Partial View Seats: Reflections on Luke 13:10-17
The synagogue leader was not happy with the healing because he was focused on its being done at the wrong time. He sees the healing as a human work. Jesus sees it as an action of God. For Jesus, the law is not more important than human beings. From where Jesus stands, what better way to honor the Sabbath than by setting a captive free? When Jesus heals her, "immediately she stood up straight and began praising God" (Lk. 13:13). She was free from her infirmity and her shame. The synagogue leader then speaks up and tries to drown out her praises to God by chastising the one who has healed her. This is a similar sequence to the anointing at Bethany in the 14th chapter of Mark. He seeks to make her feel shame for having come to the synagogue in her condition in the hopes of being noticed by Jesus. But at the end of this story the woman walks out of the synagogue erect, dignified, and joyful, to the cheers of the crowd (Farley, 265-66).
Jesus' Front Row Seat
Roman Catholic New Testament scholar Wendy Cotter, in her book The Christ of the Miracle Stories: Portrait through Encounter, points out that the way the miracle stories are told puts Jesus in the spotlight. The stories presume an audience eager to observe Jesus' manner of receiving petitioners who are imperfect, poor, rude, rough, and objectionable to polite society. Jesus' healing of strangers shows how he receives people who are on the fringes of society (Mk. 1:40-45, 10:46-52), non elites/working people (Mk. 2:1-12), and foreigners who would ordinarily be deliberately avoided (Lk. 7:5-12). Petitioners are received with the same equanimity, respect, and concern no matter their background or status (Cotter, 255).
Jesus notices the woman and respects her; he deals with her tenderly and lovingly. He summons her out of the isolation into which she has withdrawn, out of a sense of shame. "Woman, you are set free from your ailment..." (Lk. 13:12 ). She stands upright and praises God. The Greek word for "raise up" (anortho) is also used for the rebuilding of a house. Jesus raises people up. He restores them to their original beauty, for they are temples of the Holy Spirit (Grun 41).
For Jesus and for Luke, the best way to celebrate the Sabbath is to raise up men and women to their original form, to delight in the divine dignity and praise God, the creator of human dignity. Luke tells this story in such a way that those who get fully caught up in it will go their way more upright (Grun 41,42).
It turns out that a partial view seat is not such a bargain after all. Not when it obstructs our view of God's desire that all God's children be restored to full dignity and human community, whatever day of the week it is.
Wendy J. Cotter, CSJ, The Christ of the Miracle Stories: Portrait through Encounter (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010).
E. Earle Ellis, The Gospel of Luke: The New Century Bible (Attic Press: Greenwood, S.C. 1977)
Lawrence R. Farley, The Gospel of Luke: Good News for the Poor, The Orthodox Bible Study Companion Series (Chesterton, Indiana: Conciliar Press, 2010).
Frederick J. Gaiser, Healing in the Bible: Theological Insight for Christian Ministry (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010).
Anselm Grun, Jesus: The Image of Humanity: Luke's Account (New York: Continuum, 2003).
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.