"The Crooked Little Woman and the Great Miracle" - Primera, August 25, 2013

Today, I’m really going to do something different.  Usually, we hear the scripture before a sermon that illustrates how the scripture can be applied to our lives.  Today, I’d like to read you a story even before I read the scripture.  So please, sit back, make yourself comfortable, and listen…This story is called…

The Crooked Little Woman and the Great Miracle

     She was such a crooked little woman.  I barely recall a time when she wasn’t bent forward as though she was following a trail of tiny stones, barely perceptible.  I know there was a time, many years before the Great Miracle, that she stood upright and proud.  So proud she was of her accomplishments; she seemed.  Sarah was tall and beautiful.  One might even call her statuesque, for not even a hair would be out of place beneath her mantle, which she kept pulled forward so that it covered much of her face.  As a girl, Sarah walked each morning to the well for water.  She would join the throng of girls from the village, although Sarah behaved as though she thought she stood above them in more than stature.

     My older sister, Mary, tried to make friends with her.  After all, Mary told me, our families lived but a stone’s throw from one another.  It would have been convenient for Mary to have a friend next door; a girl who she could walk with to the well or even to the market.  No matter how hard Mary tried, Sarah would not be her friend.  I do not think Sarah had even one girlfriend once she reached her 8th or 9th year.  When they were very small, the other girls would run into the hills, laughing, to gather flowers to bring home to their mothers.  Sarah would watch them with disdain from the window of the home she lived in with her widowed father.  Girls began to talk about her.  “Oh, she thinks she is so special,” they would say.

     When Mary and her friends began to have suitors, nobody saw Sarah walk down the street with a young man.  There had been a visitor or two who rapped upon the door of her father’s house, but none came away with a smile.  It seemed, to all who observed such comings and goings, that Sarah was too good for anyone who might wish to marry her.  Mary was betrothed at thirteen and married by the time she was fifteen, but these years passed Sarah by.  She still walked to the well in the mornings, filling her jars and taking them back to her father’s home.

     When I was old enough to walk alone to the well, I found myself watching Sarah out of the corners of my eyes.  She always gave me a little smile, as if she knew I was looking.  Sometimes she even said “Shalom” to me if we were both leaving the well at the same time.  By this time, my sister Mary had two children and my other sister Esther was expecting her first.  All of their friends were married and many had children themselves.  Sarah, so tall and proud, had become an old maid.

     It seems now that time passed quickly by, but I know that it did not.  My sisters had more children.  I was married to a boy I knew from the time I stood at my father’s knee to hear the Passover story the first time.  My first child was born, and died.  I gave birth to a second child and in that same year my mother fell and broke her hip.  She died before the year was out.  Father stopped visiting with the old men after synagogue.  He would return home and sit by the door, looking over the top of his walking stick with sadness in his eyes.  By this time, Sarah had begun to change.  Her father had died the year before my mother fell.  After that, it seemed as if each time I saw her, Sarah’s back had bent over until she could no longer stand tall.  Her eyes were always downcast; rarely did I hear her voice, for she no longer said “Shalom” to me.

     It’s been 18 years since I first saw Sarah bending with the weight of her loneliness.  Yes, her loneliness and her shame.  I know now what Sarah has been bearing all these years.  It was perhaps a year ago that I finally befriended this woman who most other women avoided, though she had been at the well beside them every day for so many years.  My sister Mary was ill with a fever while our husbands were travelling to sell some sheep.  Her daughters had married and their hands were full with babies.  Mary feared that if they cared for her, the children might fall ill.  I brought Mary into my home, our father’s home.  One night, when I thought I would lose my beloved sister, I was forced to send my son, the last of my children living at home, next door to fetch help.  He returned but a moment later, followed by Sarah, who came slowly, crippled by the bend of her back.  She entered the room, carrying cloths, a basket of bread and a jug of wine.  She handed my son the wine and told him to pour out four cups, that we must all take sustenance.  She tore the bread and shared a piece with each of us.  Mary manage a small bite and a sip of wine before she lay back, utterly exhausted from fever and effort.  Sarah then asked for a bowl, into which she poured the rest of the wine and a pitcher of water.  She soaked one of the cloths in the mixture and began to gently bathe my sister with it.  Then, sitting beside Mary, who she could not befriend as a child, she began to sing.

     I sat on a stool mear Mary’s feet, watching Sarah as she sang, sometimes wetting the cloths and placing them upon my sister’s forehead or lifting Mary’s head to help her sip some water.  As I watched, I was mesmerized by the way the shadows played upon Sarah’s face, revealing lines.  Among the lines that showed her age, I could see others I had never seen before.  Deep cuts along the side of her face, scars that had been there for years, slashes that surely had torn through to the bone.

