Continuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.
The following Bible passages have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used by many Catholic and Protestant churches around the world.
Do some clergy using the Lectionary want us understand Holy Scripture in its entirety? You decide.
Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.
A Woman with a Disabling Spirit
10Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11And there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. 12When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” 13And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. 14But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” 15Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? 16And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” 17As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.
Luke 13 is a continuation of Jesus’s calls to repentance in Luke 12.
Last week’s Forbidden Bible Verses post looked at the conclusion to Luke 12, Jesus’s likening the Final Judgement to appearing before a magistrate. He advises ‘settling along the way’ — making amends with God via repentance whilst we are alive, rather than face condemnation in the life to come.
The first story in Luke 13 concerns those who are asking about the spiritual state of the Galilean victims of Pilate’s persecutions and those who perished when the tower of Siloam fell (near the healing pool of Bethesda/Bethsaida in John 5). Jesus tells the people that they had no greater spiritual afflictions than they, therefore, what happened was not a divine punishment. However, Jesus emphasises that those who are wondering about other’s spiritual state should spend that energy examining and improving their own, lest they face condemnation in the next life.
He then relates a parable about a fig tree which has not yet borne fruit. The gardener — vinedresser — advised his boss the landowner to allow him to give it special attention for a year to see if it would bear fruit. If it did not, then he would fell the tree. Jesus’s message here is that God gives us a certain time to repent; if not, we face the consequences of eternal condemnation. We can pray for sinners to be infused with grace and wisdom so to do. However, we cannot pray that God will pardon the unrepentant. Matthew Henry’s commentary says:
Reprieves may be obtained by the prayers of others for us, but not pardons[;] there must be our own faith, and repentance, and prayers, else no pardon.
Now we come to today’s passage, Jesus’s merciful healing of a disabled woman on the Sabbath. This, too, although a healing miracle, symbolises God’s acceptance of the repentant sinner who believes in Christ.
Jesus was teaching in an unnamed synagogue (verse 10). Among the congregation was a woman who was stooped over and could not stand upright; a demon caused her longstanding condition with which she suffered for 18 years (verse 11).
Keep in mind that in synagogues then — as is true in Orthodox synagogues today — women had to sit separately from women. John MacArthur surmises that, in Jesus’s day, the women sat at the back, so she would have been out of sight from the leaders at the front.
Jesus called the lady to come forward and told her she was healed (verse 12). As He laid His hands upon her, she was able to stand up for the first time in nearly 20 years and praised God (verse 13).
The leader of the synagogue then stood up and denounced our Lord’s healing by saying that He had six other days of the week to do it; work was not permitted on the Sabbath (verse 14).
Jesus expressed His righteous indignation at the synagogue leader’s denunciation by saying that hypocritical Sabbath observers were kinder to their livestock than to a human (verse 15). Furthermore, He added, this lady was a Jew — one of their own (verse 16). In other words, who would deny her this merciful healing miracle? Only a hypocritical legalist.
With that Jesus shamed the legalist synagogue leaders and the people rejoiced at His words (verse 17).
MacArthur unpacks this scene for us (emphases mine):
He endeavors to bring on the head of Jesus a violation of the law of God. But of course, there’s nothing in the law of God that says you can’t help somebody on the Sabbath. Any deed of mercy, any necessity was perfectly acceptable on the Sabbath and their Jewish law even said it. The Mishnah even said that you could do anything for a person or an animal that was necessary or merciful. And Jesus, Himself, in the 12th Chapter of Matthew had told them, you know, you’ve got the whole idea of the law of God wrong. Do you remember when David’s soldiers were hungry and they went into the temple and ate the show bread, because they were hungry. And feeding men who were hungry was more important than the symbolism of the show bread.
It really was the hatred they had for Jesus. He was going to make up a rule that you can’t heal on the Sabbath. There could never be such a rule in Judaism, because nobody could heal anyway. So how would that rule develop? So the Lord answers him in verse 15. The Lord answered him and said, “you hypocrites,” He was direct, as always, you spiritual fraud, “does not each of you on Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead him away to water him?” Well, He got them, because they did that.
In fact, in the Mishnah, the codification of Jewish rabbinic law, it prescribes that you can do that. You can take your animal if you put no burden on his back and lead him to water or to eat. It even gives you a maximum of 200 cubits that you can go. And they even have some prescription about how wide the well is so you can see how they encumbered these things. But it was perfectly fine to do that. You phonies.
Of course, the crowds that lauded Jesus for His mercy and compassion turned against Him by the time it came for His trial and crucifixion.
That said, not only is this account of Luke’s one of merciful physical restoration but a pointer towards the compassion God has for us sinners. As Matthew Henry puts it:
This cure represents the work of Christ’s grace upon the souls of the people. (1.) In the conversion of sinners. Unsanctified hearts are under this spirit of infirmity they are distorted, the faculties of the soul are quite out of place and order they are bowed down towards things below. O curvæ in terram animæ ! They can in no wise lift up themselves to God and heaven the bent of the soul, in its natural state, is the quite contrary way. Such crooked souls seek not to Christ but he calls them to him, lays the hand of his power and grace upon them, speaks a healing word to them, by which he looses them from their infirmity, makes the soul straight, reduces it to order, raises it above worldly regards, and directs its affections and aims heavenward. Though man cannot make that straight which God has made crooked (Ecclesiastes 7:13), yet the grace of God can make that straight which the sin of man has made crooked. (2.) In the consolation of good people. Many of the children of God are long under a spirit of infirmity, a spirit of bondage through prevailing grief and fear, their souls are cast down and disquieted within them, they are troubled, they are bowed down greatly, they go mourning all the day long, Psalm 38:6. But Christ, by his Spirit of adoption, looses them from this infirmity in due time, and raises them up.
4. The present effect of this cure upon the soul of the patient as well as upon her body. She glorified God, gave him the praise of her cure to whom all praise is due. When crooked souls are made straight, they will show it by their glorifying God.
Therefore, as the psalmist said, let us rejoice and be glad.
Next time: Luke 13:18-21