Once again Jesus heals on the Sabbath. He uses parables to teach that what seems a small event will have great meaning - just like the growth of the Kingdom.
Once again Jesus heals on the Sabbath. He uses parables to teach that what seems a small event will have great meaning - just like the growth of the Kingdom.
Hello and welcome to Series 8 and Episode 18, in which ‘Jesus Heals a Crippled Woman.’ We're studying in Luke's Gospel, continuing from the last episode. Luke 13: 10 - 21 tells the story and we also have a couple of parables that Jesus tells straight after the event of this amazing healing.
Introduction and Recap
We're coming towards the end of Series 8. Jesus has been in and around Judea in the southern part of the country, and has been travelling to some extent through Samaria, the central part of the country. One of the key events of this period has been the sending out of the 72, which we saw in an earlier episode. His representatives, the Apostles and other disciples have been travelling around the country, and the central and southern parts of the country are now being filled with the message of the Kingdom of God, and the message about Jesus, in the same way that had taken place earlier on in Galilee during Jesus' ministry there. It's been a challenging and exciting time and as we've stated earlier, John and Luke are the main writers who tell us about this particular period of time.
Some of the themes that we've picked up will be relevant for today's episode, so I want to think for a moment about the fact that in the last few episodes, we've noticed time and again that the issue of conflict with the religious authorities has come to the front of the story. It seems that the conflict with the religious leaders is intensifying as Jesus heads south towards Jerusalem, towards what will be the final confrontation, when Jesus is ultimately arrested, tried, executed and then rises again from the dead in triumph. The religious establishment, as we've said before, is firmly against Jesus, and that resistance to him is becoming much more public, much more vocal, and more influential on the crowds around. We noticed in an earlier episode, for example, in Luke 11: 53 - 54, that after a confrontational discussion between Jesus and the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law, they did the following: Verse 53,
‘When Jesus went outside, the Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law began to oppose him fiercely and to besiege him with questions, 54waiting to catch him in something he might say.’Luke 11:53-54, NIV
This is extremely hostile and extremely public. The crowds could easily be influenced by these religious leaders, and the crowds were large. We noticed in Luke 12: 1,
‘A crowd of many thousands had gathered on one particular occasion.’Luke 12:1, NIV
This is remarkable. The crowds are very large at times during this particular period of travelling. Jesus is teaching quite a lot during this time about the cost of discipleship, and we've seen that in a few episodes, and he's urging people who listen to him to decide to follow him. It's because this is a time of crisis for the Jewish nation. Jesus' time amongst them on earth, physically present with them, is going to be very short - only a matter of weeks or months from the time that we are reading these episodes and these stories. They need to decide whether they are going to follow him. This comes out in the previous episode, where Jesus says, ‘I tell you, unless you repent, you too will perish’, commenting on others who'd died in tragic circumstances recently. He's calling people to follow him in an unambiguous way and his 72 disciples, travelling round, are reinforcing that message all over the country. This is the background.
The Healing of a Crippled Woman
In the midst of this very tense, exciting, complex journey that Jesus is undertaking, Luke tells us particular stories of individual people and this is one of them. This is a beautiful story of Jesus reaching out in compassion and authority to help a woman. Let's read the text, Luke 13:10 - 17,
‘On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11and a woman was there who'd been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” 13Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God. 14Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.” 15The Lord answered him, “You hypocrite! Doesn't each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16Then 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?” 17When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things that he was doing.’Luke 13:10-17, NIV
Healing on the Sabbath
It's another dramatic story, another story of a healing on the Sabbath, another story of a healing in the synagogue. Jesus always visited the synagogues every Saturday wherever he was, to worship and sometimes to speak, and this is another example of him doing that. This woman comes, who is crippled by a spirit, and for 18 years has been unable to walk properly, unable to straighten her back and therefore disabled in many of the ordinary tasks of life. One the themes of this passage is one that comes up in the Gospels time and again, and it's the question of the Sabbath day. If you've been following earlier episodes, you'll remember a number of similar controversies that took place on the Sabbath day, and it was a major source of conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities. The synagogue leader makes the point clearly verse 14,
‘There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.’Luke 13:14, NIV
He's referring to the current interpretation of the Law of Moses about the Sabbath day, which we identify as Saturday in our modern week, and on this Sabbath, or Saturday, according to the Law of Moses and according to the Ten Commandments, there should be a day of rest and worship for people, for all sorts of workers, even for the animals. A day of rest and worship. The problem with this was that Jewish tradition had added on many definitions of what that rest should be, and made it very harsh and restrictive, and defined what exactly constituted work, how far you could walk, where you can go, which tasks you could actually do. The general principle of the Sabbath, which God commanded as a covenant sign with the Jews, an indicator of his relationship with them, that Sabbath command had been controlled and turned into a series of rules and regulations by the religious leaders. Jesus' point is that they are hypocritical in not allowing just a simple act of compassion on the Sabbath. The synagogue ruler was quite clear - you can't even heal on the Sabbath, because it is an act of work.
