When Jesus saw her he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” (Luke 13:12).
In the first year it felt like stiffness, the kind of stiffness that greets you first thing in the morning, making it hard to turn your head or get out of bed. After twelve years her stooped posture was simply a fact of life. Standing up straight had become a memory. By the eighteenth year her stoop had become a full-blown bend in her spine. She was doubled over.
Of course, this is far more than Luke actually tells us. Our imaginations are prone to supply many details when we read about a woman who had been afflicted for eighteen years, now folded in half, unable to watch birds fly. What Luke does provide for us is the drama of a true Sabbath: A burdened and bent over woman makers her way to a place of worship, and there she finds grace.
Jesus was teaching in a synagogue one Sabbath when this woman showed up, her presence barely noticed. After eighteen years, the synagogue regulars knew her story pretty well. But on this day her story changed. The woman who had entered the synagogue looking at the floor left the synagogue praising God, her face and hands lifted up. Jesus had set her free from her infirmity.
Luke makes use of a particular Greek word three different times in this story. Twice it is rendered “set free” and once as “untie.” That’s what Jesus did for this woman on the Sabbath. That’s what Jesus wants to do for us. That’s why God gave us the Sabbath to begin with.
The Sabbath isn’t defined by a religious activity. Going to the church (synagogue) and sitting through the service does not constitute a Sabbath day. A true Sabbath involves taking the burdens that shackle both body and soul and bringing them before God – and then anchoring them in what God is doing.
All the action words belong to Jesus. A series of four active verbs speak to what Jesus is doing: He sees the afflicted woman, he calls her forward, he speaks to her, and he lays his hands on her (vv. 12-13). The woman’s actions come after all this. She stands up straight and praises God.
Sabbath is for all of us who can’t quite straighten out our own lives. It’s has little to do with what we do for God and much to do God’s activity in and around us. Sabbath anchors us in the grace of Jesus, reminding us that the most important actions in our life, and even in the world, are Jesus’ actions.
God is at work all the time – and that means that we, for a period of time, don’t have to be. We are loosed, set free. Sabbath.
We give you thanks, O God, for the grace that sets us free. We easily reverse the Sabbath, making it our work for you, keeping rules, doing religious things. Anchor our lives in your grace, reminding us daily that your actions are at the center of all things, even our very lives. We will respond in praise, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.