other people? If so, why isn’t this another one of those stories?
I think it’s important to realize that not everyone who needs healing wants healing. There are people for whom their illness or physical condition becomes their identity. As painful as it may be, it might also become a safe place, a comfortable place, a place to hide from the work of God in our lives. And Jesus sees even this. And whether this was the case with this woman or not, Jesus knew exactly what was going on not only with her body but also her heart.
Being seen by Jesus means having to acknowledge our pain. Letting ourselves be seen by Jesus means having to face up to and deal with stuff that is painful. But we don’t always want this because being seen makes us vulnerable. So acknowledging that Jesus sees us means having to take the risk of faith, of allowing God into our lives. And we might not always find this comfortable. Facing our pain is often painful. What about us? Do we want to be seen by Jesus? Do you want to be seen by Jesus? Are you ready for him to call out to you like he did to this woman in the synagogue?
Now, of course, in our story Jesus not only sees the woman. He heals her. It’s a beautiful part of the story: When Jesus saw her, he called out to her, “Woman, you are free of your disability.” Then he laid his hands on her, and instantly she was restored and began to glorify God.
Now, not only did Jesus see her. He touched her with his hands. A woman in her situation would have been regarded as unclean. Such a gesture would bestow even more dignity upon her. Just consider for a moment the compassion Jesus had on this woman. I confess that I can’t imagine what this must have been like for her. Imagine having this Rabbi notice you, pay attention to you, and speak to you—like a person worth his time.
Imagine having suffered as she did only to be freed, healed, and restored in an instant. Her back straightened, a lifetime of pain suddenly comes to an end because of this Rabbi named Jesus. Is it any wonder that she began to praise God? Many others who were there also rejoiced at her healing. Now, if only this were the end of the story. We want to hear: Everyone lived happily ever after. You would think everyone in the synagogue would rejoice and praise God.
But there was a synagogue leader present who, speaking no doubt for a number of other people there, accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath and violating Jewish law. There are six days when work should be done; therefore come on those days and be healed and not on the Sabbath day. In other words: How dare Jesus heal someone on the Sabbath?
As it happens, however, Jesus saw this man too. His penetrating gaze saw through to his heart and his hypocrisy. He saw how just as the woman was bound by the Enemy through this disability, this synagogue leader was bound by his rigid and narrow interpretation of the Sabbath law.
It’s worth hearing what Jesus said again: Hypocrites! Doesn’t each one of you untie his ox or donkey from the feeding trough on the Sabbath and lead it to water? Satan has bound this woman, a daughter of Abraham, for eighteen years—shouldn’t she be untied from this bondage on the Sabbath day? Jesus calls them out for being willing to see to the basic needs of livestock, but ignoring the obvious need of the woman right in front of them.
Let’s be honest. They didn’t even see this woman. A woman, by the way, who Jesus refers to as a daughter of Abraham, a daughter of the promise, one of God’s beloved children. A woman who deserves to be seen. Maybe there are times when we who are followers of Jesus and our churches fail to see people like Jesus does here. Who do we sometimes fail to notice? Who do we sometimes refuse to see because it’s not convenient for us? Whose pain do we not want to acknowledge? There are more people struggling or suffering than we often realize. Especially these days.
And think of the synagogue leader’s approach to the Sabbath. Don’t we sometimes want to confine God to our boundaries? Do we not sometimes use our ways of doing church, and our expectations of how God can and should act, as a way of actually avoiding God?
We’re told that the synagogue leader and those who agreed with him were humiliated by Jesus. Jesus saw them for the hypocrites they were and they knew it. That couldn’t have been a pleasant experience. What the story doesn’t tell us is what this synagogue leader did next. We know that many leaders who confronted Jesus remained angry with him and eventually plotted to have him arrested and crucified. But what about this man? We’re not told.
Here’s the thing. We all have moments in our lives when we need correcting and even rebuking. Jesus sees our hypocrisy. He sees how we let our religion get in the way of relationship. And he wants to do something about it. Not so that we’re left humiliated and angry, but so that we come to repentance and faith. So we’ll have our hearts and eyes open and that we’ll see like he sees. So that we’ll see people as he sees them.
And isn’t this what it means to love God and our neighbor? Because if we say we love God, but ignore the people in need around us, we show that our love for God isn’t as real as we maybe thought it was. Has there ever been a moment when you had to have your mind and heart changed about how you see someone else? Are there ways we might have to repent as individual Christians and as a church for not seeing the needs around us? Are our eyes open to the people around us, to their very real needs, physical and spiritual, and to how Jesus seeks to bring healing into their lives?
Here’s the thing: the reason the synagogue leader didn’t see the woman is because he also didn’t see Jesus. Didn’t see Jesus for who he is. The eyes of his heart were shut tight. He didn’t see the presence of God in Jesus and how the kingdom of God was breaking through in what Jesus was doing. He didn’t see Jesus. And this is why he reacted as he did when Jesus healed the woman in the synagogue.
We need to ask ourselves, each one of us: do I see Jesus? That is, do I know him? Have I encountered him in my life? Is he real to me? Are the eyes of my heart open to what he wants to do in my life, in our church, and in the lives of those around me?
Gathering in the synagogue on the Sabbath was similar to how we gather in church on a Sunday. In our passage, not everyone recognized the presence and power of God when it was right in front of them. For some, Jesus was not even welcome. That synagogue leader probably wished Jesus hadn’t come on that Sabbath. Others marveled and praised God for what happened.
What about us? When we gather are we expecting God to be present and at work? Do we want God to be in our midst? Or would we rather church be about what we do? What if Jesus wanted to do something among us on a Sunday morning that wasn’t in the order of worship, that wasn’t planned? Are we among those who would see the presence and power of God for what it is? Or would we be like the synagogue leader and react by saying, “Not here and not now!”
Jesus sees us. He sees you and he sees me. He sees our deepest needs with perfect clarity, whereas often our vision is a little blurry at best. He knows where we hurt. He also knows where we resist his presence and his work in our lives.
I don’t know what was going on in this woman’s heart and mind in the story. I don’t know why it’s not another story where someone runs and cries out to Jesus to be healed. But I do know this. Jesus saw her. And he healed her. He restored her. He made her whole. And as a result she glorified God. She was filled to overflowing with joy and thanksgiving. Jesus opened her eyes so that she could truly see the heart of God. Maybe she needed to have her faith restored as much as her body. Maybe going to synagogue was going through the religious motions. Maybe that’s why Jesus took the initiative.
Our story also, therefore, tells us this. Whatever Jesus sees when he looks at you and looks at me and looks at us, he is a good God. He is a loving Shepherd. His presence is a healing, gracious presence. Because of this, we can trust him. We can feel safe in his presence, because ultimately what Jesus wants for us is our restoration and wholeness. Think of it this way: Jesus wants to see us rejoicing. He wants us praising God. He wants to fill us to overflowing with joy and gratitude. Just like this woman.
So: when Jesus sees us, what is it he sees? Does he see people who might have a little trouble recognizing when he’s present and at work? Does he see people who actively resist his presence? Or does he see people who know they need him—and who want, indeed, long for him to be powerfully present among us?
Put another way: Are you willing to see Jesus for who he is? And are you willing to let him into your life? Are we as a church willing to let him? Do we truly want a Jesus who sees us and who can also heal and restore us? Jesus sees us. May God the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit open our eyes to see him.