Rise Up!

The Testimony of the Bent Over Woman

A perspective on Luke 13:10-17 and Isaiah 58:9b-14

by Marci Auld Glass

I know the ground of my town well.
I am good friends with each rock,
each turn of a path,
each twist of a road.
The way the dirt banks on some turns,
the trails left by scorpions as they drag their tails in the dust.

I can find the well by following the wet trail left by the dripping buckets of the women who have gotten their water a little earlier than me in the morning.

I can identify people by their sandals, by the bruise on a big toe, by the hem of their robe. Miriam has a vibrant blue stripe along the bottom of hers. Sarah’s is red. John’s is rough homespun.

I know who sweeps their floor each morning
and who sweeps them only once a week, if that.

I could only look down.  I could only see the path I’m walking as I take each step.

Over the last many years,
most of my life,
as long as I can remember, almost,
my back had been twisting, the bones curving in on themselves.

As it is with gradual diseases,
I didn’t quite notice it at first.

Until one day, I realized I was looking at my husband’s throat
instead of into his beautiful brown eyes
when I told him I loved him and wished him  a good day at work.

Until one day, when I realized I could still catch the sunset,
right before it sank below the horizon,
but I could no longer see the movement of the sun as he moved across the sky in his chariot of fire.

And it just kept getting worse. My spine kept twisting and folding,
my head kept tilting down,
further down,
down.

At first people felt sorry for me, and asked how they could help. People would help me reach things on the top shelf in the market.

My friends would massage the knots in my back,
hoping they could stretch me back out again.

But as it continued to get worse, the story changed.

“She must have sinned horribly to be so disfigured,”
I would hear the women whisper, as I left them doing laundry at the riverbank.

Joshua, you shouldn’t go play at Benjamin’s house. Something is wrong with his mother. I don’t want you to catch it.

I even stopped going to worship. The religious leaders would see me shuffle in to the women’s section. I couldn’t see them, but I knew they could see me because I would hear the pitch of their voice rise as they would call out reminders to stay away from unclean people.

But I missed worship.

I missed hearing the women’s voices around me in prayer and song.

I missed the drone of the men’s voices in the other room, even if I couldn’t hear each word they said, I could hear the praise rising up to God.

I missed hearing the news about each other’s lives
finding out whose pregnancy was difficult,
or who needed a pot of lentil soup delivered,
or who just needed a hug because it had been one of those weeks.

Touch. I missed touch.
I missed the way my friends would braid my hair,
Or hold my hand as we walked through the market.
Even the casual touch of shoulders as we were jostled by the crowd.

My disfigurement made me unclean, although I never quite knew why.
Whatever I had done,
however I had sinned,
my punishment was that I couldn’t touch or be touched.

Who wanted to catch what I had?

I couldn’t blame them for that.

So I stayed away from the synagogue

It was easier that way. For everyone,
but me.

Some days, after everyone else had gathered inside to worship,
I would shuffle over to the synagogue and just sit outside.

I didn’t want to cause a fuss,
but I wanted to hear God’s Word.

I wanted to be near my community in some way.

And I would pray by myself on the steps,
because if there was something I had done to cause my disfigurement,
maybe there was something I could do to make it go away.

So I prayed.
To untwist,
to unclench,
to rise up,
to straighten,
to be clean,
to be restored.

And then, before the final prayers, before the people left the service, I would shuffle away,
still twisted,
still hunched,
still crooked,
still unclean.

But today, a teacher was coming. To our little synagogue.

Everyone had heard about him.  Crowds from all over had followed him, to listen to his teachings,
To be healed,
To be baptized,
To come closer to God.

Because he was different from the other teachers.

He talks to women.
He stands up to religious leaders.
He touches lepers.

And I wasn’t going to miss my chance to hear him,
to see his feet as they walked past me in the crowd.

The religious leaders weren’t going to like it—my  uncleanness was likely a bad reflection on their leadership—but what had they done for me lately?

Nothing.

I decided they were big boys who could take care of themselves. I was going to listen to Jesus.

I don’t know how he saw me in the crowd, but I heard him call out  ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’

It took me a minute to be sure he was talking to me. Maybe there was another woman in the room who needed healing?

But then he touched me.

He. Touched. Me.

And I felt the knots in my spine untangle,
Unclench,
I felt my back Straighten,
Be healed.

As each vertebra was restored, I stood a little straighter. My muscles had forgotten how to be tall, how to rise up. But the excitement of my bones as they regained their strength was memory enough for them both.

And I rose up, straight. And I began praising God.

I was able to sing the passage from Isaiah that had given me comfort during my years of affliction.

“The Lord will guide you continually,
And satisfy your needs in parched places,
And make your bones strong.
And you shall be like a watered garden,
Like a spring of water
Whose waters never fail.

Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt.
You shall RAISE UP
The foundations of many generations.”

I stopped singing my praise to God and I opened my eyes and looked around me.

And instead of seeing feet and dirt,
I saw faces
and walls
and sky peeking in through the windows!

It was almost too much.
Too much color.
Too much beauty.
Too much LIFE.

I saw the faces of my friends. And I saw both their excitement that I was restored to them, and, in a few, their shame that they had not stood next to me.

And I saw the faces of the religious leaders. But they were not excited.

The leader of the synagogue said to me
    “There are six days on which work ought to be done.
        Come on those days and be cured,
            And not on the Sabbath.”

He was accusing me?
Of what?
Healing myself?
Being cured?
Being clean?

And I’m the one who needed healing? Really?

All of these people,
straight and tall,
walking around with their eyes open,
but not seeing.
They have their health,
and their vision,
and their strong spines,
and yet they don’t really seem to see beyond themselves, squabbling over laws while people right next to them are in pain.

“You hypocrites!” Jesus called out.
To them.
To me.
While he went on to chastise them for having a love of doctrine that was so much stronger than their doctrine of love, I was able to just stand there and look around.

I studied the faces of my people,
drinking in the details I had missed over the years,
wondering when the men all got old and started to look like their fathers.

I saw the joy in the faces of the people who had come for a show and had seen a healing.
I wondered if their faith would continue when the miracles were harder to see.

I saw the shame of those who had wanted to impress Jesus with their love of the Law, as they realized they’d gotten the order of things all wrong.

But mostly what I saw was how big and beautiful the world can seem when you don’t just look at the ground.

Hope is expansive and endless when you can see beyond your own feet, and dream of what is beyond the far hills.

My back was healed today. And I’ll forever be grateful to be able to stretch, to stand tall, to rise up. Grateful for my strong bones.

But I’m also thankful for the return of a bigger perspective. Life can seem so small when you can only see the path right in front of your feet.

By touching me, Jesus healed my soul.
And now I can see God’s Kingdom.
It’s much bigger than I had imagined it could be. And it is yet bigger than I can imagine even now.

What a gift it is to be able to look up,
to look around,
to look ahead,
to see a glimpse of the
Kingdom of God.
Thanks be to God.
Amen.

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