Toorak Uniting Church

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Woman bent double

Luke 13: 10 – 17

10 On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11 and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, "Woman, you are set free from your infirmity." 13 Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God. 14 Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler said to the people, "There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath." 15 The Lord answered him, "You hypocrites! Doesn't each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16 Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?" 17 When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.

Rev. Anneke Oppewal
25 October 2009

"Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath and just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years."

Suddenly he is there.

Suddenly she is there.

And somehow something connects between them.

What was it that made him single her out that Sabbath morning? What was it that made him decide he would straighten her up and show his opponents he was not beholden to their narrow-minded views on healing? Was she the only wounded and crippled human in that congregation? By that time the sick and suffering followed him everywhere. Did she try to look up at him, catch his eye, and so conveying her longing for healing, her yearning for a word or two that would give her some solace and support? Or did she look at him defiantly and defensively? "Look at me, how crippled I am, I bet you, you won’t be able to fix me! I am a lost case, hopeless and helpless in the hands of this spirit that has crippled me for the last eighteen years. You try and fix me mate and I’ll show you I am unfixable!" Is that what happened? Could he then not withstand the challenge? Was that what caught his eye? The defying glance of a woman yearning for healing?

We will never know. But somehow their eyes met, hers from inside her bendedness, glancing up and out for a moment, ready to withdraw. His from across the room, seeking to penetrate her defences, looking for an opening. Driven by the desire to touch, move and heal inside that curled up figure riddled with pain.

The spirit had been with her for eighteen years, bending her in and around herself.

What spirit was this? Was it an illness? Or was this crippling bending a result of mental wounds inflicted on her earlier in life? Had her body over the years involuntary but very effectively folded itself around to protect her vulnerability and enable her to hide her deeper self from those around her? Had she developed a curvature ducking further blows and avoiding further hateful treatment, making herself smaller so as not to be noticed?

Was she abused, or raped, or both, and had she, over the years, discovered that bent women are less attractive to violence, that hiding your face and covering your vulnerable inner parts would keep you from harm that would otherwise most certainly come your way? Bent, folded in half, facing in and down, avoiding eye contact, shuffling along. Was it a relief when men no longer looked at her with desire and women only took her with a grain of salt?

Or was it the grief and the hurt that doubled her over? The pain of loss of dignity and the suffering continued abuse brings? Was it that she could no longer muster the strength needed to keep her head up and face whatever? Could no longer stand tall because she had shrunk and shrivelled inside?

18 years she had been growing smaller, into herself, face down, 18 years she had been bound by this Spirit and made quite unable to stand up. And here she was, on the Sabbath, in the synagogue, bent and all, but close enough to the front to catch his eye.

She must have longed for something, otherwise she would not have come, would not have tried, would not have risked meeting the eyes of this man. Was there still hope in her somewhere? A tiny wisp of a hope, that could have been blown away very easily? Was there still the un-bendable conviction that somehow she was worth more than being the woman weighed down by sorrow and pain?

"Woman, you are set free from your ailment" he says and lays hands on her.

What did those words, those hands do? Did they awaken anger and revolt in her that had been slumbering inside her all along? Or did they make a jolt of electric energy course through her, making her, suddenly, realise that she was alive and that she wanted to live……. tall? Did "who the hell do you think you are" cross her mind before the sheer arrogance of those words and that gesture filled her with enough strength to lift herself up and look him in the eye? Or was it the soft and loving voice that got her, the tenderness of his touch, the question mark in his words pleading with her to let go of whatever was tying her down, to open up and show herself, to him, to the world?

What was it?

Was it a coaxing "you can do it" or was it a commanding "come on woman, get yourself together" type of statement that made something inside her decide that it had been enough, that she would stand tall, that she would unfold herself, unbend and open herself to him and to the world?

And what happens after the praising of God? What happens after the back has straightened, after the first euphoria of the discovery that she can be whole again has died down? What happens?

Others rebuke him for healing her. Something that will most certainly have tempted her, urged her, to roll up in a tight ball again. They don’t like the tall standing woman, they don’t like the unfolding of the fragile and vulnerable into something strong and powerful, they don’t like to meet the eyes that were so conveniently covered before. They don’t want to be confronted with who she is or what she has been through. Not on the Sabbath, not in the synagogue. They don’t want to know. They don’t want to hear her voice speaking up with whatever it is that has been freed up inside her.

What is so threatening about her? Is it the tales she might tell or is it the eyes they don’t want to meet because they know what bent her in the first place?

What they don’t know and what he leaves her to cope with on her own is the aftermath. A body that has been bent for 18 years that won’t let itself be unbent so very easily. After the first euphoria there would have been back pain, muscle cramps, tummy aches, her diaphragm contracting, bruises of the ribcage where bones are poking into soft tissue for the first time in many many years, nausea, pins and needles in arms and legs and lots of exercise to make the unwilling and untrained muscles do what they were meant to do: keep her body up.

Did she curse her saviour? Or did the triumph and longing to be tall and straight again deep inside keep her going even where at times the pain was unbearable and despairingly persistent in it’s attempt to bend her down again?

How did the people around her react to the look in her eyes, the tallness that suddenly stood over them, the power and strength that seemed to ooze out from somewhere deep inside her. Did they like the new woman? Or would they have preferred the curled up version? Did the pent up aggression of years and years that had made her furl get out, glances that were hidden from the world around her before now showing feelings and emotions that had been carefully packaged up inside the ball she had been? Did the tears she had so carefully kept inside her own embrace get out, flouting her hurt to the world, hurling abuse at those whose delicate senses were not up to whatever the Spirit was that had possessed her?

And how did she feel? No longer protected, no longer safe, no longer held in her own embrace but open, vulnerable, once more susceptible to love, hate, hurt and healing? Did she feel she had lost something?

Did she discover that once you have started to unfurl, once you have set foot on the path of healing there is no way back and there is no stopping either. It will fight itself free, rip things open, tear the bonds asunder, and that it will hurt?

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2009

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