For many years there has been a saying that I have been using. I learned it in business and it has become my tenth beatitude:
- “Blessed are the flexible for they shall not be bent out of shape.”
We hear in the Gospel today that the woman was bent out of shape.
Eighteen years she had been crippled, nearly two decades of shuffling through life, head down, looking at peoples’ feet. Today we would probably call it osteoporosis, or arthritis or stenosis? But Luke presents it in the manner of his day when he blames the woman’s affliction on a “spirit.”
Eighteen years is a short time:
• Eighteen years can fly by when life is spent in happiness.
• It can be a joyful time when involved with the blessings of life.
• It can be a thrilling time when you are reaching and accomplishing all you had hoped for.
• It can be a learning time when you are exploring in the challenges and joys of raising a family.
• It can be a rewarding time when you are advancing in your job and enjoying the success and accolades of society.
• Eighteen years can be a growing time when you are surrounded by friends that help you through the complexities of life.
But eighteen years can also be a very long time:
• Eighteen years can seem like ages if you are consumed with the pain of a bent back and broken body.
• It can be a very difficult time if you have to struggle to even leave your home.
• It can seem to be an eternity to a mind that is vexed with despair.
• Eighteen years can seem forever if you are struggling with a mistake that misdirected your life, or wounded your spirit or broke your heart.
The picture of this little woman is terrible. She was badly crippled up, bent at the waist, shuffling steps, ill-fitting clothes, depressed in spirit. Everything she did was done with great difficulty.
It was not suddenly that this took place, but over a period of time. Suddenly she woke up one day and discovered that her life would never be the same again.
She continued to keep the faith, but there was very little peace, no joy, no comfort. It had been so long since she had just been able to feel the freedom of daily life, that it is remarkable that she continued to go to synagogue at all.
It had forever since she had felt comfort and ease, and doubtless, her physical pain had become a huge mental obstacle for her as well.
But someone else also was bent out of shape, and with him it was just a little less noticeable.
He was a synagogue leader, so externally at least he must have respectable and astute enough for the elders to put him in charge of operations for their village synagogue. He would have been responsible for the upkeep of the building itself, as well as for the services that went on inside. Maybe he was well-known, influential and quite likely he was wealthy. Maybe he was particularly pious. Whatever the reason, if it happened in, around, or to the synagogue, he was responsible for it.
But, in a way, he was just as bent out of shape as the crippled woman who struggled to worship at his synagogue. His particular deformity, however, was of heart and mind, caused by a lack of theological rigidity and a lack of compassion. His was a condition that made it possible for him to stand right in the middle of God’s glory and power and think only about whether the order of worship was being followed.
These two — crippled woman and heart-twisted synagogue ruler – came together one Sabbath. Or maybe they didn’t. Whether they met each other or not, they both met Jesus. And it’s probably not overstating the case to say that it was a meeting neither forgot as long as they lived.
As a visiting Rabbi, Jesus was asked to teach on that Sabbath — almost certainly by the synagogue ruler himself. The teaching normally would have consisted of the Rabbi commenting on the texts assigned for that day with traditions, parables, and instruction. It was all done in a certain way, with a certain spirit, and the synagogue ruler would not have suffered lightly any action that might possibly have been seen as a disruption.
Given that, maybe you can understand his discomfort when Jesus calls this woman — a woman –- to stand before the assembled congregation.
- A WOMAN!
Jesus had broken EVERY law of propriety for his day:
• Men were never to acknowledge a woman in public – women were considered property and not worthy of human identity
• Jesus called her to come in front of the assembly – based on religious law, that was sacrilege and could contaminate the entire temple
• Jesus healed her, according to Luke 10:12-14:
“You’re free from your infirmity,” he says. And at his touch she is. She stands straight for the first time in eighteen years. (Luke 10:12-13)
He laid his hands on her – another serious violation – only husbands could touch a woman and it had to be his wife.
And that’s when we see how bent out of shape the synagogue leader really was. “Indignant” — that’s the word Luke uses to describe him. To put it more colorfully, he freaked out. blew up. Had a conniption. A hissy fit.
