My Twisted Sister

A few years ago when I was Relief Society President,  we started out meetings with a scripture, preferably one in which a woman featured. Here’s one of my faves.

It’s found in Luke 13:10-17. Jesus is teaching in the synagogue on a Sabbath. In the crowd is a woman who has been debilitated with pain and a crippling sickness for 18 years. She’s all bent over and can’t even lift herself upright. Jesus calls her to him and she comes. He says, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity. He puts his hands on her and she stands up straight and starts praising God. The ruler of the synagogue is in a snit because Jesus is “working” (that is, healing) on the Sabbath which isn’t allowed according to their rules. Jesus puts him in his place by pointing out that it’s ok to untie and lead livestock to water on the Sabbath so why shouldn’t this Daughter of Abraham be loosed from her bonds on the Sabbath? (Take that, you hypocrite.) The crowd is overjoyed and praises this and other wonderful deeds done by Jesus.

It’s no huge surprise that the woman’s name isn’t mentioned. So it goes with our foundational scriptures much of the time (alas). But in this crowd, Jesus noticed her and pointed her out and called her to him. Maybe she was hard to miss, what with the hunched back and all. Or maybe she was a regular attendee, one of the invisible matrons folks tend to ignore or lump together.

As far as we know, she wasn’t stalking Jesus or begging to be healed or expecting anything special on this day. She had just come to worship, as had Jesus. Jesus, never one to let worship consist solely of contemplative reverie, got into action mode. From his heart through his hands is the way Christ so often demonstrates his love and devotion to doing God’s will.

I wonder how she felt having Jesus pick her out. Was it embarrassing walking through the crowd to get to him as he’d asked? Or was she inured to odd looks? Was she startled that this man would pay her any attention at all?

He says to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.” I imagine that if Jesus was going to call her out to be close enough for him to touch, he would also speak directly to her. And how would he have been able to do that if she was all hunched over unable to look any direction but down? The geometry of this meeting is fascinating. I picture Jesus stooping so he could actually look her in the eyes and then, touching her (her back maybe?) and with him keeping his eyes on her, she stood up straight, glorifying God.

The story then morphs into a “proper respect for the Sabbath” tale, but I like to focus on that exchange between Jesus and this sister of ours. He identifies her as a “Daughter of Abraham,” placing this awkward woman on the same footing and heir-entitlement as all the other gathered sons and daughters of Abraham, including the ruler of the synagogue. He looses her from the bondage of her ailments, of her literally downcast perspective, of her “fringe element” status.

When she got back to her daily life, I wonder if she had some sorting out to do, living in the freed body. Over 18 years bent over, her internal organs must have gotten shoved around. Was that all taken care of, too, with the healing, or did she have to sort through a lot of old habits and routines before she could begin perceiving herself as a healed person?

In this bent woman I see myself. Despite my noblest efforts, I get “bowed together” with the concerns of my life. I live my life in limited, crumpled ways. I may walk around crippled and not expecting much when sometimes (during a private prayer, when the sun floods the room just so, when  music moves me, during the sacrament, during a conversation with a friend – or stranger, or occasionally in a Sunday classroom…), surprise! I feel Jesus notice me and call me to him. In encounters like these I am reminded that I, too, am an heir of Abraham and Sarah, that I have been loosed from the emotional, spiritual, physical bonds that knot me up, and that I have ongoing One-on-one work to do to feel like a fully healed person.

When that happens, I can’t help but stand up straight and shout hallelujah. And that always brings a few stares. But in my book, the more women who stand up and shout hallelujah, the better.

So – some questions for you –

In what context have you heard the story of the bent woman before? Lessons you take from it?

Are the older ladies in your ward lumped together and ignored? What happens when you extend yourself to one of them?

Have there been occasions in church settings (or elsewhere) when you have felt acknowledged and openly identified (in a good way)? What were the circumstances and how did you feel?

Have you had an occasion of healing (of any sort) where you felt God’s hand at work? What about situations where the physical infirmity remains, but your heart feels freed? Or where the broken parts mend, but your heart is still reeling?

If you, like me, are in the One-on-one continual healing mode, what has worked well for you?

Which motivates you more: admonitions to “keep the commandments” or to “build a relationship with the Savior”? A trick question, perhaps?

You may also like...

8 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    Linda, this is one of my favorite – perhaps my very favorite – episodes in the New Testament. One translation of his words to the woman is “Woman, you are freed…” Freed. Liberated. I love that.

    That’s what I think the true message of Christ is to women. That no longer are they to be bound by cultural and religious oppression. No longer are they to be ignored. They are worthy of the highest esteem and regard. Jesus saw her, acknowledged her, demonstrated her worth, and in return she raises her eyes up to God and prophesies.

    By the end of the story, as you mention, she is raised up looking to the heavens, and the hypocritical religious power broker is cast down and humiliated, a total turning over of the way things had been. Once again that turning over, for me is at the heart of Christianity. For me, it’s all about the turning over of old ways, as well as the internal turning over, as we each change in the endless process of becoming holy.

