OK. Imagine this. You’re in church. That shouldn’t be hard to imagine!
And while you’re here, you notice that there is a woman who has a bad back, and has had a bad back for 18 years. She’s bent over. And this guy calls her over, touches her shoulders gently, and immediately she is able to stand up straight. She’s ecstatic.
And then pandemonium ensues. One of the leaders of the church says that this man shouldn’t have healed her and helped her right now, because this is the day we should be worshiping God and not doing other things.
But the guy who healed her replies-- we give our pets food and water on the day we come to church, so why shouldn’t we help this woman, who’s been disabled for 18 years?? And everyone realizes this guy is right, and they all go on with their worship, excited for what God is doing.
This is pretty much what happens in our reading for the Gospel of Luke that we just read, with a bit of updating to make sense to us today.
It’s easy to get caught up in the argument at the end of the story, about healing on the Sabbath Day. Watching conflict between people is like seeing car wreck. You know it’s terrible, but you just can’t look away. That’s why reality TV shows are so successful. It gives us a view into peoples’ drama and conflict. In fact, this story would be great for reality TV! Anyone want to pitch it to one of the networks…?
Well, anyway, it’s easy to focus on the argument, for sure. And that is a big part of the story.
But as I read what is happening here, I realized there was a bit more to the beginning of the story than first meets the eye. We’ve got this disabled woman, who’s been bent over for almost two decades. That’s a long time to be bent over.
And being bent over means that your perspective of the world is different than other peoples’. If she cranes her neck, what’s she looking at…? Yeah, the ground. But if she leaves her neck the way that is most comfortable, what is she looking at…? Yeah, herself.
Because of her disability, she is literally curved in on herself. All she can see, without putting herself under more pressure and pain, is herself.
We may not be bent over like that woman, but we as human beings sure do curve in on ourselves a lot. We focus on what WE need, what WE want. We can only see ourselves, and nothing else.
Some of this is how we are shaped in our culture—we are a culture based on individualism. We are expected to be independent and self-reliant, to make a way for ourselves and do what we need to do, for ourselves. None of that is bad in itself, but when taken to the next level, it can promote focusing only on oneself and no one else.
It’s not just our culture, though. Just being human means that we have the tendency to do this. We can be selfish. We are actually born with the tendency to focus only on ourselves. I mean, who is more selfish than a baby? They need to be fed, need to be changed, need to be held—and they don’t care if you’re sleeping, need to use the bathroom, nothing. What they need in that moment is most important!
And sometimes, we fall into how we were as infants, as adults. I don’t mean we wail like a banshee when we need changing, or wake people up to get us what we need. But what we do is put our needs and wants before everyone else’s, even if someone’s else’s needs and wants should be more important in that moment. We all do it at some point. It can be easy to fall into that pattern, so it happens more and more often. And we can become like that woman, only able to see ourselves. We are curved in on ourselves, unable to see anything else but us.
Two friends met for dinner at a restaurant. Each requested filet of sole, and after catching up with one another, the waiter came back with their order. Two pieces of fish, a large and a small, were on the same platter. One of the friends proceeded to serve her friend. Placing the small piece on a plate, she handed it across the table. "Well, you certainly do have nerve!" exclaimed her friend.
"What's troubling you?" asked the other. "Look what you've done," she answered. "You've given me the little piece and kept the big one for yourself." "How would you have done it?" the woman asked. The friend replied, "If I were serving, I would have given you the big piece." "Well," replied the woman, "I've got it, haven't I?" And they both laughed.
I like this story, because the outcome is what it would have been anyway, regardless of who was serving the fish. But the deeper part of the story is that the woman who took the bigger filet is only able to care about her want in that moment of having more fish. She is unable to entertain the idea of giving the bigger filet to someone else. It’s about her. She is curved in on herself, seeing herself and no one else. And we can all relate to doing that in our lives sometimes.
But the woman in our Bible story doesn’t stay bent over forever. Jesus is there, in the synagogue, the place of worship, and he touches her and she is able to stand up straight for the first time in 18 years. The phrase “she stood up straight” is actually translated closer to the original Greek “she was straightened up.” Jesus is the one who straightened her up. She couldn’t do it herself.
And when she’s straightened up by Jesus, and can stand up, her perspective changes. Before, when she was curved in on herself, she could only see herself. But when she’s straightened up, what can she see…? Jesus and the other people there. Her perspective goes from just herself to Jesus and the people around her.
The healing Jesus did for her wasn’t just about straightening her back, although that was a big deal. It was about widening her perspective. It was about taking her from only being able to see herself, to being able to see Jesus and others. Being curved in on herself was not how Jesus wanted her to live her life. He wanted her to be able to see him and see the world.
We don’t hear anything about this woman after her encounter with Jesus, but you can bet she lived her life completely differently—being able to see around her, being able to see God and the people around her—must have made her life very different.
Jesus does this for us, too. When we have the tendency to curve in on ourselves, and only focus on what we need and want, he straightens us up so we can see him and see others. Because it’s not just about us. It’s about seeing the risen Jesus in our world and seeing others. It’s about serving God and serving others. God didn’t create us to just look in and focus on ourselves. We are created to worship and serve God by serving the people that God has created.
The people in our story aren’t immediately excited about the woman getting a different perspective. They are so focused on the rules that are set, that they can’t see right away what a big deal this is. In fact, they themselves are curved in on what they deem important. Sometimes it is the people who are good church goers who have a hard time seeing a wider perspective! We all fall into it sometimes.
But Jesus straightens them out, too. He takes their curved in perspective and straightens it out. He makes them realize that healing a woman on the day of worship isn’t a bad thing—it’s a great thing. And what was their reaction…? They start rejoicing at all the wonderful things Jesus is doing. Their perspective went from curved in, to seeing Jesus and the outside world. They saw Jesus acting in their midst and they were excited.
And that’s what happens when Jesus takes us from being curved in to straightened up—we get excited! We see things we didn’t see before. We see Jesus, doing amazing things in our lives and in the lives of others. We see other people, and notice how we can help them and be an encouragement to them. We live our lives the way God intends for us to live—seeing Jesus and seeing others.
When that women was straightened up by Jesus, she immediately began praising God. And when the people around her were straightened up from their closed in perspective, they rejoiced in the great things Jesus was doing. They knew instinctively that God was doing amazing things by changing their perspectives and they were bursting to celebrate!
Jesus is constantly straightening us up and changing our perspective so we can see him and others—let’s celebrate that! Let’s praise Jesus, since he is helping us to focus on him and others! Let’s rejoice in knowing that Jesus is straightening us up from being curved in on ourselves, and making us more of who God wants us to be! Amen?