The most meaningful experience of my studies in Jerusalem has focused on Sabbath observance. The weekly rhythms in Israel move inexorably toward the celebration of this hallowed time, which distinguishes the people of God as it creates opportunity to encounter the Holy One. I loved watching the quickened steps on the streets of Jerusalem Friday afternoon as people did the last bit of shopping for the festive meal and bought flowers to brighten the table.
The question of what is permissible on the Sabbath has been a protracted discussion in Judaism. Thick volumes of commentary review what it means to “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” Jesus purportedly transgressed the Sabbath conventions of the first century and was accused of careless disregard of this centerpiece of Jewish identity. Then, and now, authentic Sabbath observance is about re-creation.
The Gospel reading for next Sunday recounts a particularly heated exchange with a synagogue leader over healing on the Sabbath. While he was teaching, a “bent-over” woman entered, and Jesus addressed her: “Woman, you are set free from your ailment” (Luke 13:12b). For over eighteen years she had not been able to stand up straight, and now Jesus granted her the dignity a daughter of Abraham deserved by loosing her from her bondage.
The leader of the synagogue was indignant at this action and sought to rile the congregation against Jesus. Jesus reminded them that they dealt with their livestock in compassionate ways on the Sabbath, making sure it was tended. Why should not this woman be lovingly tended even more? Offering a good rabbinic argument from the lesser to the greater, he was persuasive. “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” (Luke 13:17).
This is a story of healing, but it is also a restoration of one to the community. Jesus words and inclusive action allow the woman to walk upright again. A key theme in Luke’s Gospel is the liberation of the oppressed, and this woman has suffered exclusion and the heavy burden of patriarchy. Jesus lays hands on her, blesses her, and releases her from her physical and spiritual captivity.
Reading this familiar narrative reminds me that we are also called to enact freedom for the oppressed. This past Saturday members of More2 demonstrated solidarity at Linwood and Prospect with grieving families who have lost loved ones to homicide in that zip code. Hopefully, awakened conscience will lead to policy changes.
Loosing bondage may come through words of acknowledgment of dignity—such as when a white man in “42” refers to Jack Robinson’s wife as “ma-am.” It may be the welcome to a prodigal who has traveled into a far country from his or her congregation. Jesus has granted us such power, and I urge us to use it.
Molly T. Marshall
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