With great gravity and dignity, no doubt, he stood up and in his best “Shhh … We’re in the synagogue” voice informed the congregation that the healing they’ve just seen didn’t count, because it was done on the Sabbath.
“There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.” (Luke 12:14)
‘Work’ on the Sabbath would not be tolerated!
So Jesus sticks a pin in this puffed-up, self-important religious authority.
“You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water.” “And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” (Luke 13:15-16)
I don’t know if the woman appreciated being compared to livestock or not, but something tells me she didn’t mind so much. For the first time in eighteen years, she could stand up straight, hold her head up high with no pain. Imagine the joy she must have felt!
She was healed, no longer bent. However, the leader of the synagogue certainly was still bent out of shape in his heart. Jesus has just performed a miracle:
- in front of his congregation,
on a woman,
and on the SABBATH!
Now, not only was he still bent out of shape, but he had lost face in front the congregation. Jesus had just performed a miracle and he was on the ‘wrong side’. He was angry and bent out of shape because Jesus had not followed the ‘rules’.
Luke then adds that the people of the synagogue recognized this miracle and understood Jesus’ action, even if their leader didn’t. They’re delighted; they’re rejoiced at what they saw God doing through Jesus. It might not fit in the order of worship or obeyed Jewish law, but they knew an act of God when they saw it.
The leader of the synagogue was still rigid in his heart. He had lost his sense of wonder and joy at God’s power, grace, love and spontaneity. Somewhere along the line he shackled his heart to a set of rules and traditions and to a processed, plastic, mechanical God who does exactly what his people expect him to. And no more. Somehow he made a vocation of defending the dead weight to which he had bound himself. And it was being shackled to that dead weight that held him inflexible and bent out of shape.
We all have times in our lives when we are bent out of shape. . .
when we are out of sorts for no apparent reason,
when we are angry at the world
when we lash out at family, co-workers
when we kick the dog
and nothing seems okay.
Maybe things are hectic at work,
or there is discord at home. . .
maybe we feel unloved or unappreciated by those we hold dear.
Perhaps we feel unnoticed or taken for granted –
there may be old issues we’ve never resolved from childhood
Sometime our needs are simply not being met and don’t even know what they are – but we are emotionally crippled, our dispositions are rigid and angry.
- WE ARE BENT OUT OF SHAPE.
If you’re feeling bent out of shape about something or the other, then maybe the problem is that you need to go back to Jesus.
Maybe you need him to unshackle you from the burdens that weigh you down and restore the freedom and joy of your first encounter with him.
- Maybe you need to STOP. . .
take five or ten minutes out of your busy life. . .
just STOP and sit there.
Sit there and reassess the chaos and day-to-day disruptions in your life. What is causing you to be ‘bent out of shape’? What are you doing that weighs you down? What are letting others do to you to weight you down?
Next, re-prioritize your Life – seriously look at what is really important in your life. What things that get you ‘bent out of shape’, that when looked at five years from now, will seem silly and unnecessary. Ask yourself, in the big picture, do those things that make you upset, really matter? Think about all those things the tug at you on a daily basis that are really not important, but just nuisances, destroying your peace of mind.
Get rid of them!
And most importantly, let love back into your heart. Replace those feelings of grief or hostility with love . . . love for yourself and for your neighbors and friend. Remember that Jesus taught us to love each other – love each other as we wanted to be loved.
So let love drive out all the negativity in your heart – all those things that get in the way of your happiness and keep you bent out of shape.
Fill your heart with love.
Nothing would make Jesus happier. Nothing would make you happier. And nothing would make the people around you happier.
Let us pray:
Dear Lord, we often allow ourselves to get bent out of shape about things that really don’t matter. We wrap ourselves in rules and regulations and “should be’s” that restrict us and make us blind to the wonders of the world around us. Help us to release those bounds that bind us and fully live into Your love and the wonders of Jesus. Amen
Delivered at Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH, 25 August 2013