By Kelly Wright
A woman, whose life had not turned out like she had wished, had come to the temple to hear Jesus preach on the Sabbath. She was disabled by an evil spirit for 18 years, living life totally bent over, not able to straighten up at all. We can only wonder what her life was like. Was she able to care for herself or did she depend on others? Did her disability keep her from being married, having kids, or if she had children, could she take care of them? I cannot even image the exhaustion of the physical pain. If you’ve ever had back pain, you know how debilitating it can be. For this woman, not being able to straighten up for 18 years, had to be horrific pain. Then there’s the emotional pain: being disabled by a spirit came with all kinds of judgment of being sinful; being looked at with judgment brought about rejection – being ignored or pushed to the side. And then the spiritual agony. Was she tormented by the question, “What have I done to deserve this?” I can imagine her days from sun-up to sun-down being filled with hopelessness and shame – two enemies of the heart that brutally beat someone up from the inside out.
As we consider her pain, I think it’s incredible that this woman even came to the synagogue that Sabbath. Wouldn’t it have been easier for her to stay home, especially with all the things she had to push through physically and emotionally to get there?
But she did push through and as Jesus began to preach, he did something seemingly small and inconsequential. Jesus saw her and it was the beginning of something huge in this woman’s life. Jesus was a master at seeing those that were unseen time and time again. The Gospels are filled with encounters of Jesus seeing those who were often unseen for a variety of reasons. And that didn’t stop then. Jesus sees each and every one of us today.
Luke 13:12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward…
Can you picture the scene: the place was packed; Jesus rises to give His sermon, but instead sees this woman, stops the message and calls her forward? This was not the normal order of service. And not only that, but, she was a woman. Here we see Jesus once again breaking the norms of that day by calling a woman to come forward.
When Jesus called her forward, she went. I wonder if she thought about sneaking out the side door. Her willingness to humble herself and come forward was a small step with huge result.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.
She was bound by this spirit that disabled her for 18 years and in a split second, Jesus untied her and set her free.
Her healing was part one of this story. Part two takes a twist that we don’t see coming. You see, the Jews considered healing ‘work’ and you were not supposed to work on the Sabbath. The leader of the synagogue got mad at Jesus for healing the woman on the Sabbath.
Indignant because He had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”
The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”
Jesus got upset when he saw this reaction. Rather than praising God, the synagogue leader got triggered when things didn’t go the way he planned, when things didn’t go according to man-made rules, and the service was totally out of his control. Jesus called them hypocrites because they would untie their work animals so that they can drink water but they couldn’t be joyful over the healing of this disabled woman. Sadly, the religious people often dwelled on being right. But in this moment, Jesus challenged their way of thinking – it was and is about being in relationship with God, not about being religious or right.
When Jesus said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.
Jesus had untied this woman’s back, but He was also doing a work to untie the leaders who were bound up with trying to appease God by following 613 human renditions of rules they believed they had to perfectly adhere to. This synagogue leader thought he was pleasing God by confronting Jesus about not following the rules. He truly believed that was what he was supposed to do. But Jesus wanted him to be free as well. Free to see that God was healing this sister, free to celebrate her healing, and free to let go of trying to please God by being religious.
So Part 1 of the story was healing the woman; Part 2 of the story was challenging the perspective of the leader; and in Part 3 we see Jesus bring it all together.
Then Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? 19 It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.”
Jesus brings the healing of the woman and the scolding of the leader together beautifully by connecting them to the Kingdom of God.
He starts by saying the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, a very tiny seed, around 1 to 2 millimeters. (Picture the tip of a sharpened pencil.)
The incredible thing about a mustard seed is that even though it starts out so small, after a bit of time and in the right conditions, it grows into a 6-8 foot tree, so big, birds could perch in its branches.
Again he asked, “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
What Jesus is saying in these examples, that wasn’t just for the crowd at the synagogue that Sabbath, but is also for us: The Kingdom of God starts from small seeds planted.
The kingdom of God starts from what seems to be small and inconsequential actions. Mustard seeds and yeast are both incredibly tiny, but both do a mighty work.
Jesus lived out the Kingdom of God in specific ways that Sabbath day. He saw the woman (small act), He called her to come forth and healed her (big moment). The woman also lived out the kingdom that day. She came to the temple in her condition and she came forward when Jesus invited her.
Jesus also planted a mustard seed of truth in the heart of the leader. We don’t hear the rest of the story, but the seed was planted.
The kingdom of God starts from small seeds planted. It’s not advanced with big programs or events (although these things happen). The normal course is for the Kingdom of God to move forward an millimeter at a time as God’s people are faithful in their relationship with God and in their relationships with each other. The Kingdom of God advances as we show compassion and love to people one person at a time.
The Kingdom of God is advanced through little acts that have a great impact. What appears to be tiny and insignificant will prove to have been the beginning of God’s mighty kingdom.
So as we consider this teaching, what are practical ways to live out the kingdom of God this week?
Consider the woman bent over by the evil spirit. Have you ever felt hopeless – that things won’t change so why even wish for something different? Ever felt shame like there was something wrong with you – that what you are struggling with is because there’s something wrong with you? Do you ever feel unseen or pushed to the side?
Every one of us is carrying some kind of pain which Jesus sees. And He extends an invitation – some people ignore the invitation and some run away, but for this woman, she made the decision to hear this call and come forward.
For you – does something have you tied up? There are so many things that keep us in chains – addictions of all kinds: drugs, alcohol, pornography, food, work, shopping, compulsive behaviors. And disordered attachments like control, power, security in self or things, esteem – worldly answers to significance, supporting yourself and relationships.
Are you in need of someone who will truly sees you and knows you so well that He can set you free? Jesus SEES you. He understands what is going on in your life. Others may look past you, may push you aside. But just as Jesus helped this woman and He desires to help you.
Are you tied to something that is life-taking? Where do you need set free?
Consider the synagogue leader. Maybe his story strikes a chord with you today. Are you trying to please God by doing all the right things and trying to be perfect? Going through the motion on the outside but inside you’re disconnected from God? Holding on tight to control, performance, your plans, your way? All are things that God wants to free you from and is inviting you to let go of.
Are you holding on to something like control or like how you think things should be instead of making space for grace? What do you need to let go of?
Consider the power of the mustard seed or yeast. Most of us feel insignificant and negate the power of being a mustard seed for the Kingdom of God. This week instead of seeing ourselves as small and inconsequential, let’s believe in the power of being a mustard seed for the Kingdom of God. Consider spending five minutes a day with God. Five minutes may seem like nothing, but can make a huge impact. Also consider small acts of kindness: being a positive influence, letting someone know how they’ve impacted your journey, smiling at someone, holding the door open. All these little acts of kindness can plant seeds in the lives of others. And then over time we’ll be dazzled at how God makes things grow in our lives and the lives of others…one small millimeter at a time.