Text: Luke 13:10-17
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Glory to Jesus Christ!
Dear Brothers and Sisters, you know how much I love the Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete. It’s so rich and has so much to say to us not only about repentance, but about all aspects of our spiritual life. In it we find lots of examples from the Scriptures that correspond to the bad things that we do, and the bad ways that we think. For example, “You have imitated Ham, that spurner of his father, my soul. You have not covered your neighbor’s shame by returning to him looking backwards.” That’s Ode 3, verse 7, from Thursday of the 5th Week of Lent. But there are other verses that urge us to imitate the righteous figures in the Bible. Let me share a few of those. ODE 3, verse 20: “Imitate that Priest of God and solitary King (Melchizedek) who was an image of the life of Christ...” And another, Ode 5, verse 5: “Imitate, wretched and worthless soul, righteous Joseph and his pure mind, and do not be wanton with irrational desires, ever transgressing.” And another from Ode 5, verse 18: “Imitate, wretched soul, the woman with the issue of blood. Run to Christ and grasp His hem, that you may be healed of your maladies and hear from Him, ‘Your faith has saved you.’" And now this one, from the same Ode, verse 19. “Imitate, my soul, the woman bent earthward; come and fall down at the feet of Jesus, that He may straighten you to walk upright in the footsteps of the Lord.”
Did you hear that? “Imitate... the woman bent earthward!” Now we just heard the Gospel about what happened on that Sabbath day in the synagogue. We heard about the healing, and about the anger of the ruler of the synagogue. We heard how Jesus confronted the hypocrisy of that ruler. We have also read or heard sermons on the condition of the woman who was healed, how her affliction was brought about by demons, how her being bent over represents the brokenness of humanity, and how the number 18, three sixes, the number of her years of sickness, represents the whole of mankind, three meaning completeness and six, the number of man. But have we ever thought about the righteousness of the woman bent earthward? Have we ever thought that we needed to imitate her, as St. Andrew of Crete recommends? Let’s take a look and see what the Gospel shows us.
“Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up. But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, ‘Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.’ And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.”
So where is Jesus? He’s in the synagogue, a local house of prayer, study and teaching. He’s in the main section where the ruler and the elders sat in the “chief seats,” where the men were seated, where the central platform was located where the Scriptures would be read and teaching would be given. Jesus was standing on this platform. (Can you think of a similar image in Orthodox Christian worship?). So where is the woman who is bent over? She is in the section designated for the women. We don’t know if that’s in a gallery above (as was the case in the Temple in Jerusalem), or behind a barrier at the rear of the building, we just don’t know. What we do know is that she came that Sabbath Day to the synagogue in spite of what must have been excruciating pain from her infirmity, and in spite of her embarrassment from being stared at, whispered about, made fun of. She was determined to be there at all costs that day. Why? Because she believed in Jesus. She believed in Him with every ounce of her being, and nothing was going to deter her from hearing His Life-giving words. Was she only there to be healed? The ruler of the synagogue assumed that to be the case, based on nothing. She didn’t ask to be healed. She didn’t cry out, she didn’t make a spectacle of herself by disrupting the teaching. She was just there to listen, to hear, and to be saved. It was Jesus Who spotted her. It was Jesus Who truly saw her! It was Jesus who recognized her humble and attentive heart. She remained in the women’s section of the synagogue, Jesus didn’t go to her. The Bible makes it clear that He called her to come to Him. He laid His hands on her, in front of all the elders and all the men, and said to her, literally, “You are set free!” What an amazing display of faith! What a priceless exemplar of humility! But now you might well ask me, if she is so holy and devout, how did it happen that she was so terribly afflicted by demons? Well, who says that the righteous aren’t afflicted by demons? Even the holy apostle Paul says that he begged the Lord to take away from him a bodily “thorn in the flesh,” given to him by Satan, which troubled him, but the Lord said “No. My grace is sufficient for you” (See 2 Corinthians 12: 7-9). And who knows, even the most devout can slip. Who can forget Noah getting drunk and naked, or David’s adultery and murder of Uriah, or even Peter’s thrice-denial of Christ? Who can forget that terrifying icon from Sinai of the Ladder to Paradise, and all those monks, near the top, near to their reward, who are being pulled off by the snares and hooks of the demons. St Cyril of Alexandria says: “by what happened to her we may see that Satan often receives authority over certain persons, such, namely, as fall into sin, and have grown lax in their efforts after piety. Whomsoever therefore he gets into his power, he might afflict with bodily diseases, since he delights in punishment and is merciless.” We don’t know that she slipped, or if she did, what her slip might have been. We are not told what bad choices she may have made, but we are shown how she never gave up, she never lost faith, she never quit. She came seeking Christ. She came seeking eternal life. She came in faith and in humility. If these are not the qualities that all of us should emulate, then I don’t know what they might be! So again I remind us of the words of St. Andrew of Crete:
“Imitate, my soul, the woman bent earthward; come and fall down at the feet of Jesus, that He may straighten you to walk upright in the footsteps of the Lord.” Amen!