August 25, 2013 - Luke 13.10-17

“Bound…and Set Free!”

Luke 13.10-17

August 25, 2013


10Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11And 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. 12When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14But 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.” 15But 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? 16And 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?” 17When 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.


I want everyone to look at the floor.  Stare at the floor as if you were not able to raise your head, unable to sit up straight.  Perhaps you can move your head side to side, but not up.  Your back won’t allow it.  Now stay that way, staring at the floor.  (pause)  Makes church a much different experience, doesn’t it?  Keep looking down…Imagine never being able to look people in the eye, never being able to see the cross on the wall, never able to view a baptism, never able to see the stained glass windows, or the chandeliers, or the musicians, or your friends…What would it be like to be imprisoned in this kind of world?  What would it be like to be bound to this kind of existence for 18 years?

Notice that the woman does not approach Jesus, she does not go over to him, she does not initiate contact, and she does not even asked to be healed.  The initiative for this healing belongs to Jesus and Jesus alone.  It is Jesus’ idea.

The key words are “bound” and “Set Free.”  The leaders of the Synagogue will permit a bound animal to be loosed and taken to water on the Sabbath, but they forbid this woman, a daughter of Abraham, and not an animal, who has been bound by Satan for 18 years, from being set free from her bonds just because it is the wrong day.[1]  What other day do people come to the Synagogue? 

Jesus’ argument, from the lesser to the greater, is incontrovertible.  The house is clearly divided: the adversaries are put to shame; the crowd rejoices.  This is what Jesus meant when he said (as we read 2 weeks ago) “I have not come to bring peace, but division.”  Such is the effect of the presence of Jesus and the inbreaking of God’s reign over the Satanic forces.  Yes, a crisis is created for the church, but if setting a woman free shatters an unhealthy peace, then a crisis it has to be.[2]

Jesus always has a way of bringing us down a notch when we need it.  Jesus says “You hypocrites!”  It is a charge leveled by Jesus at those who are blind to the real meaning of things, those who cannot perceive their own weakness and cannot discern the evidence that is right in front of them of God’s rule.[3]

One of the most painful charges made against the church is always our own hypocrisy.  It’s painful because it is true.  Guilty as charged.  We are hypocrites.  We call ourselves Christians and then we don’t act like Jesus.  “Hypocrites” is an honest observation.   I hear it a lot from people who criticize the church.  They say that they don’t go to church because it is full of hypocrites.  I always tell them the same thing: “Come on anyway, one more hypocrite won’t matter.”

Remember 2 weeks ago, when we read the scripture where Jesus declares that he has come to bring not peace, but division?  This is what he was talking about.  Jesus shakes things up.  He shows us our faults – even when it embarrasses us and makes us look like an ogre.

What Jesus did was not just to bring physical healing to this woman, but to reinstate her legitimate membership in the community.  This woman matters!  This one individual woman matters to Jesus and is what the mission of church is all about: this one woman or that one man, or one child or one family.

Jesus invites his opponents to reason from what they would do for an ox to what they would do for a fellow human being.  In other words, Jesus is asking them, “Are you honestly telling me that you would care for your own livestock more, and show more respect to your jackass and your cow, than you would to this child of God?”  And to their embarrassment, the answer is yes.  If an animal were bound, and needed to freed on the Sabbath, you would do it, but when this child of God is set free from her bonds on the Sabbath, you have a problem?

The leader of the synagogue and his colleagues fail to see that Jesus has taken the initiative in releasing this woman from the bondage of Satan.  By forbidding such conduct on the Sabbath, they put themselves on Satan’s side in the struggle for human lives, and they become the enemies of Jesus.  They badly misjudge the conflict taking place between the rule of God and the rule of Satan.[4]

The President of the synagogue and those like him are people that love systems more than people.  They were more concerned with the status quo, and that their own petty little laws should be observed than that a woman should be helped.[5]

In Christianity, the individual comes before the system.  God gave us the ultimate example of that when he sent his own Son, Jesus, to take care of all of us when the system, the Law, got in the way of us coming to know God.  But strangely enough, the worship of systems commonly invades the church.  William Barclay states “There are many church people – it would be a mistake to call them Christian people – who are more concerned with the method of church government than they are the worship of God and service [to humanity].  It is all too tragically true that more trouble and strife arise in Churches over legalistic details of procedure than over any other thing.”[6]

Jesus makes it clear here – crystal clear – that it is not God’s will to allow any human being to suffer any longer than necessary.  When there is a way to meet the needs of a child of God, we are to do as Jesus did and ACT IMMEDIATELY.  That means that we cannot let our own structure, need for power, or even our habits and comfort level keep us from helping others.  Let me be very clear here:  what this means for us is that we cannot let our own desire to have people dressed a certain way, or smelling a certain way, or looking a certain way keep us from embracing them and helping to meet their need in the name of Jesus.  Let me be clearer than crystal:  If one of our very important meetings is interrupted because there is a hungry man at the door, then the Jesus thing to do is to get up and feed the man.  That meeting can spare one person to do the will of God for a few minutes.

