Saturday, August 20, 2016

Gospel text for Sunday 21 August 2016

Luke 13:10-17        Now Jesus 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.

Reflection    Twenty five years ago I swung my bruised body on my all too familiar crutches into my acupuncturist’s office. Being a whole person healer Dr. D began by listening attentively to my tale of woe; my head dive over a patch of ice, my frozen ski binding that provided the opportunity for my femur to release out the side of my leg, the head first toboggan ride down the ski mountain, the sea of faces in the chair lift line all silently praying, “Thank God that’s not me,” the medic gone rogue yanking my leg across the equator, the single minded orthopedic surgeon whose only answer was the knife, my stubborn refusal to submit to his plan, now, 10 days later, my crippled leg lay motionless on Dr. D’ acupuncture table.” Throughout my monologue Dr. D drivers spiked points of pain into my ankles, wrists, top of my head. When finally my words run dry Dr. D pauses, needle in midair and avers, “One day you will be grateful for all of the traumas and pain you have experienced,” which stung more grievously than the needle she promptly planted into my swollen knee. 

Suffering happens. The weight of suffering is integral to the constitution of life. In the words of the old Rolling Stones song, “No, you can't always get what you want. You can't always get what you want. You can't always get what you want. But if you try sometime you find. You get what you need.” 

Thich Nhat Hanh refers to this attitude of consenting and welcoming the present moment as mindfulness. In an interview with Krista Tippett the Vietnamese monk explains. “Mindfulness is assent to life as it is. Look at a flower and see that it is on its way to be garbage. Look at garbage and see it is on its way to be a flower.”+ In the same way we may experience suffering as being on the way to compassion. And of course, when we experience compassion we are on the way to experience suffering with others.

What does all of this have to do with the woman who was “bent over and quiet unable to stand up straight?” Everything. We have no idea what ails her but we do know this. Two thousand years ago if she had scoliosis, not only would she suffer the physical pain associated with the condition, but her neighbors would see her as a sinner who must have done something wrong to bring this grievous state upon herself, the religious leaders would consider her doubly unclean (woman and diseased) which  would foster oppressive feelings of guilt and unworthiness and eject this woman into exile.

Then Jesus arrives and turns the proverbial temple tables upside down. In direct violation of social norms and temple law, Jesus looks at the woman and calls her to him, he calls her to return from exile. Then he speaks directly to her, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment." and lays his hands on her. Jesus sees the woman exactly as she is. He not only acknowledges her existence he affirms her dignity and worth by touching her. And the healing is this. The woman is set free from the social, emotional and religious conditions that have oppressed her for eighteen years and her relationship with God is restored. “Immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.”

We are all bent beneath the weight of something. And, if we are not now, just wait a minute. Jesus shows us the way of living freely; refusing to be oppressed by physical, social, emotional or religious conditions; look into the face of suffering, consent to the present moment and discover God with you, no matter what.

+To hear Thich Nhat Hanh’s entire interview, click on this link accessed August 20, 2016.

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