We've seen similar things before. In Mark 3, when Jesus is dealing with a man with a shrivelled hand, we have a tense controversy, and Jesus asked the people,
‘“Which is lawful on the Sabbath, to do good or to do evil? To save life, or to kill?”’Mark 3:4, NIV
This is just before he's going to heal this man. He confronts them as to whether they're really following the spirit and the intention of the original law of God by being so restrictive in what they are allowing people to do. When the disciples were walking through the cornfields, we find out in Matthew 12, one day on the Sabbath and picking some of the heads of corn because they were hungry - they were on a long journey - they were criticised by the Pharisees for working on the Sabbath. Similarly, with a man born blind in Jerusalem, as recorded in John 9, we have a huge controversy with the religious leaders, when it turns out that this man was healed on the Sabbath day. This theme is coming up again, controversy concerning the Sabbath day, and it's just a symptom of this wider conflict with the religious authorities.
Verse 17 indicates to us that a number of Jesus' opponents were in the congregation. It wasn't just the synagogue leader who articulated this hostility to Jesus healing on the Sabbath, but it says here, ‘All his opponents were humiliated’ at the end of this incident - ‘all his opponents’. It appears that people are travelling around, following Jesus, opposed to him as indicated in the verses we read at the end of Luke 11, where they were looking for ways to catch him out in public by questioning him and challenging him, and some of those people were here in this congregation, and they took exception to the healing of this woman.
Activity of Evil Spirits
A key theme here is that the woman's physical disability was caused by the activity of an evil spirit, or a demon, verse 11, ‘she was crippled by a spirit’, verse 16, Jesus defines her condition as the fact that Satan ‘has kept her bound’ for the 18 years that she has been crippled. Luke is unambiguous. He's very clear that the root of this particular physical condition is an evil spirit's activity. It's interesting that Luke describes a number of different disabilities and illnesses and conditions that can be caused by the influence of evil spirits, or demons, within individual humans. In this case, the activity of the evil spirit causes a physical disability.
Sometimes Luke describes the outcome of the activity of an evil spirit as someone who is spiritually troubled, for example, in Luke 4: 33 - 35, when he was in the synagogue and a man possessed by a demon was there.
‘He cried out at the top of his voice, 34“Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are - you're the Holy One of Israel!”’.Luke 4:33-34, NIV
The activity of the spirit was causing spiritual disturbance to this man. Sometimes, Luke describes something else - personal and social self-destruction caused by the activity of spirits operating in individuals. Luke 8: 27 describes one of the two men, who Jesus encountered when he went across the sea of Galilee to the area of the Gadarenes, and one of them is described in Luke, and we find out from Matthew there are in fact two, and in verse 27, Luke describes his situation: ‘For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs.’
Here are a number of different examples from Luke's Gospel of the afflictions, physical ailments and spiritual and emotional depression, that comes about through the activity of evil spirits. The interesting thing about Luke writing here, and the other Gospel writers as well, is they just describe this in passing. They don't give us any great analysis. We know that in very many cases, physical illnesses like the one that this woman experienced like this deformity in her back, is a purely physical phenomenon, purely physical phenomenon, and needs physical healing. But sometimes there is a spiritual dimension to such disabilities and afflictions. That's what we learn from the New Testament and from the Gospels and from a description of Jesus' healing ministry.
