One of the sticking points in the ministry of Jesus was the Sabbath. It was a point of controversy between the religious leaders of the time and him. In Luke 13.10-21, we have an account of just one of the many times Jesus was confronted about the Sabbath and his alleged abuse of that day.
A Bent Lady
We have previously pointed out that Jesus was in the habit of worshipping on the designated day, at the designated place; i.e. Jesus worshipped in the synagogue on the Sabbath (see 4.16). Here he is again, engaging in worship to God as he should be. He notices a lady who has a severe condition: she is “bent over” (ESV) to the point she appears to be nearly doubled over (see NASB). This was the result of some spirit and Jesus attributes it to the working of Satan (v.16). What all is involved here is not entirely certain. Clearly this woman is not evil for she has come to worship on the Sabbath and Jesus calls her a “daughter of Abraham.” This woman has been afflicted by this disability for eighteen years and probably has not known true rest most if not all ofthat time. Some have said this is some kind of mild form of demonic possession. Others point to the Job narrative and say this woman is suffering similar to Job. I lean toward the latter.
That her infirmity is clearly visible is undeniable: Jesus sees her and calls her over. Whether she knew anything about Jesus or believed in him is unclear; he initiates this episode. Jesus then releases her from her bondage to the spiritual realm of darkness. She is freed. I think of the passage in Galatians 5.1: “For freedom Christ has set us free.” This woman has been set free from her disability. So have we. Once we were bent under the heavy burden of our sins and wickedness. But Christ came and spoke the words: “you are freed from your disability.” Immediately, as with this woman, we were made to stand aright, having the burden removed. Like this woman, we go forth glorifying God.
A Belligerent Leader
Not everyone likes the grace of God, especially when it rocks the tradition boat. A synagogue ruler is the one who speaks up in this episode. He may have felt some obligation since he was presiding over the services to say something. Unfortunately, instead of issue a proper response (praise and adoration) he sticks his foot in hs mouth and brings upon himself the condemnation of Jesus. He points out there are six days for work; if someone needs healing, come on those days. This is the Sabbath after all, Jesus. The sad truth is, this woman has been coming her (probably) for eighteen years but has not found healing and probably has not experienced any kind of comfort from this synagogue ruler.
And Jesus knows this. I wonder about the look upon our Lord’s face as indignation blazed in the direction of this foolishly indignate synagogue ruler. Clearly a man of passion, it is easy to identify with our Lord when his emotions ring clearly off the pages as they do here.
A Benevolent Lord
Here is the comforting truth about Jesus: he is always ready to come to our aid. This woman is under attack and Jesus steps in. He calls this synagogue ruler and everyone in agree with him “hypocrites.” They are people who say one thing but do something different. They say “no work on the Sabbath” but they will lead their donkey to water. How much more valuable is this human life! How much more mercy should be shown to her! Satan has tormented this poor woman for nearly two decades; where is the mercy? There is none from the heartless leader. But from the benevolent Lord, there is much. The enemies of Jesus are shamed and many people rejoice over this miracle.
A Blessed Lesson
Verse 18 begins “Therefore…” indicating that it is connected to the preceding account. It could be connected with the lady herself or with the people’s praise. I lean toward the latter (again). I think Jesus is talking about the reception of the kingdom of God, even as those who rejoiced over the lady were willing (so it would seem) to receive the kingdom. First, the kingdom is like a mustard seed. It starts small (the smallest of the garden seeds at the time) but will grow into a large tree, able to house all who would flock to it.
Second, the kingdom is like leaven worked into a loaf. Just as leaven will spread throughout the lump, so too with the kingdom spread throughout a region, territory, state, nation, even the world. The point: the kingdom will start small (like in a synagogue) but will spread throughout the world. Indeed, freedom from sin, death, and hell, yea, the gospel, was preached “in the whole world…bearing fruit and growing” before the close of the first century (see Col 1.6).