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?