The Divine Pattern- Luke 13:10-17

“Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath.  And there was a woman who had had a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years; she was bent over and could not fully straighten herself.  And when Jesus saw her, he called her and said to her, ‘Woman, you are freed from your infirmity.’ And he laid his hands upon her, and immediately she was made straight, and she praised God.  But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the sabbath, 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.”  Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger, and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?”  As he said this, all his adversaries were put to shame; and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.”

"The entire crowd was rejoicing at the glorious things he was doing.”

What if the most glorious thing Jesus did that whole day was remind God’s People who they are?  

He’s preaching in a synagogue and he sees someone who has been bent over for 18 years.  The author of the story tells us she is possessed by a “spirit.”  Her ailment is not physical or mental or emotional…hers is a spiritual sickness, which has kept her bent over for 18 long years. Before we start bringing in our smart, science-oriented 21st Century brains into critiquing and dissecting that statement, we need to know how ancient Jewish people thought about Sin and Sickness. In their understanding, Sin was a state of being separate from God. In their culture, at that time, it was believed to be a fact that when you Sinned, you were separated from the presence of Almighty God…you were living in the world without the protection of God.  It was known at that time that to live in such a state of sin had very real, very observable consequences.  You would get sick…your body wouldn’t work right…misfortune would befall your house, your family, or your village, possibly your entire country.  Given this belief, it was extremely important to know who was to be held responsible for Sinning…who was responsible for living separately from God…and those people would be removed from society, safely secluded so that their state of separation would not spread to others.  The Good News was that Israel’s Priestly Class had worked out, to an exacting degree, how to remedy any Sin.  They worked out the rituals, the customs, the offerings that could help ANY sinner—anyone who had been separated from God’s presence—become healed or REDEEMED so they could return to their normal lives, in the Sacred Circle of God’s People.  The entire book of Leviticus in the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible describes to us the rituals and customs that had been worked out for ANY kind of Sin:  Sometimes you were separated from God because of something you did…perhaps you stole someone’s property, or you murdered someone. Sometimes, you could be put into a state of sin because of something you FAILED to do…perhaps you failed to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy.  Sometimes you could be in a state of sin simply because of your biology; famously, when women were menstruating, they were separated from the rest of the village, secluded in a special “Red Tent.”  There was yet another entire category of Sin that was known as “Unintentional Sin;” meaning you could fall into a state of sin simply by living your life and unintentionally doing something that offended God.  In every single one of these instances, the Priests had a ritual or a custom that could reunite you with God’s healing and merciful presence.  

So when we say that this woman in the synagogue was spiritually sick for 18 years, what we need to understand is that for 18 years she would have been seen as a sinner…she would have been seen as someone who, for whatever reason, was incapable of being returned to God’s loving, healing, merciful presence.  She had her own demons to work through…and that was her responsibility to do.  They probably felt very sorry for her…but what could anyone do?  It’s her sin…her sickness to deal with.  I’m sure many people prayed for her all the time.  

But then Jesus comes to town and reveals the actual problem.  He sees her, he calls to her, he heals her, she praises God’s goodness…and then the leader of the synagogue immediately says, “Now, now, now, this is God’s Sabbath day…we can’t be having any work done on the Sabbath…no healings today…just tone it down, Jesus!”  And Jesus says to them, “Hypocrites!  Pretenders!”  These are a bunch of farmers with live stock, and if you won live stock there is no such thing as a day off from caring for the animals.  Even on the sabbath the animals have to eat and drink, and there’s not a man in the room that would risk letting one of those animals die by taking the entire day off.  So why not care for this woman on the sabbath…at least as much as they cared about their donkeys and oxen?  What Jesus doesn’t express is the reality that there have been 6 days in every week for 18 YEARS when this woman could have been healed…but no one cared enough to do it.  What Jesus is demonstrating in this short story is that this woman sinned at some point…and her sin could have been something she intentionally did…it could have been something she intentionally failed to do…it could have been something her body did simply by being alive…it could have been something she did wrong UNINTENTIONALLY…whatever it was it was 18 years ago….and the only reason why she is still suffering is because for 6 days a week, every week, for 18 years…her community did not care enough about her to assist her in returning to God’s loving, healing, merciful presence.  

This is the true nature of sin, friends.  Each of us sin individually….whether we mean to or not…all of us, at one time or another, become separated from God’s loving, healing, merciful presence.  And then it becomes the responsibility of ALL of us…the ENTIRE community…ALL OF GOD’S PEOPLE…to end the separation.  

The ancient Jewish people knew this…and the people of this particular synagogue in the 1st Century, had forgotten it.  Perhaps the most wonderful thing Jesus did that day was remind the people who they are…where they come from…why they exist.  

I firmly believe that we live in an age of spiritual sickness.  I firmly believe that it is the spiritual task of this generation to grow in our faith, so that we can once again remember that it is the responsibility of ALL of us to assist one another in reuniting with God’s loving, healing, merciful presence.  The rituals and customs of ancient Israel are lost to us, the ways of Leviticus cannot help us in this purpose.  But the Divine Pattern…the way God established the universe to operate is the same today as it was 5,000 years ago.  We may not know what the updated rituals and customs that assist us with this spiritual healing need to be…but we do have a place to begin…the very place Jesus began his work…let’s remind one another who we are and where we come from. 

We are all born into the world with the Divine Pattern embedded in us. Shortly after every child is born, the mother delivers the placenta (I actually did know that part).  Embedded in the placenta, the organ that has served as the source of life for the baby for the first 9 months of its life, is a series of veins that create a particular image.  It looks like a tree.  It’s an image that midwives refer to as “The Tree of Life.”  All of us were born with twin images.  As human beings, we were born with the Image of God embedded in our very DNA…and each of us were born into the world with a twin Tree.  You may not have known that…you may have needed to be reminded.  Is there a chance  that there is a Divine Pattern here?  Is there a chance that God designed human beings to come into the world alongside an image of a tree for a purpose?  

Think about just one of the many things trees do:  They take in carbon dioxide, and they expel oxygen.  They literally take into themselves a gas that is detrimental to life on earth, and they transform it into life-giving oxygen.  A young tree can store up to 13 pounds of carbon dioxide a year…a mature tree will absorb 48 pounds of carbon dioxide and release a similar amount of oxygen every year.  

Jesus reveals to us that we, as a people, can get stuck in place. We can be plagued for years by preventable suffering…all because we refuse to grow our spirits larger…because we refuse to take responsibility for the suffering of others…because we don’t model ourselves after the Divine Pattern which is constantly falling away and returning, sinning and redeeming, separating and reconnecting…over and over for all eternity.  

We have it in our heads that we are individually responsible for ourselves in this life.  It’s not true.  We are responsible for one another.  We all fall into a state of sin from time to time, we all become separated from God’s loving, healing, merciful presence…intentionally or unintentionally…and it is the responsibility of ALL of us to assist one another in reuniting with God.  Just as a tree takes in the CO2 from other creatures and gives back oxygen…it is our job to take in the sin, the suffering, the sickness, the death of others and to give back the breath of life, the signs of God’s loving, healing, merciful presence.  The more spiritually mature we are, the more darkness we can handle…and the more life we can breathe out.  This is who we are…this is where we come from…this is why we are here.  Thanks be to God for this Divine Blessing…thanks be to God for this extraordinary burden. 

Jennifer Gray