I may not have been crippled for the past 18 years, but I’ve been hobbling around now for the past 10 days. I sprained my ankle as I was quite literally chasing stars, and instead of looking to the skies, I’ve been paying much more attention to what’s down at my feet lately.
Because, let me tell you, there’s a lot of danger lurking out there – and in here as well. As I was using my crutches, I realized how uneven the driveway to our house is; how sidewalks tend to have cracks and uneven pavement; how elevators on the BART system are often far away from the entrance gates; how narrowly tables are placed in venues like Starbucks; how hard it is to open a door when you are on crutches – and then there are the stairs. Stairs are extremely dangerous when you depend on crutches. Stairs are dangerous, period, when you can’t move as you used to or have respiratory or balance issues.
There are 23 steps up to this sanctuary from the entrance hall alone. On any given Sunday and without crutches, I probably bound up and down those stairs 10 times or so – no big deal. But being on crutches has definitely changed my experience and my perspective. A lift of some sort would tell those who are somewhat impaired that we care about them, that we care about their safety, and that we truly welcome them. Those stairs definitely have been quite an obstacle for me over the last 10 days, and I know they are for many others as well.
At first, I was very frustrated having to get around with crutches, because I’m pretty active on a day to day basis. My mobility has been much impaired; I couldn’t drive for some days, still can’t ride my bike, and walking is still more difficult than usual. It’s been difficult to do stuff around the house.
But then I pretty quickly got used to my impairment. I got used to being pretty lazy and to putting up my feet whenever possible. The adjustment to my injury has become the new normal. And I know I will have to be careful to not get too used to this new normal, but slowly get back to my old routine and be active once more. And I bet anyone here who went through some sort of recuperation has made the experience that this is not easy, and that you have to really push yourself and have some discipline to get back to normal.
The greatest surprise in today’s gospel story for me is not so much the healing of the crippled woman itself; no, the greatest surprise for me is how readily the woman accepts Jesus’ healing powers and adjusts to being whole again. “When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.’ Immediately!
Just imagine, this woman has been crippled for 18 years. After such a long time, any kind of disability or impairment becomes the norm. Many people can’t imagine what their life was even like before an injury or debilitating illness befell them. I am just amazed that this woman still had some sort of memory of what it is like to stand up straight, and that her body, mind and soul were able to straighten up after all this time.
It almost seems like this woman has been waiting, maybe for 18 years, for someone to set her free. She definitely was ready to be rid of her demon, or her ailment, or whatever you want to call it. And that is a miracle.
Just think about it: how many things burden you? What are those demons that you’ve been living with for a long time and which cripple you and keep you from standing up straight and living life to the fullest? What are the things in your life that impair you and you know are not good for you, but that have become so normal that you can’t even imagine living without them? Anything you can think of?
Just a couple of weeks ago, I talked about all the stuff we own – sometimes to the point that it owns us. We have to store our stuff, we have to take care of it, and it’s hard to get rid of, and we may spend more time and energy and money on those things than we may be aware of – time and energy and money that could be spent on something more purposeful. And add to that the burden that the demon of greed and consumption is to the environment, God’s good creation. Imagine Jesus said to us, cheerfully, ‘People, you are free of your possessions!’ Would we embrace this offer of healing? Would be stand up straight and praise God?
Think of other things that burden you. Bitterness, envy, hurts and grudges you hold on to, fear, prejudices – I don’t know about you, but all these things have crippled me at various times in my life. The inability or unwillingness to forgive others and myself, the inability or unwillingness to let go of a past that cannot be changed anyway – the fear of the unknown, be it people or situations – all these demons impair many of us, holding us back and keeping us down. Imagine Jesus said to us, with compassion, ‘People, you are free of all that keeps you from having a loving relationship with yourself and with others.’ Would we embrace this offer of healing? Would we stand up straight and praise God?
And, of course, all those things that stifle us in our personal lives have societal consequences as well. There is the burden and guilt of the past, there are unresolved issues like racism in this country, there is the gospel of consumerism, combined with a celebration of egotism, which leads to a society where it’s everyone for themselves, and who cares about the weak ones. There is a culture of violence in this country that is unparalleled in any other country of the Western world. Imagine Jesus said to us as a society, earnestly, ‘People, you are free of all searching for security in all the wrong places; come to me, all you who are laden and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.’ Would we embrace this offer of healing? Would we stand up straight and praise God?
I suspect many would doubt the healing powers of Christ. I suspect many would defend their stance, ‘But, Jesus, it’s not that easy! We can’t just change our ways! It’s been that way for too long! And it’s not so bad after all.’
And that’s why I am amazed at the attitude of the bent-over woman in today’s gospel story, and her willingness and ability to embrace a new life with courage and confidence. That’s the true miracle in this story.
Some may say that miracles of that sort just don’t happen in our day and age anymore. But I strongly believe that Christ, still today, says to all of us: You are free of your ailment. Don’t we hear this every Sunday as we are promised the forgiveness of our sins, our guilt, our shortcomings? Aren’t we invited every Sunday to leave the burdens behind, straighten up, and praise God?
Maybe we can’t embrace this new freedom as immediately as the woman in today’s gospel. Maybe it takes us some time to adjust to this new freedom, and to get back to the routine God has in mind for us – just as it’s taking me a while and some effort and well measured discipline to get back to the routine I had before I injured myself. But, as people of faith, we have to be ready for it, and ready for the challenge to shed all the demons and ailments that stifle us and our relationships to God, our neighbors, and ourselves. We have to be ready for Christ entering our lives in unexpected ways – and turning them around.
Be free of your ailment! Live in the promise of a new life with God!
This post is also available in: German