Different Methods Jesus Used to Heal
When Jesus comes to heal somebody, he uses a variety of different methods of healing. Sometimes, if there is an illness to be overcome, he commands the sickness to depart. For example, with Peter's mother-in-law who was sick with a fever - it says in the text that Jesus ‘rebuked the fever’. Sometimes a word of command is what Jesus uses. Sometimes, when there are evil spirits or demons acting, he commands the spirits to depart. Sometimes, people come to him with a physical condition, but they also have a spiritual problem of a sin in their lives, such as a paralysed man who was let down in front of Jesus through the roof of a house, which we looked at in an earlier episode. The interesting thing is, the very first thing that Jesus says to this man is, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven’, and then after that he is healed.
In this case, it's slightly different. Jesus simply declares that the woman is healed and he lays hands on her. Verse 12 and 13,
‘When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” 13Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.’Luke 13:12-13, NIV
An interesting observation that Jesus' method of bringing about healing has a number of different dimensions. He approaches it in different ways in different circumstances.
Daughter of Abraham
Verse 16 tells us something else interesting about this woman; she is described by Jesus as a daughter of Abraham. This is a description of a Jewess, a female Jew, and she has access to the privileges of being in covenant relationship with God through the Abrahamic covenant, through the covenant with Moses, and the covenant with David - particularly the Abrahamic covenant - and Jesus wants the Jewish people to experience the full blessings of the covenant relationship with God, and to break free of the kind of oppressions that satanic forces bring to humanity.
It's quite a dramatic story. It's quite similar to some other stories where Jesus is in the synagogue on the Sabbath day, worshipping, and an issue of healing presents itself, someone comes to him and he heals that person. Every single time we see this happen, there is resistance in the community. Some people are hostile because of their very strict interpretation of the Sabbath law, but Jesus' point here is that the Sabbath law, the spirit of the Sabbath law being about rest, should not be the basis for hundreds and hundreds of rules that define exactly how you should follow that rule about the day of rest. He even points out that the synagogue ruler and the other critics are hypocrites because they take their animals out to get water on the Sabbath. Isn't that work as well, by the same definition? Probably more energy is required to do that than for Jesus simply to lay his hands on a woman and heal her. He is basically pointing out that they don't even follow all the rules that they have created.
A Sign of the Kingdom of God Coming
Here is a remarkable story, and a woman who is set free from a really debilitating disability after 18 long years. A sign of the coming of the Kingdom of God. Jesus then moves on in our final verses to tell two parables: the Parable of the Mustard Seed and the Parable of the Yeast. If you've been following, or if you're familiar with your Bibles, you'll know that Jesus has told these parables already earlier in the story as recorded in Matthew 13, in Series 5 in our teaching. They've been told in another context altogether. This brings us to an interesting point, which happens on a number of occasions in the Gospels, which is that Jesus repeats his teaching in different contexts to different people, sometimes for exactly the same purpose, and sometimes for a slightly different purpose. We're going to review these two parables, but think of them in the context of this particular healing incident, because it appears that Jesus is there, standing in the synagogue, having healed this woman, and then he shares these parables, as teaching, with the congregation there for a particular purpose. It's helpful for us to try and work out what that purpose might be.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed, Luke 13: 18 - 19,
‘Then Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? 19It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.”’Luke 13:18-19, NIV
You may have heard the teaching that I gave when we discussed this before, but I'll remind you of the central issue here. The mustard seed was a very small seed and from the Jewish point of view in their culture was considered the smallest seed, the smallest available seed to them, the smallest seed in common use. When you plant it in the ground, it can produce a bush or a small tree that can grow to up to 3 metres high, and so it can become quite a significant large bush or a small tree. One of the obvious points of this parable is that from small beginnings, great things can happen.
