Unnamed Women, The Crippled Woman
Sharon W. Betters
Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God (Luke 13:10-13).
The woman’s head bowed to the ground, her body bent low, her only view was her feet. For eighteen years, she was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. She could not look upward and see the sky or even possibilities, only the dirt beneath her feet. Implied in this story, is not only was her body bent over, so was her spirit. And why not? For eighteen years, her body betrayed her.
Though we can’t be sure, her symptoms indicate a diagnosis of Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS). Ankylosis means fused bones or hard tissue. Spondylitis means inflammation in your spinal bones or vertebrae. Today this disease affects 0.1% to 1.8% of the population, mostly males, and often starts attacking the body when the patients are teenagers. AS starts as frequent pain and stiffness in the lower back and buttocks. The symptoms come on gradually over weeks or months. Though first diagnosed and described in the 1600s, it has been found in Egyptian mummies. The diffused pain and stiffness are usually worse in the mornings. In time, the pain is chronic, felt on all sides, lasting about three months and then the stiffness and pain often spreads up the spine and into the neck, and sometimes into the ribs, shoulder blades, hips, thighs, and heels. Anyone who has experienced chronic pain knows that fatigue is a constant companion because the body uses up energy trying to deal with the inflammation. This woman likely experienced deep weariness. Patients start to realize that if they bend forward, they get some relief, but as they bend forward continuously, the bones can start fusing and their spine curls, frozen in place. Even today, there is no known cure for AS, so physicians try to address the symptoms with anti-inflammatory medication and exercise in an attempt to keep the back from bending permanently (Source: Spondylitis Association of America)
As I researched this disease, I found comments from people who suffer from it. To a person, they described painful, life-limiting symptoms. Think of the practical implications of this disease for a woman in Jesus’ time. She suffered for eighteen years, knowing she would never recover, but continue to worsen. We don’t know if she was married, a mother or had servants who helped guide her. When we meet her, she could only look down at the dirt. Since the disease attacks bodies from the ages of 16 – 30, she was probably in her 40’s or 50’s. Were her neighbors and family so accustomed to seeing her shuffle from place to place, they didn’t notice her anymore? And why not?
Life left her behind as her fused bones and pain forced her to move slowly. She could no longer look anyone in the eyes, let alone her loved ones. No more looking up at the beautiful sky, dreaming of a bright future. No doubt, her physical condition affected her emotionally and maybe spiritually.
Though physically beaten down, this woman goes to the synagogue. How hard was it for her to walk to church? Unlike others, she does not seem to be in pursuit of healing but simply to hear the hopeful message of the One Who claimed to be the Messiah. Often Jesus taught thousands of people outside on a hillside, but this time He sits in the middle of the synagogue, surrounded by followers, maybe our version of a small group Bible study. She stays on the fringes of the circle, along with the other women. Jesus sees her and calls her over. Was there total silence as she shuffled toward Him or murmuring among the onlookers? They never knew what Jesus was up to. Why would He care about this woman, until now invisible to them? Jesus sees her and treats her with dignity, as a human being. He doesn’t ask any questions but simply states, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” He places His hands on her and “she immediately straightened up and praised God.”
Before we address the response of the Pharisees to this supernatural moment, let’s consider how this woman’s story stirs up hope in our hearts. Jesus initiated His relationship to this broken woman. She wasn’t pursuing Him, crying out for healing as we have seen others do. But something about His message drew her to Him and His teaching. Through corporate worship and the hearing of the Word, Jesus called her to come close.
Likewise, Jesus calls us to come close and often meets our needs through the covenant community.
We too have a disease, which is impossible to heal except through the resurrection power of Jesus:
For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
Jesus doesn’t leave us without a remedy for our sin:
In this story we see Scripture fulfilled:
The Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous (Psalm 146:8).
Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked? (Ecclesiastes 7:13).
Dear sisters, if you do not know Jesus, this is your moment to consider His invitation to come to Him. His grace is greater than all your sin. Are you His child but feel bowled over by the seemingly impossible circumstances facing you, deep depression, grief? Hear His voice, calling you to come close.
Oh, Jesus, we need Your touch, Your grace, Your forgiveness. Like this woman we are often bent over, unable to look up and see the blessings with which we are surrounded. The events of this age, the pandemic, locusts in Africa, fires in Australia- Oh Jesus, give us grace to rest in You. As we travel to Easter, give us a new awareness of the power of the resurrection available to each of Your children.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sharon W. Betters is a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, pastor’s wife, and cofounder of MARKINC Ministries, where she is the Director of Resource Development. Sharon is the author of several books, including Treasures of Encouragement, Treasures in Darkness, and co-author with Susan Hunt of Aging with Grace. She is the co-host of the Help & Hope podcast and writes Daily Treasure, an online devotional.
For more from Daily Treasure please visit MARKINC.ORG.