The readings on which this
sermon is based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r188.htm
'Woman, you are set free from your ailment' Luke 13.12
I wonder just what the ailment was from which this woman was set
In more recent years I have begun to use my full name 'christopher'
rather than the diminutive 'Chris' which people most often called me
in a previous life, in a previous marriage, last
century. It didn't really fuss me, but now it 'tickles
my fancy' to be called after a defrocked saint :-)
Neither do I much care what others call me now - unless it is late
for dinner. But actually this has made me realise that
for all the unverifiable mythological background to the story of
Christopher, the name itself must stem from the myth, however
factual it may or may not be. The story of the giant
carrying the infant Jesus across the raging river is the source of
this name - the 'Christ-carrier'. It is a real
And the story of my becoming 'christopher' is the story of my
continuing to reflect on the Sunday readings wider than just my work
pulpit, if sometimes only virtually, since 1996. As I
have explored my faith and expressed this exploration, I have been
able to move on. Perhaps it is just that I am a slow
learner! It is not that I have become more religious or
more spiritual; I have become more christopher.
Indeed it is as I have ceased to try to become more religious or
more spiritual that I have allowed myself to become more who I
am. The ailment from which I am being set free is the
ailment of religion and spirituality.
I reflect that religion and spirituality so often focusses on the
great and eternal truths propounded by scripture, creeds, the giants
of the church and the weight of church tradition. The
tiny kernel of faith found in the likes of you and me has oft been
swamped by all of this. And it is surely significant
that we find this woman 'bent over and was quite unable to stand up
straight', in the synagogue on the Sabbath, dutifully listening (as
women have often down the centuries only been allowed to do) as the
leaders propounded on the ancient verities of the blessedness of
obedience to the faith - equivalent to compliance to their teaching.
But manifestly, compliance to their teaching did not bring
healing. I note that Jesus was teaching in the synagogue
and it was this teaching that nurtured a tiny kernel of faith in
this woman, who found not just her body straightened, but also found
her voice to praise God. No wonder the devout and the
orthodox were scandalised. Their power to subjugate had
been swept away. Suddenly it was not only the woman who
had found her voice, but we are told: 'the entire crowd was
rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was
doing'. Everyone realised that the power of the
hierarchy to subjugate had been swept away. The devout
and the orthodox had a full-scale revolt on their hands!
I do not want anyone else to become 'christopher'. The
last thing I want to do is impose my image on anyone
else. I am content that others find the faith to become
themselves rather than clones of the ancients or the present
I have been pondering my belief in an interventionist God, and
perhaps my answer comes in the timing of my beginning to become
christopher when I began posting sermons on the internet in August
1996. This was when I began to extricate myself from the
strictures of parish ministry. Which leads me to wonder
if I've got another year and I will actually be free to be
myself. And perhaps my ministry has been to help others
do this in a shorter time :-)
But this makes me wonder what happened when this woman returned to
her home and husband? Such a severe crippling may not
have come solely from the result of a restrictive
religion. No doubt she returned not the meek and mild
dutiful wife she had been when she left for the
synagogue. Perchance her husband was not well pleased
with the cure? Perhaps he too was a willing assistant of
the spirit that had crippled her? And Jesus didn't tell
the woman to follow him - not because he wouldn't have valued her
ministry - but perhaps lest he be charged with breaking up a home
and family. Perhaps the woman's task was to teach her
husband some things about equality in relationships.
Clearly women did follow Jesus.
I have been so used to thinking of this woman as unmarried and I
wonder why? I wonder how the whole story would be
changed if in fact she was the wife of the leader of the
synagogue? Suddenly the comparison between the care of a
man's animals - HIS ox and HIS donkey - is contrasted with the care
for his wife. I point out the curious echoes in the
tenth commandment in the book of Exodus (listed in oder of
importance): 'You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall
not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or
donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.' (1)
Jesus' raises the status of this crippled woman from being of even
less importance than a male's working animals to 'daughter of
Abraham' - whether she be married or not.
I also wonder whether the woman showed signs of physical abuse?
I have just read a lovely piece about attending church. 'Why
bother with Church at all?' by Tara Woodard-Lehman, Presbyterian
Chaplain, Princeton University: 'After giving it much
consideration, I've decided that there is at least one very good
reason why I need Church: I have a really bad memory.
It's true. I have a terrible memory.
Especially when it comes to remembering who I am as a child of
God. Especially when it comes to remembering what God
has done, and continues to do, in and through Jesus
Christ. I forget who I am. I forget who God
is. I forget God's Epic Story of Redemption and
Liberation and Renewal and Beauty and Hope. I
forget. A lot.' (2) I am glad that she finds
church a place of personal liberation, but this is certainly not
universal or guaranteed.
In another article, Gavin Drake in Church Times says: 'The nature of
the debate on women bishops at the General Synod meeting last
November has "finally shocked most bishops into the realisation that
conservative demands can never be met".' (3) The
crippling forces of religion and spirituality are still very real
and active in the church of my tradition.
My final reflection is to say that we are told that: 'Jesus was
teaching in one of the synagogues' though not what the content of
his teaching was. His presence was not in the content or
eloquence of his words. We are told that Jesus 'called
her over', bringing the crippled woman close to himself, close
enough to be able to lay 'his hands on her'. She was
brought from the periphery to the very centre of the
action. She was invited to leave the margins and to take
her place as a central player in the proclamation of the gospel -
eclipsing the strictures of the devout and the orthodox.
No wonder her demeanour was so radically changed!
And no wonder the devout and the orthodox wanted to be rid of this
Jesus who made their status redundant and caused God's work to be
seen in someone so obviously despised.
So we are called not to proclaim an interventionist God but to
follow Jesus and bring those on the margins into the
centre. We are called to intervene in people's lives, to
do as we wish God would act.
(1) Exodus 20.17