Seeing Clearly

Seeing Clearly

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; August 25, 2019

11th Sunday after Pentecost

Heb.12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17

When it comes to music, I love everything from Bach to Bluegrass. And it may be that Kinney knows a portion of every popular song sung since the ‘70s. Because of our love of music, we enjoy attending concerts. The one that brings back the fondest memories for me was at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts (or Wolf Trap, as it’s commonly called) located in Vienna, Virginia. It’s an indoor/outdoor venue on 130 acres of national park land, with seating for several thousand, some under cover, others, more casually, on the lawn. The entertainment was provided by Steve Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers along with Edie Brickell. Since it was our first visit to Wolf Trap, I called the theater to chat with an employee, who was eager to provide tips to make the experience delightful—where to park, when to arrive, what to bring, how to get the best seats on the lawn, etc. Heeding her advice, Kinney and I took a picnic, rented comfortable stadium chairs, and got the best spot on the lawn, where we could see the concert as well as gaze up at the stars once night fell.

 

After we got settled, I began looking around—taking in the lovely setting. Since the show was sold out it was a packed house. Still, I was surprised to see lots of people sitting way off to the side with no view of the performers. They could hear the music and Steve Martin’s funny one-liners—without any trouble—but they’re view was obstructed. So, they were missing out on a lot!

 

In our gospel reading for today, the bent-over woman, who has “partial view seating” at best—is missing out on a lot. What has caused her ailment? We are told that a spirit has crippled her. Of course, in biblical times, evil spirits were believed to cause countless ailments. Some experts suspect that she’s elderly and has advanced osteoporosis. Others wonder if she might have been crippled in an accident or even been a victim of domestic violence. While we can only speculate as to what has caused her to be bent over, we can safely say that being so makes her life difficult. Doing the simplest of things like carrying water, cooking, or cleaning is a struggle. In addition to basic needs, she is unable to gaze into the eyes of people passing by. She strains to see the sky, the stars, and the sun.

 

On this fateful day, Jesus is teaching in one of the synagogues as he often does. It is, after all, the Sabbath, and Jesus is, after all, a faithful Jew. While Jesus teaches, the bent over woman appears. Since she has been this way for 18 years, people in the community likely pay her little mind. But Jesus sees her—really sees her. More than that, he calls out to her. “Woman, you are set free from your ailment,” he says. Then Jesus lays hands on her and she immediately stands up straight and begins praising God.

 

My, oh, my…I think I can hear her worshiping God even now. I imagine she starts dancing and creates quite a ruckus. Just the thought of it makes me want to join her. What a glorious reason to celebrate and sing praises to Yahweh! But wait, a man is raising his voice. It is the leader of the synagogue. What is he saying? It’s hard to tell with the woman singing at the top of her lungs. But the synagogue leader keeps repeating something louder and louder. Is he joining her praise or is he trying to drown her out? Sadly, it’s the latter. Listen to what he says: “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.”

 

Jesus answers, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or 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 18 long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?” For a moment, there is complete silence, until, one by one, those who oppose Jesus hang their heads in shame. Finally, the entire crowd begins to rejoice—joining in with the woman who has been healed. What wonderful things Jesus is doing! Praise God!

 

Wouldn’t you love to be a part of such worship? Wouldn’t you love to see what Jesus sees? Jesus is a “seer.” One scholar notes that in the four gospels, Jesus is reported as “seeing” 138 times. In fact, a recurring miracle of Jesus is to restore sight to the blind. It appears that the people of Jesus’ day have a problem seeing. Certainly, they are unable to see as Jesus sees.[i]  It makes me wonder what is different about the way Jesus sees the woman. How is it that he focuses not on her present condition but on her future potential? Had we been there, how might we have seen her? Might we have overlooked her, altogether?

 

Jesus sees the bent over woman, truly sees her and then Jesus does the unthinkable. He goes against religious norms to set her free. Unquestionably, the synagogue leader fails to see what Jesus sees. Since healing is considered work, and therefore prohibited on the Jewish Sabbath, all the leader can see is Jesus breaking the law. He sees and he is angered by Jesus’ audacity. “The woman isn’t in any mortal danger. She’s been this way for years. Surely, she can wait another day or two! What’s the rush?”[ii]

 

However, for Jesus, people are more important than the law. From his perspective, setting someone free from whatever has them bound is a perfect way to honor the Sabbath. Jesus notices the woman and he shows her respect, kindness, and love. He calls her out of her isolation; out of her shame. It is with a heart overflowing with thanksgiving that the woman responds by standing upright and praising God. For all to hear, she becomes a witness of the power of Jesus to transform lives.

 

Have you been touched by God’s transforming power? Has Jesus helped you face something difficult? Maybe Jesus has given you a new perspective or a new attitude. If so, have you told someone?  We all have a story to tell, don’t we? The world needs your testimony and mine. People need to hear how we have experienced the hand of Christ, touching us, calling us to a better place, making us new.

 

Maybe we are facing something difficult right now, something that makes us feel bent over. Maybe sorrow, regret, fear or pain is our constant companion. If so, might we have the courage to approach Jesus and give him whatever burdens us?

 

Only Jesus can give us eyes to see clearly—eyes to see our own needs and the needs of those around us. No longer must we settle for partial viewing. Jesus wants us to experience all of life—peace, contentment, well-being, harmony, wholeness—God’s Shalom. And with Jesus, we can have the best seats in the house!

 

A poem written by Shawna Atteberry entitled, “Free to Stand and See,” says it so well:

 

Stoop and bent
Unable to see
Any beauty
Any good
Only my feet do I see

 

Bowed and burdened
With painful cares
Sore from aches and pains
Is there any where
There isn’t pain?

 

But wait.
What was that?
A whisper
Floats on the air
I hear–barely

 

Come it says
Come to me
Bring your burdens
Bring your cares
Come, give them to me.

 

Come release what weighs
You down
Yes, I will take this.
Now sit and rest.
Look up and see

 

So I sat and I breathed
I lifted my eyes
To blue skies with
Clouds and wildflowers
And him
He who called me

 

I see love and mirth
In his eyes
And I realized
The burden was no longer
Mine to bear.

 

We talked and we laughed
Then left hand in hand
Arm and arm
The burden
He easily bore.[iii]

[i] Peter Wood at http://thelisteninghermit.wordpress.com/2010/08/17/believing-is-seeing/

[ii] Ronald P. Byars, Feasting on the Word, 385.

[iii]By Shawna R. B. Atteberry , author, theologian, and storyteller; http://www.shawnaatteberry.com/2008/05/02/sermon-the-bent-and-burdened-woman/