Jewish Synagogue, first century
Sermon, Saint John’s Cathedral, Denver, Colorado
What is your ailment? Of what have you been healed? Of what do you want healing?
Cancer? Greed? Pain? Resentment, envy? Complaining? Entitlement? Blindness? Pride? With-holding? Compassion-deficit?
And what would be your song if you WERE healed by the HEALER?
The crippled woman shuffled around her small room. It was the Sabbath day and the people of the little village were excited about the preacher who would teach in synagogue that day. He was said to be a miracle worker.
She knew this Jesus fellow was known for something else in town. He infuriated the clergy of the synagogue. He broke rules. He made new ones. He was radical. If nothing else, the morning would be entertaining for an old, crippled woman in a nowhere village, from a hut on the edge of town.
Bent over low from an 18 year back illness she was in constant pain. She suffered. Back pain is hard to get away from – it is in the middle of the body and plays tricks on the mind. She would have to leave early to get to the synagogue early enough to get a piece of floor near the front. It would be the only way to hear the teacher, Yeshua. Bent double and walking with an old, polished olive branch made by her neighbor, Yehezekel, she would be looking up onto the round buttocks of her neighbors is she did not stand in the front row at Synagogue. Of average, first century Jewish height – at just under five feet tall, she was bent over such that she was three feet tall bent-double in pain, her face was parallel with the earth at her feet, at about the level of her pelvis. To see a preacher she had to crane her neck and look out of the corner of her eye, face upside-down. From the front row she could see and hear him. If she is late to synagogue , she will end up perhaps just one row back …a few minutes too late to synagogue… and she would be staring into somebody’s but cheeks, and with the crowds pressing in, well, let’s just say its best she arrive early to get a front row standing-space.
She was early enough! Praise be to The God of the universe! It was your average village synagogue, build with donations from villagers grateful for their lives. It sported a clerestory of small windows near a ceiling supported by nine pillars and a flat, stone floor. Three hours later the place was full. As Jesus spoke, only four feet away, she could hear his words ring with hope. He was announcing a new heaven and a new earth. Bent low and with pain searing down both legs her hand was wet on her stick. Pain made her sweat.
He is speaking of reforming the system of the synagogue and she wished she could see the chief priest’s face, expecting it to be the color of the figs to which Jesus just made reference. PURPLE FACES. This made her wonder what Jesus’ face looked like, so she braced herself for pain, turned away from Jesus a bit and began, slowly to turn her neck. True she was looking at him upside-down, but she was used to that. By looking from the corners of her eyes she could see him, well, his waist, but with effort and real craning of her neck – she might even see his face. She would try. The pain in her neck and legs convulsed her body and she shut her eyes to focus on not screaming.
And then it happened.
You could hear a pin drop.
She opened her eyes and the room was silent.
Jesus was looking at her. Into her eyes. He had had to bend over and he had had to crane his neck at an odd angle but they were staring into each other’s eyes. She had forgotten. It had been two decades since her eyes had met anyone else’s eyes. She was so moved by him, working as hard as she had – to see her – that her eyes filled with tears and she had to squeeze them to get the water out onto the stone paving – at which point Jesus stepped towards her and spoke.
Everyone was watching. She could see their upside-down faces.
He placed his hands on her head and shoulder, slowly, like a doctor touching a burn victim.
His hands were hot.
“Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”
Immediately she felt the pain leave her like a skirt dropped from the waist of a runway model as she changed into a new dress. She rose up, and up, and up – doubling her height. She stood ram-rod straight like a ballerina, like a countess, like a flamingo. The people around her voiced their amazement and she could see the priests eyes flash anger at a miracle on the בָּת; (shabat). Liturgical protocol had been broken. There would be scolding. Now the people were cheering and the priests were whispering, fists clenched.
Her eyes then darted back to Jesus’ but now his eyes were now level with hers, and right-side up. Jesus smiled and again, tears. Flowing tears and also shouts from the synagogue leaders. They were in a shouting match with Jesus. It was one those Torah arguments. “…They could water their donkeys but she could not be healed?…” …and the crowd cheered.
What does a woman do when given new life by Jesus? What does one do with a body erect, a diaphragm now fully extended, a torso flat after 18 years of implosion, a chin up and free from pain? What does one do staring into the eyes of God, who is staring back?
“Jesus will pay for this.” she thought to herself.
So she sang.
She sang her guts out at the top of her lungs, she sang. Pulling words from the Torah, she drowned out the church leader’s scolding. She drowned out her ancient cries of pain. She drowned out her past whimpers in old hopeless nights. She drowned out even the old silence of men never choosing her, over he poverty, over her deformity, over her groans of pain.
So she sang like a teenager in heat, breaking two more rules in the church’s books. She, a woman, sang in a liturgy, in a synagogue. She sang…
“Hear, give ear, O rulers!
aI—to the Lord, I will sing,
I will sing praise to the Lord, the God of Israel.
The peasantry ceased, they ceased in Israel,
Until I, Deborah, arose,
Until I arose, a mother in Israel.
Bless the Lord!
(she) asked for water and (he) gave (her) milk;
In a magnificent bowl (he) brought (her) curds.
bBut let those who love Him
be like the rising of the sun in its might.”
How do you enact your gratitude for God’s gift?
What is your song?
10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 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. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 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.” 15 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? 16 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?” 17 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.
 The song of Deborah and Barak, Judges, Chapter five