  2. Carol says:

    In what context have you heard the story of the bent woman before? Lessons you take from it? Usually, when these verses are taught, the emphasis is on the Savior healing on the Sabbath rather than the healing of a women who was bent over for 18 years. Perhaps we miss the more important principle taught here: The Savior sometimes heals His daughters when they are not anticipating His healing power in their lives.

    Are the older ladies in your ward lumped together and ignored? What happens when you extend yourself to one of them?

    Yes, the older ladies in many of the wards in which I have lived are sometimes ignored and lumped together. With the Church’s emphasis on the youth, too often we forget our amazing elderly Saints. I love to visit with and serve older women. They can teach us so much.

    Have there been occasions in church settings (or elsewhere) when you have felt acknowledged and openly identified (in a good way)? What were the circumstances and how did you feel?
    My best experience in the Church was serving in a retirement branch with 180 elderly saints (the average age 87). They loved and nurtured me, hugged me and cherished me. Their faith and endurance amazed me. They taught me and my husband so much.

    Have you had an occasion of healing (of any sort) where you felt God’s hand at work? What about situations where the physical infirmity remains, but your heart feels freed? Or where the broken parts mend, but your heart is still reeling?

    I definitely felt God’s healing after my father died when I was a teen-ager. I was very ill and after much prayer, felt as though God were enfolding me in the arms of His love. This was a life-altering experience.

    If you, like me, are in the One-on-one continual healing mode, what has worked well for you?

    Meditation has been especially healing for me during the past year when the stress and strain of watching one of my adult children make self-defeating choices has nearly broken my heart. My biggest regret is that I didn’t learn how to meditate years ago. It would have helped me find peace amid the sorrows of life.
    Which motivates you more: admonitions to “keep the commandments” or to “build a relationship with the Savior”? A trick question, perhaps?

  3. Emily U says:

    Hi, Linda – really nice analysis of this scripture. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it mentioned in a talk or lesson outside the sabbath context – almost as if the particulars of the miracle are irrelevant. It could have been raising Lazarus and the sabbath lesson would remain the same.

    I haven’t given much thought to healing. Not that I haven’t needed it, but I’ve tended (out of laziness/business, mainly) to let my spiritual/emotional wounds passively heal. Like leaving a skinned knee alone until it scabs over and fades. Letting the Savior be a resource in healing is something I need to figure out how to do better.

    I do think older, especially elderly, ladies get ignored. Inter-generational mixing is hard to achieve, which is one reason I so love our ward book group (I really miss seeing you there, Linda!). I think we’ve had women in every decade of their lives from 20s to 70s. A friend who recently moved to California said her ward has two book groups – a young moms one and an “older” one. She thinks it’s terrible, and so do I. As one who would be in the young moms group, I think it would be such a loss to not have women my mom’s age and older. They have such great stories and perspectives to share.

  4. Two of Three says:

    You’ve inspired me to search out the “lumped together and ignored”. Thank you.

  5. Deborah says:

    This is such a beautiful interpretation of that passage, Linda. Thank you. Pondering the “healing stories” in the New Testament is my favorite form of scripture story.

    Your metaphor of feeling bent and the implications of becoming loosed reminds me of an experience I had a year or so ago. I was visiting a nun who is also a Reiki practitioner, and during our session the story of Lazarus came to my mind. When I related this to her afterword, she pulled out a 16th century painting of the raising of Lazarus. She told me that she had once spent a month-long retreat studying that picture. She invited me to consider Jesus’ words: “Loose him and let him go.” I was in such emotional knots following my dad’s death, that this image of healing — a loosening of bands — became an apt metaphor for my own healing process. I never connected that language with this story until today. So thank you.

  6. Linda says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful replies and insights. I love the variety and the candor of each post. Way to go, ladies.

  7. EmilyCC says:

    Linda, I’m THRILLED that you’ll be posting again, and this post illustrates exactly why. I hope this isn’t too much of a threadjack, but this story brought something up that’s been on my mind.

    Lately, I’ve mourning my VTing list change because I’ve lost one of those older women you mentioned from my rotation. I’ve had J on my list for 3 years now. I think we are on opposite ends of the spectrum in just about every way, and her life is frought with challenges. So, initially, I was worried about visiting her. Could I do enough for her?

    I don’t know if I did enough, but I do know that this is the first time I can say that I’ve grown to love someone through VTing. Really, I just adore her now, and it has made me wonder what other friendships in my ward am I’m missing out on because someone doesn’t look/think/act like me.

    I think there is healing in that sort of love and friendship. I just wish I could access it more readily.

  8. Kelly Ann says:

    Linda, thank you for this post. It made me appreciate the story in a new light and really makes me want to reach out to those in need.

Leave a Reply