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Jesus Noticed Her
a sermon based on Luke 13:10-17
by Rev. Randy Quinn

Week after week the congregation had gathered to worship God, to study God’s word, and to share in fellowship. Week after week, people came and went. Week after week, they met and read scriptures together, sang hymns, prayed, and went home. Men and women, families with children, grandparents, widows, and occasional visitors came together every week.

One woman came faithfully, despite enormous physical limitations. She was stooped over so far all she could see was the ground in front of her. She knew the path well from her home to the synagogue. She knew the intimate details of the path. She had come to recognize footprints of other worshippers, much as you and I might recognize someone’s car in the parking lot.

No one could see if she had a smile on her face or tears in her eyes. And no one knew for sure, either, because no one ever talked to her. But her faithful presence every week was evidence that she had come to worship God, just like everyone else. She came with her own story and her own questions. But no one noticed.

For 18 years no one noticed.

There are several possible reasons - excuses really - for their behavior. It may have been embarrassing to everyone else, so they averted their eyes and didn’t see her. I’m sure you’ve done that before. I know I have. Not too long ago, I saw a homeless man sleeping on a park bench. I walked by and pretended not to notice.

Or she may have been coming so long that people simply stopped noticing her. She had become invisible. We’ve done that before, too. It may also be that her back began to slowly bend over, so slowly that people didn’t notice the subtle changes from week to week. She didn’t suddenly become disfigured, she grew into it and no one had noticed it.

No one knows for sure. What does seem clear is that she had become an insignificant part of the congregation whose voice was no longer heard and whose needs were no longer being met. But I also suspect there were people who spoke behind her back. The Law of Moses strictly prohibits disfigured people from participating in worship (Lev 21:17-23). I’m sure someone had said, "Doesn’t she know the scriptures expressly prohibit people like her from coming to worship?" Or maybe they were distracted by her presence. "Why doesn’t she just stay home so we can worship without having to look at her?"

More likely, however, was the understanding that sin is the root cause of all evil. So people began to ask, "I wonder what she did to deserve God’s punishment?" At the same time, it was possible there were others who felt sorry for her and pitied her and her condition. Or better yet, they began to hold her up as an example of faithfulness. "That poor woman, look at how hard she works just to get here!"

Unfortunately, we still say the same kinds of things about people today. We see people with disabilities and we tend to look at their plight as a deserved punishment or we see their heroism in dealing with it or we see them as someone who deserves our charity, if not our pity. Rarely do we allow them the opportunity to live their lives alongside us, as equals before God.

But one week something unusual happens to this woman. Jesus happens to be the guest preacher. That doesn’t seem to be what’s unusual, however. What’s unusual is that "he saw her" (v 12). Jesus speaks to her and lays his hands on her.

When was the last time someone had spoken to her rather than about her? When was the last time someone touched her rather than worrying about being touched BY her?

When was the last time someone noticed her? I don’t know. But I do know - from personal experience - that sometimes when confronted with the disabilities of others, people still turn their eyes away. They stare from a distance, wondering "what’s wrong with her?"

It’s almost as if they think the disability may be contagious. They are relieved to know Melissa was born with cerebral palsy, as if naming it makes it safe. I think it’s humorous when we’re in public places and a child comes up and asks us why Melissa is in a wheel chair. Their parents often hush the child. "Shh," they say. But I can see in their own eyes a sense of curiosity about Melissa.

Jesus doesn’t see her disability when he sees the woman. He doesn’t see an insignificant Pawn. He sees a Queen. In fact, he calls her what no other woman in all of the Bible is called. "Daughter of Abraham" (Lk 13:16). She is an heir of the King. She is not a Pawn to be discarded and overlooked, someone who is simply in the way of more important people.

Jesus turns her into a Queen. She came in stooped over in the shape of a question mark and leaves standing upright in the shape of an exclamation point! It is a time for celebration!

The sad part of the story, however, is what happens to the Rabbi and people like him. Unlike the woman, whose bondage and burden took physical shape in her body he was in his own invisible bondage. It’s a bondage and disability of the heart. The Rabbi was bound by his own attitudes and prejudiced understanding of the Law. Rather than being freed to worship, he found himself confronted with his own inadequacies, his own limitations, his own disabilities, his own sin.

Rather than celebrate her healing, the Rabbi raises questions about the technicality of the Law. He doesn’t realize the woman only had enough energy to come to the synagogue once a week - and rather than take the chance that the Rabbi would ignore her on Tuesday or Wednesday, she chose to come on the Sabbath to meet God. How could he know? He probably hadn’t ever noticed her before.

The woman simply becomes a Pawn in his argument. To him she is an insignificant, unimportant woman who has been causing discomfort on the part of the rest of the congregation. Rather than lift her up to the status of a "daughter of Abraham," the Rabbi uses her as a Pawn in his argument with Jesus.

What he does is not too different from divorced parents who use their children to score points or wreak havoc on each other’s lives. The children are no longer important when that is the approach taken

It isn’t much different than when terrorists take innocent hostages in their effort to get world attention. The victims are not important.

It isn’t much different than politicians making hay out of the stories of suffering constituents - even though the politician has no intention of fixing the problems. Those who suffer are not important.

There are those who argue that Jerry Lewis will use children with Muscular Dystrophy in the same way next weekend. They will argue that the children are being used as Pawns in an effort to raise money for an important project.

In treating the disabled woman as a Pawn, the Rabbi had unwittingly turned himself into a Pawn, too. Both of them became subject to the unrealistic demands of his interpretation of the scripture where the Law was more sacred than life.

But Jesus refuses to let the woman remain a Pawn. He treats her like a Queen. He treats her like a member of the Royal family of God. And the crowd rejoices with her (Lk 13:17).

They rejoice because they know that if she is welcome in the Kingdom of God, so are they.

So is the Rabbi. And so are you.

Thanks be to God. Amen.