Last week, we heard the story about a fool. This morning, we heard a story about a woman who had been afflicted for eighteen years. Her illness was chronic and incurable. The poor woman could not even lift herself up to look at anyone. She was an unfortunate wretch who was an object of pity.
Jesus and His disciples had traveled through her city in Peraea, on their way from Galilee to Judea. They entered the synagogue on the Sabbath to teach because that was the Lord’s practice; to be in the Synagogue every Sabbath.
Notice that when Jesus saw her, He called her to Himself. It does not appear that she made any request to Him for healing, or expected anything from Him; but before she called He answered.
After Jesus’ tender touch, for the first time in eighteen years, this “daughter of Abraham” straightened her back, stretched to her full height, and, among the sons of Abraham, who perhaps now hung their heads in shame, she held her head high to the glory of God. Nothing honors the Savior any more than a heart of gratitude and a spirit of praise. Now, the Scripture was fulfilled, for Psalm 146:8 says, “The Lord raises those that are bowed down.” Although man cannot make straight that which God has made crooked, yet the grace of God can make straight that which the sin of man has made crooked.
We do not know why this woman had been bound by Satan. She apparently was not an immoral person, as she was a regular attendant at the synagogue despite her condition. It was at the synagogue that the Great Physician said to her, “Be loosed.” He laid His hands on her and immediately she was made straight, and subsequently glorified God.
Jesus’ touch upon the woman was not essential but was an aid to her faith. It was personal contact. And personal contact with Him is the important thing for us also. Sometimes, in times of trouble, we feel that the Lord is not with us, that He has abandoned us. If we feel this way, it is because we truly do not believe; because our faith is weak or is not there at all. How many of us are like the woman in today’s Gospel, who comes not seeking anything from the Lord but nevertheless is singled out by Him and healed?
The ruler of the synagogue rebuked her sharply, yet the woman had not come to the synagogue with any intention of being healed. The reaction of the religious ruler was strange indeed. He was more interested in the rule than he was in the fact that a poor woman, who had been shackled for eighteen years with an infirmity, had been freed.
The Sabbath question was the most important issue to these religious rulers. Yet, Sabbath prohibitions had become a burden too great to bear. The Sabbath question is still one of heated debate today. Jesus’ reply was that the Sabbath was not intended to prevent works of necessity or mercy. The application of this truth is as follows: some jobs today require Sunday employment, such as hospitals, law enforcement, and fire-fighting. Most other jobs, however, can often be performed on other days, even though Sunday itself is not to be kept as the Jewish Sabbath.
For Christians, Saturday is still the Sabbath. It is the day on which God rested after having completed His works of creation. It is also the day on which Jesus rested in the tomb after His crucifixion and death. On the Saturday Sabbath, we should refrain from unnecessary labor and remember not only the great works of the Lord, but the faithful departed as well. It is for this reason that in our Italo-Greek tradition the Church offers memorial services for the dead every Saturday after the Divine Liturgy.
Sunday, however, is the day of Christ’s Resurrection. It is the first day of the week, and it is also the “Eighth Day.” Sunday is the day “beyond nature and time” (St. Maximos the Confessor), “the beginning of another world” (St. Barnabas). “Whether you call it day, or whether you call it eternity, you express the same idea” (St. Basil the Great). For Orthodox Catholic Christians, every Sunday is a holy day of obligation.
Sunday is a day of worship and thanksgiving; it is the Lord’s Day” and we should observe it accordingly. First and foremost, we honor God by faithful attendance at Divine Liturgy, the solemn celebration of the Eucharist. Secondly, we spend time with family, primarily gathered together at the dinner table. We should not needlessly or deliberately violate these precepts, except for good reason. Remember, beloved, that if it was not for God’s goodness, mercy, and love, and Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, we would not have jobs to go to, or basketball, softball, and soccer games for our children to play and compete in, or picnics and barbeques to enjoy.
The important thing to learn is not to argue or debate about religion, but rather, to learn to live it. Religion is about love, religion is about God, for God IS Love. Without God, there would be no love in the world. Without God, there would be nothing. Love is our natural essence because we were created in the image and likeness of God. In creating us, God honored and endowed us with Himself.
