When I lived in rural Japan many years ago, I often saw elderly “oba-san” (grandmothers) who were permanently bent over, their backs virtually parallel with the ground. Decades of bending over in the rice fields made these women literally unable to straighten themselves out. I thought those women must have led a hard life.
And I always think of the hunched-over oba-san when I read in Luke 13 about the woman with a disabling spirit whom Jesus healed in the synagogue on the Sabbath. She was bent over, too, and “could not fully straighten herself” (v.11). Her affliction wasn’t the result of years bent over rice plants, but was a curse from Satan which she suffered for 18 years (v.16).
But the Son of God, Jesus Christ, revealed his divine goodness and power when he healed the woman with his Word and touch, and freed her from the bonds of the Devil. It was a wondrous act of grace and healing, and naturally the woman glorified God as a result. And she was joined in her praise by most of the others in the synagogue: they “rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him,” that is, Jesus (v.17).
But the synagogue ruler didn’t join in the praise. Rather, he angrily scolded the people (and indirectly rebuked Jesus), saying, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day” (v.14). The 4th Commandment forbids work on the Sabbath. Healing is a work. Therefore, Jesus had broken the law.
But whose law did Jesus break? Not the law of God, but the rules of men. According to Christ, the Lawgiver himself, “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matt. 12:12). But according to the rabbinic rules in Jesus’ day, healing a person not in mortal danger on the Sabbath was unlawful.
Jesus exposed the absurdity of the religious leaders’ rules when he pointed out they allowed for the care of animals on the Sabbath. “Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it?” (v. 15). Their rules provided for the care of livestock on the Sabbath, but not for the care of a human being, not even a “daughter of Abraham” (v.16). Under the laws of the rabbis, it was better to be a donkey than a person on the Sabbath! Their rules were not only perverse, they were cruel.
As an aside – that will always be the case when the laws of men usurp the law of God. Apart from God, the rule of man is a heartless and inhumane regime. With Sanctity of Human Life Sunday a couple of days away, a perfect example is near at hand. Our nation has enacted all kinds of laws to protect various species of wildlife, including the eggs of birds. According to the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, destroying or disturbing birds’ nests is illegal (some species are excepted). Now these laws may in fact be just and wise, but that’s beside the point. What’s absurd, and tragic, is that no similar laws protect the lives of unborn human beings. Under our laws, it’s safer to be a un-hatched chick than an unborn baby! Again, where man rules in defiance of God’s revealed truth, the result is cruelty.
Praise God that he has intervened into our fallen world! Just as Jesus came to bring health and life to the broken woman in the synagogue, so he brings eternal life and ultimate healing from all the effects of sin to all who come to him in faith. His rule is grace, and his regime is life, joy, and peace.
Soli Deo Gloria!