Jesus was teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath. Among his audience was a crippled woman; her body was permanently bent over so that she could not stand up straight.
Jesus called her to the centre of the synagogue and told her she was free to stand tall. She immediately did so.
There was a debate about whether healing was allowed on the Sabbath. Jesus argued that the Sabbath was a day set aside for praising God, and that it should benefit people not burden them.
Themes in her story
The woman’s twisted body, permanently bent downwards so that she saw only the dirt, symbolizes people who lack hope, or see only the negative things in life. With Jesus’ help we can lift our vision upwards, towards God, and be optimistic and hopeful.
The story inspires us to mentally straighten our selves to a standing position, where we see upwards to God for inspiration.
Jesus teaches that rules (like observance of the Sabbath) should be treated with respect, but they should not be a straitjacket either.
Synagogues in the time of Jesus
Jesus was teaching in a synagogue, on the Sabbath. There were two different ways of worshipping in first-century Palestine:
in the Temple in Jerusalem, where people worshipped God by making sacrifices. It was regarded as a sacred place and access was limited to those who purified themselves by washing
in the synagogues, where people gathered to read and discuss the Scriptures. There were thousands of synagogues through Palestine, public buildin
gs in which people could meet, talk, pray, argue, share information and sing. Anyone might attend them. Visitors were welcome. Sacrifices were not offered in synagogues.
Excavated floor plan of the later synagogue at Capernaum. This is not the actual building in which Jesus cured the woman; the earlier 1st century AD synagogue in which Jesus taught was demolished and built over. But the floor-plan shows the type of building in which Jesus prayed.
There might be a leader of the synagogue, but any man who could read, who knew the Scriptures, and who was respected by the community could be a speaker – Jesus obviously fitted this description. A leader, in this case Jesus, spoke from the middle of the room, reading the Scriptures and offering comments; then there was a general discussion of the text he had read.
There was a woman there, listening to Jesus. She had been crippled for eighteen years with a spinal deformity that left her body twisted. She may have had acute arthritis. The people of the time thought that she was crippled because her body had been taken over by a spirit or demon.
Spirits and demons appear frequently in Luke’s gospel, in different guises. Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit (1:35); at Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit descends on him in the form of a dove (3:21); Jesus is tempted in the desert by a spirit or demon (4:1-13); Jesus teaches that ‘the Spirit of the Lord is upon me’ (4:18); Jesus frees people from unclean spirits and from demons that cause cosmic disorder. Luke therefore shows Jesus as being
inspired by the Holy Spirit
able to control spirits that (Luke believes) cause illness, either mental or physical.
Jesus cures the woman
The woman in the story could not straighten her body, so she could not look upwards or forwards. The shape of her body, always bent over towards the ground, was a symbol of people who are stunted and distorted by ignorance, prejudice, anger or malice. As it was, she could see only the dirt at her feet, as many people can see only the bad side of things. She could not look up and see the possibilities before her. She could not see the smiles on people’s faces. She could not see the sky. She could only see downwards to the dirt.
Jesus called her over into the center of the synagogue, from the side where she had been standing.
This was an unusual thing for a male religious leader of Jesus’ time to do. Women usually stayed in the side area of the synagogue, sitting on built-in masonry benches in rows against the wall. Jesus must have walked across and led her to the center of the room.
He told her that she was free from whatever had twisted her body into a deformed shape. He put his hands on her, and immediately she was able to straighten her body. She could look upwards, and she could see forwards. It was not just her body that was healed, but her soul as well. Her immediate response was to praise God.
The debate about healing on the Sabbath
Torah scrolls in a synagogue
The leader of the synagogue reminded Jesus that curing of the sick was only permitted on the Sabbath to save a life. After all, there were six other days in the week when healing could be done. The Sabbath should be kept special, set aside as a time for praising God, not to be used for anything else.
This type of debate was common in synagogues in first-century Palestine. Jews have always been fascinated by the precise meaning of the laws in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) and the exact way that Jews ought to live their lives.
Jesus argued that if you could water an animal on the Sabbath (which was allowed) then you should be able to help a woman who was ill.
His argument is that the Sabbath is a day set aside for people to praise God. If what you are doing praises God, shouldn’t it be allowed?
Jesus was not alone in holding this opinion. Several other Jewish rabbis at that time taught that the Sabbath was made for people’s benefit, and should not be a burden for people.
There are many different ways of being crippled
The story finishes by noting that everyone was happy with the wonderful things that Jesus did. Everyone was rejoicing. Surely, says the author of Luke’s gospel, what Jesus did is right. He has observed the true purpose of the law, because people praise God as a result of what he has done.
For additional information on the lives of women in the Bible, see