“Why Wait?”

Scripture – Luke 13:10-17

Sermon preached by Gregory Knox Jones

Sunday, August 21, 2022


I’d like everyone who is able to please stand up. Stand up as straight and tall as you can. Those who are sitting, sit up as straight as you can. Put your shoulders back and straighten your neck. Breathe deeply and look around at each other.

Now, bend over at your waist so that you are looking at the floor. Be careful not to bump your head on the pew in front of you.

While you’re focused on the floor, imagine what it would be like to go through a full day in this position. Imagine what it would be like to pull a plate out of the cabinet or fix a pot of coffee or pour a glass of water. Eating would be a challenge, but imagine trying to drink. Driving would be out of the question, but even walking somewhere would present formidable challenges. Conversations would be awkward. Trying to sing would be frustrating.

All right, before anyone gets woozy, straighten up and have a seat.

Today’s text tells of a time when Jesus was teaching in a synagogue. Perhaps he was commenting on one of the books of Moses or quoting one of the prophets or telling a parable. While he was teaching, a particular woman caught his eye. She probably caught the eye of everyone because she was bent over and unable to stand up straight. Our text says she had “a spirit that had crippled her.”

In the ancient world, it was commonly believed that illnesses were spawned by evil spirits. Today, she might be diagnosed with osteoporosis or camptocormia sometimes called “bent spine syndrome.” In our brief exercise we imagined what it would be like to go through a day bent over. It is unfathomable to imagine the hardships of living that way as this woman did for 18 years.

Our passage says that when Jesus spotted her, he ceased teaching and laid his hands on her and she was healed. She stood up straight, and to no one’s surprise, she began praising God.

We can scarcely imagine the effusive gratitude she felt after being freed from her imprisoning condition. Imagine your reaction if you had been there and seen this poor bent over woman shuffle in and then witnessed her able to stand up straight and see the world as you see it. It would be such an overwhelming rush of emotion that some of us would have been cheering and wiping away tears of joy.

Each of the gospel writers highlight the fact that Jesus had amazing power to heal. However, that is neither the end of this passage, nor its primary point. Instead, the healing is the match that ignites a fire between Jesus and the leader of the synagogue.

The instant the woman is healed, she gushes gratitude. Those who witnessed the healing stand in awe. But the leader of the synagogue turns sour. He becomes indignant and accuses Jesus of breaking one of the Big Ten. Perhaps for dramatic effect, he grabbed the scroll of Exodus, rolled it out and stabbing the scroll with his index finger pointed to the fourth commandment. He shouts at everyone present: “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured and NOT ON THE SABBATH DAY!”

Can you hear the sanctimony in his protest? Jesus certainly did. He snapped back: “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it to water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for 18 long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?”

If you untie your animal on the Sabbath so that it is free to get a drink, is it not even more important to free this woman from her bondage? Jesus appeals to the synagogue leader’s humanity. Beneath his words, he is saying, “Show some pity, man. This woman has been crippled for 18 years. Has your heart turned to stone? Are you so full of yourself that you cannot feel the pain of others?”

Some lack sympathy for people who are hurting. Perhaps they feel as if they never received the sympathy they deserved and so they withhold it from others. Or, perhaps feeling the pain of another makes them feel too vulnerable and so they mask themselves with an impenetrable veneer.

Appealing to the leader’s humanity may not have cracked the man’s hardened exterior, so Jesus reminded him of the preface to the Ten Commandments. He said, “Ought not she be set free on the Sabbath day?”

The preface to the Ten Commandments is this: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” The leader of the synagogue wants to focus on the letter of the law. Jesus highlights the intention of the law, which is to set people free from the things that enslave them.

What keeps you in bondage? An addiction? A gloomy self-image? An insatiable desire for more? A suspicion of others unlike yourself? A belief that you must be perfect? Guilt? What weight are you carrying that bends you over and forces you to look at the ground?

God wants to set us free from whatever enslaves us by forgiving us, by opening doors to new paths, by infusing us with courage to take the necessary steps, by giving us hope that we can discover better days.

In his response to the leader of the synagogue, Jesus does something else. He reminds the woman and everyone within earshot that she is not simply a pitiful figure. What does Jesus name her? The bent woman? The cripple? The pathetic? Does Jesus call her the depressed one? The incapable? No! He calls her by her true name. He calls her “a daughter of Abraham” which is another way of saying she is a child of God. She is a precious, beloved child of God who deserves to live a full life – and so do you.

As I pondered today’s passage, I thought about the words of the leader of the synagogue. He was correct that the woman did not have to be healed on the Sabbath. She could have been healed on another day. She had been this way for 18 years, why not wait another 24 hours?

It made me wonder if Jesus was actually angling for an opportunity to heal someone on the Sabbath. Did he leap at the opportunity to heal on the Sabbath not to demonstrate that he was a rebel who was hell-bent on defying tradition or undermining institutional religion, but rather to clarify the intention of the commandment to “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.”

It is a day to transfer our focus from the values of our world to the values of God. The Sabbath reminds us that the rules of the workplace are superseded by the rules of our Creator. Professor Ruthanna Hooke writes, “We live in a society and an economy that defines human value by how hard we work, how much we produce, how much money we make, and the Sabbath is profoundly alien to this whole way of assigning value. For this reason, to stop, to rest, to keep the Sabbath is deeply counter-cultural…(It) is an act of resistance to dehumanizing economic forces, the powers and principalities that seek to hold us in bondage.”1

The leader of the synagogue was not off-base when he reminded Jesus and everyone present of the importance of honoring the Sabbath. However, his insistence that the woman wait one more day before being healed overshadowed the heart of God’s law – which is compassion.

Early in Luke’s gospel, we hear Jesus’ first sermon. He preached it in his hometown synagogue of Nazareth on the Sabbath day. He said that God had sent him “to proclaim release to the captives.” For Jesus, every day is a day to heal, to set free, to extend compassion.

For 18 years this woman had not been able to gaze at a blue sky or watch swallows flit through the air or stare at the moon and stars. For 18 years, she had stared at her feet and the sandals of anyone who dared to come close to her. The leader of the synagogue said, “What’s one more day? She could have been healed tomorrow.”

With his actions, Jesus announced that there is no reason to wait. If someone is suffering, what better day than the Sabbath for healing and wholeness and peace?

All of us are bent people to some extent. For some, harsh blows have bent them so far over that they rarely peer into another’s eyes. Others have been fortunate to dodge the cruelest blows and tilt only partially. Honoring the Sabbath by resting and worshiping is healing balm for our crippled nature.

May God’s Spirit free you from whatever bends you over so that you may rise to your full stature.



  1. Ruthanna Hooke, “Set Free on the Sabbath Day, Day1.org, for August 21, 2022