     Mary made it through the night, and Sarah and I had become friends.  We began to meet in the mornings and walk to the well together.  Over the next few weeks, I was to learn what weighed her down so.  It was a story I had heard as a child, but I did not know it was a true story.  Sarah, an only child, had been out with her father tending the sheep one night when she had been attacked by wild dogs.  Her father saved her, but he never forgave himself.  He became overprotective; even more so when Sarah’s mother died.  He bewailed the loss of his daughter’s beauty; he talked about it so often that Sarah had come to believe that she was the most horrendous sight to be seen.  She came to fear going outside, but she loved her father.  Her daily trips to the well had been all that she could bear.  As we shared our mornings, she wistfully spoke of watching the other girls running up the hill, for she could not go.  She had begun, even as early as eight years old, to feel a nagging pain in her back.  In the mornings, the pain was not so bad, and she could walk to the well in relative comfort.  She stood straight and tall, walking with her head held high lest her mantle slip and reveal the scars.

     She had turned away suitors without explanation other than that her father needed her.  As he grew older, this became true, and Sarah had nursed him until his death.  Each year, the pain in her back grew worse and the lines in her face deeper.  As I came to know this woman whose life had been directed by an incident that occurred when she was but a tot, I came to understand that she was an innocent.  Yet, she bore such shame for her own part in the incident.  You see, Sarah had run off into the fields searching for flowers to take home to her mother when the dogs took her.  It was this part of the story that I had heard repeated when I was little, I had thought it was simply a cautionary tale.

     This woman, so beautiful in her heart, had become bent and wizened under the weight of her perceived sins and her bodily pains.  Each day when we parted after our walk to the well, I would kneel in prayer for my new friend.  I would cry as I thought of the little girl she had once been and the sad, bent, lonely woman she had become.  This was my morning, walking with my new friend, filling our buckets at the well, walking home and setting down my jars before kneeling in prayer.  That is, until today.  Today, in the synagogue, everything changed.

     Today, when we went to synagogue, my husband went into the men’s area while my son and I went to the women’s place.  As we entered, I saw that there was a young rabbi whom we had never seen standing at the front.  Listening to the whispers of the women around me I discovered that he was the Rabbi Jesus.  We had heard of him, this young man who taught on the hillsides and the beaches.  When I learned that he was teaching, my heart skipped a beat, and I rushed my son into the door.  He is not yet old enough to be required to stand in the men’s side.  As we entered, I could hear the voice of this Jesus.  I could see Sarah, making her way to the front of the crowd.  She moved slowly, bent over as she was.  She almost looked as if she was looking for a lost penny on the floor.  Her walking stick tapped the floor, and I caught my breath as I heard the echo of it.  Jesus looked toward her and smiled.  I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard him say to Sarah, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”  And she was!  Praise God!  My friend, who had suffered all of her life, and who had been burdened by such horrible pain and unable to stand for eighteen long years, was standing now!  Seeing her standing there, at the feet of Jesus, tall and without her walking stick, I was moved with a passion I could not understand.  Her voice rang out, joy-filled, and glorious!


     Now, of course, this is a short story.  We don’t really know the full story of the crippled woman’s life.   All we know of her is what is recorded in Today’s scripture, which comes from Luke, chapter 13, verses 10-17:

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. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight.  When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment."  When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.  But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day."  But the Lord answered him and said, "You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water?  And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?"  When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.


     Isn’t it a beautiful story of healing?  Yet, it’s so much more.  The leader of the synagogue was upset that Jesus had healed this woman.  Sometimes, we understand this scripture to be about healing on the Sabbath.  After all, Jesus calls the men who are complaining hypocrites, for certainly they would take their thirsty animals to water.  Wasn’t this woman, who had suffered for so long, at least as important as their animals?  Certainly, we are reminded that we should not refrain from judging the behaviors of others when we ourselves would behave similarly under different circumstances.

     But there’s something else.  After Jesus healed the woman, she stood up and began to praise God!  In those days, women sat quietly in the synagogue, while the men worshiped.  Those who were disfigured, crippled, or ill were often not allowed in the synagogue.  Yet this day, not only had this woman come in, but Jesus had drawn attention to her, made her well, and given her a reason to rejoice out loud.  Can you imagine?  How many others began to talk about what had just happened?  How many other women began to praise God aloud because this woman had been acknowledged in the synagogue, where they had been attending submissively and invisibly for years?  The worship leader had lost control!

     In many places today, those in power will tell us, through words and actions, that we are not good enough, smart enough, quick enough, or beautiful enough to warrant attention or success.  Yet, in spite of the unwritten rules of society, there is no place we cannot go, no dream we cannot pursue, if only we can break through the barriers that hold us back.  Those who wish to keep us down might be upset and try to hold us down, but we cannot let them stop us from standing up and speaking out.

     Jesus gives us the power to follow the path that God calls us toward, in spite of the walls that have been built to block our way.  Jesus shows us, by his own actions, that we can do whatever it is that needs to be done.  He shows us that we can stand up, rejoice in God, and go into our future proudly knowing that God is with us, no matter who we are.  When we have Christ with us, we are filled with the Spirit!  Truly, I believe that in the Spirit, we shine beyond the scars we have earned as we have tried to live on our own.

     No matter who we are, no matter where we come from, no what we have endured, and no matter what we have done, we are free to stand and rejoice, because we are God’s children, we are worthy, and we are free to break the bonds that keep us back!

Praise God!

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