The 10th Sunday of Luke
This Sunday’s Gospel reading is about the healing of the woman who was bent over, on the Sabbath. The reading is from Luke 13: 10-17.
We read that Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath when His eyes fell on a woman who was stooped over and “could not fully straighten herself“. She was so curved that her head was almost touching the ground, and she had been in this state for 18 years. Immediately, we see that Christ chose this particular place of the synagogue, and this particular time to pray and teach, in order to show His compassion for this woman, as well as the value and dignity of man in God’s eyes.
It seems that this infirmed woman had an illness that was related to the spirit of Satan, as Christ says in verse 16 that “she is a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan bound for 18 years”. Thus, the devil afflicted her as he afflicted the righteous Job with various diseases. Her infirmity caused her to bend over and to walk in an animal-like manner. We know from Scriptures that: “God made man upright” (Ecclesiastes 7:29). St. Basil the Great says: ““The head of the animal is bent down towards the ground and looks upon the earth, but the head of man was made erect towards heaven, his eyes tending upward. For it becomes us to seek what is above, and with our sight to pierce beyond earthly things”. And St Peter of Damascus wrote: “The Greek language derives its word for man ‘Anthropos’ from the fact that he looks upward,” (Philokalia). Therefore, we can assume that Satan intended for this woman to resemble irrational beings.
Unlike other healing miracles, Jesus took the initiative and called her forward, then He healed her from her infirmity. He did not wait for anyone to ask or request of Him to do so, nor did He ask her if she has faith and believes in Him. Rather, He initiated and approached her before “laying His hands upon her”. In this gesture, Christ showed His compassion and love for her, as well as His authority over diseases and evil spirits, as the hands signify the power of Christ, His authority, and rule over diseases and devils (Luke 4:40).
We then read how this incident aroused the anger and the envy of the ruler of the synagogue, who said to the people, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.”
This was not the first and only time that the Lord Jesus had engaged in a debate with the Jews regarding the healing of the infirm on the Sabbath. In the Gospel of St Luke (6: 6-11), we read of the healing of a man whose right hand had withered on the Sabbath. Also, in Luke 14: 1-6, Jesus entered the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees on the Sabbath to eat bread with him, where he met a man who had dropsy. It was Jesus entered into a debate with the lawyers and the Pharisees about the lawfulness of healing on the Sabbath after he healed the man and released him.
From the Old Testament, the commandment to preserve the Sabbath was the fourth commandment of the Ten Commandments. In Exodus (20: 8-11) we read: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work”. We read similarly in Deuteronomy (5: 12).
However, Jesus corrected the concept of the Sabbath and gave it new meaning when he said: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Then He also added: “Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:28).
The Sabbath has become at the service of mankind. God’s comfort and rest has come through achieving the salvation and service of mankind. God is glorified in this rest when He shows His mercy and compassion toward mankind. This is what happened when Jesus performed His miracle, “and immediately she was made straight, and she praised God“. Glorification and gratitude were this woman’s initial response after her healing, followed by the multitudes who “rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by Him”. Glorification and praise of the mercy of God took place on the Sabbath, on the Lord’s day of rest.
On the Sabbath, man accepts a new dignity. This woman had been bound by Satan, to which Christ loosened, and thus made her erect. For Christ came to destroy the works of the devil and the authority of Satan was destroyed.
The chief of the synagogue pretended to speak to the crowd, but Jesus answered him directly and personally, saying: “you hypocrite!” Christ was able to read the hearts of these Pharisees and saw how they were more concerned with their material interests, and how they didn’t hesitate to take their donkey and the ox to the water to quench their thirst, on the Sabbath, but was willing to ignore the spiritual needs and the pain and suffering of the people of God.
According to St John Chrysostom, Christ was right to call the head of the synagogue a hypocrite; “for he had the appearance of an observer of the law, but in his heart was a crafty and envious man. For it troubles him not that the Sabbath is broken, but that Christ is glorified”. St. Maximos the Confessor wrote that: “The hypocrite, like the false prophet, is betrayed by his words and actions.” (Philokalia).
The Church Fathers saw in this bent woman, or Abraham’s daughter, an image of the entire human race. “The whole human race, like this woman, was bent over and bowed down to the ground. The devil and his angels have bowed the souls of men and women down to the ground. He has bent them forward to be intent on temporary and earthly things and has stopped them from seeking the things that are above.”
The healing of this woman is a reflection of the healing and the restoring of the whole of humanity from its disease and infirmity, that is Sin.
+ His Eminence, Metropolitan Basilios