The second parable has a similar point, verses 20 and 21,
‘Again he asked, “What shall I compare the Kingdom of God to? 21It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”’Luke 13:20-21, NIV
The power of yeast is great, tremendous. When it's mixed fully into the dough to make bread, and allowed to rise, the volume of the bread that is made is greatly enhanced by the presence of the yeast, and the yeast needs to extend to every part of the dough, needs to get into every part of the mixture. The interesting thing here, is the woman is putting yeast into sixty pounds of flour. That's an enormous amount of flour, creating an enormous amount of dough, creating an enormous amount of bread once it's been baked. This is enough to feed a village. This is not a family quantity. If you had all this bread in one household, there's no way it could be eaten before it went off, became mouldy. Here is another story speaking of a very small ingredient with a very big influence. The yeast is a very small part of the dough. It doesn't take much yeast to have a big influence.
These stories have been told before, and they've been told before in Matthew 13, in the context of Jesus' teaching about the growth of the Kingdom. He's making the point that the Kingdom starts from small beginnings, and from small beginnings it's going to grow to tremendously large endings. It's going to grow through the years, through time, through the centuries, until Jesus comes again and Matthew 13 is a wonderful chapter that reassures us that God's Kingdom is growing, and will continue to grow, even though there'll be difficulties, there'll be interruptions, which are described in some of those parables, and you could go back into Series 5 to look at those again if that interests you. Here, although there is a similar message, there is a more particular application.
I want to reflect on the story and these two parables. When Jesus tells parables at a particular occasion, there's always a significance of the occasion. The context matters. The context of the retelling of these two parables does actually matter. My proposal to you is that Jesus is identifying here the significance of small actions. You see the healing of this woman in this synagogue who had been crippled by a spirit for 18 years - that healing, in the context of Jesus' overall ministry, is a small action. It takes place very quickly. There is only one person involved in the healing. This isn't a mass healing. This is the intimacy of a synagogue congregation. Here probably is a woman who comes regularly to that synagogue congregation, and there is a single healing. All Jesus did was to speak to her and to say, ‘You're set free from your infirmity’, and to put his hands on her. That was all he did.
But from that action, there could be great consequences. What impact is that going to have on her family? What impact is that going to have on her village? What impact is that going to have on that synagogue community? People will never be able to forget that Jesus came one day into their synagogue, probably the only time he ever visited the synagogue as this was in Judea. Jesus didn't travel in Judea very often, and on that occasion he performed an incredible miracle. From that small action, there could be great consequences and huge influence. Probably that's what Jesus is implying here. His small actions, such as this one are going to have very large consequences. That's an interesting observation given that we are now talking about this event 2000 years later, because it is put into the Gospel of Luke, and it becomes part of the story of Jesus that we retell in every generation of the Christian Church. This small action is now influencing you and me. The Kingdom is still growing.
This passage also helps us to understand a little bit about the activities of evil spirits seeking to disable and oppress people in a number of different ways, and Jesus takes the victory over the activity of these evil spirits. This healing is also symbolising the fact that on the cross, he's going to win a fundamental victory over Satan and all the powers of evil, because the cross will unlock the opportunity of salvation for countless millions of people across the world in the centuries that follow.
My final reflection here is that here is another step in the story of the conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders. There have been quite a few steps already. There's quite a few more to come which we'll see in further episodes. This conflict is going to increase in intensity until the point that the high priests and the Sanhedrin members in Jerusalem decide to arrest Jesus and take him into a trial in the High Priest's house, and hand him over to the Romans, to get him executed. This conflict is heading for a showdown in Jerusalem. Here is another step on the way, but on this occasion Jesus' opponents were humiliated and the people were delighted with all the wonderful things that Jesus was doing.
The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.
- At a time when Jesus was always dealing with crowds of people, why is it important to see him reaching out to an individual?
- In the 21st century western world, the influence of evil spirits in people to oppress and bring about physical conditions is not given any significance. Is this view wrong? (We are reminded that Jesus overcomes all evil on the cross.)
- What other examples of a small beginning that has a big ending can you recall?