We are all guilty of it.  Nothing bugs me more than a person coming to the church as a benevolence case, needing money for food, or a new fan belt, or something.  It stops my day and puts a cramp in my schedule.  I would like nothing more than to just shoo them off to a soup kitchen or something, which are wonderful, terrific ministries, that we need to support more actively, incidentally, but Jesus is not going to shoo them away, and what Jesus tells me in the scriptures is that there is probably no more sacred moment in my day than when someone comes to me and I am able to help them in his name.  “Are you sure Jesus?  It doesn’t feel very sacred?” Yes – it is.  When we can do something in his name – DO IT!

At the very least, a church should be a place where people can be healed, even if it is the “wrong” time to do it.  Strangers must be welcomed.  People must come before programs.  Whose side are we going to be on, anyway?  Shall we side with Satan, to keep people bound and in need, or shall we side with Jesus, putting people first and setting people free?

Am I talking about “Spiritual warfare?”  Yes, I am. Many people in our culture absolutely disregard the idea that Spiritual warfare could be real.  But folks, this is exactly how it is manifest in our society.  We allow something that is contrary to the Savior we follow, such as loving a system more than a person in it, and it subtly, slowly creeps in before we realize there is even a contradiction.  It is gradual brimstone, slowly killing us and our witness.

The power of the Devil is never to tell us out and out lies.  We are too smart to believe those.  The power of Satan is in his ability to tell us half-truths, and we swallow them whole; Half-truths like “You can’t set someone free because it’s the Sabbath,” or “he just is not the right kind of people to be here,” or “there is a time and a place for everything and we have more important things to do than this…” Folks when Satan appears in our culture he will not resemble Linda Blair in the movie The Exorcist, he will look like Brad Pitt, or Tom Cruise, or Catherine Zeta-Jones at their most attractive.  Satan had his hooks into the leaders of that Synagogue and they did not have a clue.

Years ago, there was a woman who came to see me about her relationship with her daughter.  It seems that her daughter, who was in her early 40’s, had set up house with her boyfriend, rather than getting married.  I asked, “Why aren’t they married?”

“He’s black,” she said.

“Why is that stopping them?”

“She knows that I’ll not want to speak to her anymore if she marries a black man.”

“Why does she think that?”

“Because it’s true.  Is that wrong?”

I told her two things: 1) yes, dear, it is wrong.  If he is a Christian, it should not matter what the color of his skin, hair or anything is, he should be welcomed into your family; and 2) your daughter is using your prejudice as an excuse to live with this man.

Our own prejudices betray us, and even though the world will tell us that something is perfectly acceptable, like believing that people should remain separate because of race, the gospel tells us something completely different.  Satan can sink his hooks into us and we don’t even realize it until Jesus comes to us and shows us, in stark relief, what is wrong with us.

John Buchanan writes “People who think and write about church growth should pay a little more attention to the book of Acts.  The earliest Christians simply acted like Christians, like friends and followers of Jesus.  They devoted themselves to love and compassion.  It doesn’t say they devoted themselves to church growth and evangelism.  It says they devoted themselves to caring for one another and for others, and the world was compelled by their authenticity, the integrity of the life they lived in the world.  Their life together was the very best evangelism.”[7]

Of course, the really important thing to note about this incident in scripture might not be obvious at first glance.  The woman is healed, it is a glorious healing and that is obvious.  Jesus’ opponent’s are embarrassed and put into their place; that is also very obvious.  But what is not so obvious is the other healing that takes place.  This healing hurt quite a bit and didn’t feel like a healing at first.  It felt like something that had been festering within them was lanced and cut out; like a cancer that had to be removed without anesthesia.

Jesus carved out their cancer – the community’s cancer.  Though the leaders were embarrassed, their own sinfulness laid bare for all to see, their misplaced priorities were like a cancer within the community of faithTheir adherence to the minutest letter of the law, straining out the gnats and swallowing the camel as Jesus put it in Matthew 27, blinded them to the meaning of the lawThey missed the point.  This was not the only time this sickness struck them, I am sure.  So Jesus, doing the most loving thing he could, ripped out the cancer.  The church was healed of its sickness because of what Jesus did.

What is binding you?  Is it a sickness?  Is it a prejudice you can’t let go of?  Is it a sin that you can’t shake?  Jesus can set us all free; Jesus can set you free.


[1] Fred Craddock, Preaching Through the Christian Year, Year C, p.384.

[2] Craddock, Ibid.

[3] Texts for Preaching, p.485.

[4] Texts for Preaching, p.485.

[5] William Barclay, Daily Study Bible, Luke 13:10-17.

[6] Barclay, Ibid.

[7] John Buchanan, “Give Me That Old Time Religion,” Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago, April 25, 1999.

  December 2017  
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