Many people who witnessed Jesus heal the woman were shocked and taken aback when Jesus called her“a daughter of Abraham,” since such a description is usually reserved for the “sons” of Abraham. In front of all the upright religious folk, Jesus gave this humble woman a place of honor when He confirmed that she, too, belonged to the family of Abraham. We are all the children of Abraham and are united together in the love of God.
When the Pharisees chastised the woman, Jesus turned and reprimanded them by recounting the common practice among the Jews, which was not prohibited by ritual law, of watering their cattle on the Sabbath day. Those cattle that are kept up in the stable are constantly loosed from the stall on the Sabbath day and led away to watering. It would be a cruel thing not to do it. Leaving the cattle alone on the Sabbath day without being fed or watered would be worse than working them. Jesus applied this reality to the present case, saying, “And should not this woman, who was healed with only a touch of the hand and a word, be loosed from a much greater suffering than that which the cattle undergo when they are kept a day without water?” (Luke 13:17).
Jesus had sufficiently shown, not only that it was lawful, but that it was highly fit and proper, to heal this poor woman on the Sabbath day. But the people, although they heard Him gladly, seemed to go no farther with Him. Jesus’ rebuke had its proper effect. His adversaries were ashamed, while His admirers were amazed and rejoiced. Nevertheless, a polarity was developing regarding Jesus.
It is possible to become so religious and callous that you can exclude Jesus from your life too. You may know all the answers and be an expert in argument, but the real question is, “Have you ever let Christ into your heart?” There is no substitution for that. Are you filled with doubts? Are you puzzled or troubled? Are you bent over and weighed down with the burdens of life? Then come to the Lord Jesus Christ with your burdens and sins. You can come to Him anytime. He is ready and waiting to meet your need.
I truly admire the woman in today’s Gospel reading. Even with her pronounced deformity, she was in the synagogue on the Sabbath. I wonder if I would have that kind of courage to be in public with that kind of condition. Even more important she had not allowed her physical condition to impair her relationship with God. She had been this way for eighteen years all bent over and unable to stand up straight. The pain was sometimes severe. Yet, her habit was to be in worship to praise her Maker. That is real and true devotion.
I know people who will miss church if they have a slight headache. Or if there is a threat of a little rain. And if the sun is shining warm and bright on Sunday morning, forget about it! There are so many things one can do when the weather is nice, but getting up early on Sunday morning to go to Church is not one of them, especially if one was out until one or two in the morning drinking, partying, or gambling at the casino. But here was this woman, she was where she was supposed to be on the Sabbath: in the synagogue for worship and prayer. And because she was there, she received a very special blessing from God.
Society has a way dehumanizing us. When we allow this to happen, God disappears from our life. For this reason, Sunday, the Lord’s Day has become insignificant and unimportant to many people. The woman with the bad back is all of you here today. You are here not seeking anything from God. No, you are here because you love Him. You are here because you want to worship Him, to give thanks to Him, and to offer sacrifice to Him through the priest of the Temple. You are here because you want to be here. Sunday may be a holy day of obligation, and you are here to fulfill that obligation, but you understand that it is an obligation born out of love, not merely duty.
St. Luke writes that Jesus was frustrated at the legalism of the Pharisees and Temple rulers: “You Hypocrites! Give me a break! Everyone one of you, do you not untie your donkey, or ox and lead them to drink on the Sabbath? Of course, you do! Why should this woman not receive God’s mercy? “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.”
This is what the Lord requires of all of us: to act justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with Him, and to worship Him in spirit and truth all the days of our life. Remember the words of St. Matthew: “The Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath and one greater than the Temple is here in your midst.” (Matthew 12:12, 6-7).
Christ is always in our midst; He is always among us. He is here to heal our infirmities and diseases. Like the woman who was ill for eighteen years, we simply need to come to Him. As she faithfully and devotedly went regularly to the Temple, let us too, with true faith and devotion, come faithfully and regularly to this Temple to worship God in spirit and truth, to give thanks to Him, and to be strengthened, healed, and renewed by Him in the Holy Mystery of the Eucharist.
Let us keep holy both the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day, not for legal or ritual reasons, but out of love of God and a desire to be one with Him in and through Christ Jesus, our Lord, and Savior.