28th Sunday After Pentecost
We hear in today’s Gospel reading how on one Sabbath day, our Lord was teaching in the synagogue and a woman was brought to him who was suffering from an illness that had been plaguing her for eighteen years. This sickness had caused her to be stooped over so that she could not straighten up, but was forced to live out her life bent over with her eyes fixed toward the ground.
That is certainly a powerful image and metaphor for all of mankind! Our spiritual infirmities cause us to be stooped over, crooked, unable to stand upright… our eyes no longer gaze upward, but are cast down to the earth and the things of the earth.
And what happens in this Gospel scene? It is an unusual occurrence of healing because our Lord initiates it. His healing is not in response to an expressed need – instead He calls this woman over to Him and immediately looses her from her infirmity.
Why does Christ take this initiative to heal in this instance? He does so because, as the first line of today’s Gospel says: ‘He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath.’
Christ explicitly calls this woman over to Him and lays His hands upon her and frees her from her disease in the midst of the synagogue on the Sabbath. This was the lesson He wished to teach that day.
And, sure enough, the ruler of the synagogue spoke with indignation against Jesus because He had healed on the Sabbath, saying: ‘There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.’
Christ replies calling him a hypocrite… noting how they have no problem caring for their animals on the Sabbath and, if they are willing to do this, isn’t it even more important that a daughter of Abraham should be healed?
What a remarkable demonstration this is of the heart and the priorities of God!
What is the purpose of the law and of the Sabbath? All the laws of God are given to us to straighten us out, to guide and heal that which is broken. God’s desire is that His bent and crooked creatures should be straightened and returned to their full stature. His desire is that all men should be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.
And so, here we have this scene in the synagogue… this poor woman, who has suffered for eighteen years – bent over, crippled, unable to stand aright. And our Lord Jesus Christ is present in the synagogue with the express purpose of teaching the Jews gathered there. What more poignant illustration can be given of the desire and the will of God for mankind than to affect the healing and straightening of this person as the highest priority?
Let us contemplate this Gospel scene – specifically given to us today as we are in the midst of the Nativity fast. The laws of the fast are given to us for no other purpose than to help straighten us out, to guide and heal us from our brokenness toward wholeness.
Let us not lose sight of this Divine purpose and the great mercy which is given to us in this fasting period. Let us never degrade and reduce our understanding of the fast to just make it be about our diet. The purpose of the dietary restrictions are to help us in applying some discipline to our selfishness, to aide our body in freeing itself from passions, and to assist us in the remembrance of God.
If we are diligent about not eating meat during the fast, this is good. But let us be just as diligent to fast from judging others. If we take care to refrain from dairy products during the fast, this is good. But it is even more praiseworthy to refrain from unkind words and thoughts.
The Nativity fast can be especially challenging because this tends to be a time of year when the surrounding culture ramps up a festive atmosphere of parties and merriment. But I think we can be wise, and we can redeem the time and gain a great deal of spiritual benefit from this time of year. Our culture is more and more antagonistic toward Christianity, but there is a lessening of this antagonism at this time of year. Christmas carols can be heard, houses are decorated with lights, and scenes of the Nativity are before us. This is a blessed thing and we should not be distracted by it, but instead we should take spiritual advantage of it! Let us keep watch in fasting as best we can and let the love of Christ and the message of peace on earth and goodwill toward men bless and strengthen your soul.
Let us be focused, let us be sober-minded, let us walk circumspectly, working out our salvation in patient endurance and zeal. The task set before us is always the same, no matter what dramas unfold in the world around us. We are called to the healing of our soul and the straightening of our spiritual posture so that we can stand aright in the presence of our Lord and King. We do this through prayer, selfless love, living a Godly life, and approaching all things in that positive spirit of seeking spiritual nectar wherever we may find it.
May God grant us the grace and strength and determination to stand upright, to fix our gaze heavenward, and to recognize that most important lesson which Christ emphasizes to us: that God’s desire is to straighten that which is crooked and restore us in love.