While I was teaching a group of teens in a pre-Confirmation class, a young man asked me an interesting question: “How come Jesus doesn’t just perform some miracle that everyone can see? That way everyone would believe.”
A reasonable question, but I responded by saying that many would still reject Our Lord. And then I had him turn to today’s passage in Luke’s Gospel.
The leader of the synagogue had just witnessed a remarkable miracle, and yet all he could do was castigate Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. So blinded by law and ritual he lost sight of God's mercy and goodness, and couldn’t recognize God working right before his eyes.
He didn’t deny the healing. Indeed, it was the supposed illegality, the timing, of the healing that bothered him. But Jesus healed on the Sabbath because God never rests from mercy and forgiveness and love. The official didn’t reject the miracle; he rejected Jesus – something we encounter again and again in the Gospels. And we still encounter it today.
But what a healing it was…a healing of hope.
The woman had said nothing; she had asked nothing of Jesus. It was simply her presence that moved Him.
Despite her affliction – bent over, unable to stand erect, probably in constant pain – still she makes her way to the synagogue on the Sabbath. This faithful Jewish woman comes to offer her prayer of thanksgiving and to hear God’s Word proclaimed. She doesn’t blame God for the suffering she’s endured for 18 years. She hasn’t turned from God; she’s turned to God.
Jesus sees her, and in seeing her, He knows her. He peers into the deep recesses of her heart. He knows her faithfulness and He knows her suffering, something that calls to mind those beautiful words from Psalm 139:
O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord you know it altogether.
You beset me behind and before and lay your hand upon me. [Ps 139:1-5]And because Jesus knew her better than she knew herself, “He called to her,” and uttered those healing words:
“Woman, you are set free…” [Lk 13:12]
Set free from the chains that bind those who suffer. Set free from the doubt and despair through which Satan challenges our faith. Yes, she was free.
Just think about that. God’s Word is certainly enough. It alone can heal. After all, that same divine Word brought the entire universe into being. Jesus reaches out to this woman and touches her with his hands, and immediately she stands straight. Jesus touches because He is one of us. He took on human form and human flesh, and he knows we need the touch of another. But His touch is holy. Yes, His flesh, His holy flesh, bears within it the presence and the power of God.
The woman senses this, doesn’t she? For how does she respond? She glorifies God. She knows it is God working through the hands, working through the holy flesh of Jesus. And it is this same healing flesh, this Body and Blood of Jesus, we receive in the Eucharistic feast.
Is it any wonder that she is healed? Like us, she has experienced a Holy Communion. The love of God, the healing grace of Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit have entered her and set her free and returned her to the wholeness God intended for her.
How often do I struggle bound and bent double, my soul unable to stand upright?
And yet the weight of my sin inclines me toward the Merciful One, and in my repentance He heals me.
Lord Jesus, You alone are our Protector. You turn your eyes to us, and call us to You. You speak Your Word, and touch us with Your holy hands, with Your Body and Blood.
You set us free.