For eighteen years, a woman was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. For eighteen years, she endured a spirit of infirmity. For eighteen years, she was in bondage to this suffering and torment.
Until the Lord Jesus came into her life.
Do we have something to learn from this woman? I think we do. I think we have patience to learn from her.
The Philip’s Fast in which we find ourselves is a particularly poignant liturgical moment for us to reflect upon patience and hope. We are waiting for the coming of the Lord at Christmas. As Israel prepared for the coming Messiah, so we are preparing for the second coming of our Lord. As the bent over and infirm daughter of Abraham waited for her healer with patience and hope, so we are waiting for our healer and deliverer. Just like her, we don’t know when he is coming, but we know that he is coming. So let us wait – with patience and with an expectant hope and not give ourselves over to despair when things are difficult. If we wait for the Lord, we do not wait in vain.
Through Isaiah, the Lord God comforted his people with the knowledge that “those who wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles” (Is 40:31). If you can't even stand upright, it is hard to believe that one day you will fly – that you “shall mount up with wings like eagles.” But against all doubt and all despair believe it, and wait upon the Lord. No matter what you or your loved ones are suffering, be assured that your healer is coming. No matter what chains bind you or what bars enclose you, your deliverer is coming. His coming is as sure as the rising of the sun.
My soul is waiting for the Lord. I count on his word.
My soul is longing for the Lord more than watchman for daybreak.
Let the watchman count on daybreak
and Israel on the Lord (Psalm 129).
God’s time is not like our time. In the Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan – who is Lewis’ figure of Christ – tells the children he’ll be back “soon” and they ask him, “what do you call soon?” And he says, “I call all time soon.” With that in mind, I tell you Christ is coming soon.
But you know, what is soon to us is not necessarily soon to the Lord. Israel endured 40 years wandering in the wilderness before they could enter the Promised Land. And before that, they endured 400 years of slavery in Egypt before the Lord sent them Moses, their deliverer. But he is always coming. Our deliverer is coming. And when he comes, may he find us waiting for him.
When the Lord Jesus comes, where does he find the woman in today’s gospel? She is bent-over and infirm. Does he therefore find her hiding and waiting for death? No, he finds her in the synagogue where he is preaching. He finds her among the people who gather to hear the word of the Lord. This daughter of Abraham comes to the synagogue and there meets the Lord Jesus, who takes away her infirmity and looses her from her bondage.
Let us all imitate this woman in this. If we are at all able, let us come often to the house of the Lord to worship him and to hear his word, even if to come we must overcome difficulties to do so. When the Lord comes, may he find us here worshipping him and listening to his word. And one day soon, he will take away our infirmities and free us from our bondage.
It is meaningful what the Lord says to the woman, I think. He says, “Woman, you are loosed” – “you are released” – “you are set free.” He doesn’t just say to her, “you are healed,” because he recognizes that the woman has been afflicted and oppressed for many years by this infirmity. Her spine has been tied up in knots and Jesus now unties those cords. But this bodily affliction has also weighed heavily upon her spirit and the Lord is offering her not only healingof body, but also freedom and deliverance from a spirit of infirmity. We are body and spirit – never one without the other.
The woman is bent over in body, but she’s not bowed down by despair. In the face of her suffering, she has not cursed God and given up hope, as Job’s wife would recommend and as many do. No, she carries on. She comes again to the synagogue. She does not give up on God even when, after eighteen years, it may have felt like God had abandoned her to that torment forever.
It may have felt that way, but we know that isn’t true. She didn’t know that morning, when she struggled for the six-thousandth time to get up and go out, that this was the day the Lord would deliver her. But she did know, I think, that her deliverer was coming. It is the same with us. We can’t know the day or the hour of our deliverance, whether it will be in this age or in the age to come, but we do know that it is coming. And so, each day, let us rise up and prepare for the Lord’s coming into our lives.
We can know that the Lord wants to be with us – that our sufferings and afflictions and difficulties – the evil and the death that we contend with daily – is not the will of the Lord. “God did not make death” (Wisdom). It wasn’t the Lord who bent this woman. The spirit of infirmity is not the Holy Spirit. It is the Lord who frees us, not ties us down. It is the Lord who heals us, not afflicts us. Jesus tells us who this spirit of infirmity is: it is Satan. St. Cyril of Alexandria affirms: “The accursed Satan is the cause of disease in human bodies.” Let us not attribute to God the things of Satan. God wants us well, as Jesus makes clear today.
Soon, to begin the anaphora, I will say to all, “Let us stand aright; let us stand in awe; let us be attentive to offer the holy Anaphora in peace.” The liturgy reveals the will of God for us. He wills that we stand aright in his presence. And here in his presence is a woman who for eighteen years has not been able to stand aright. If she were here among us, I would still say “Let us stand aright,” because that is in fact very like what the Lord did say to her: “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.’ And he lays his hands upon her, and immediately she is made straight.” She is able to stand aright. This is what the Lord wills for her and for us.