A service dog stands next to a person seated in a wheelchair 
Disability & Accessibility, Diversity, Preaching, Preaching, Prayers, and Devotions, Sermons & Sermon Notes

Everything Changes When Jesus Shows Up at Church (His Encouragement #31)

This post is part of the weekly series, “His Encouragement: Thursday Thoughts to Strengthen Your Soul.” 

Image: A woman holds a cup of tea and reads her Bible. Black text on a green background reads, “Weekly Devotion: His Encouragement- Words from Scripture to Strengthen Your Soul.”

A service dog stands next to a person seated in a wheelchair 

image: A service dog stands next to a person seated in a wheelchair

“Now he {Jesus}  was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight.

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.

But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.”

But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?”When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

-Luke 13:10-17, NRSV from Oremus Bible Browser



Luke 13:10-17  from a Disability Perspective

This week, I am still wrestling with the story of the woman who Jesus healed in the synagogue (Luke 13:10-17). If I’m honest, I really struggle with the biblical passages related to healing (Related Post: What Does Healing Look lIke?) .   I believe that as members of the religious faith, we must be incredibly careful when interpreting scripture. While this is indeed a story of healing, it is also a story of hope. Christ is the great physician and he is able to cure all that ails us- but we should not assume that the healing which is needed is physical. This is especially true for people with disabilities, such as myself (I have low vision). There are many members of the disability community, such as the Deaf Blind community, who view their disability as an important part of their identity.

However, I also believe that it is good to struggle with scripture. Wrestling with scripture brings us closer to God. While meditating and studying this text, I am inspired by this woman’s devotion to God and the tenacity she displays in attending her place of worship. My spirit also rejoices at the way Christ treats the woman and how the appearance of Christ on the scene changes everything.


Disability & Access to Places of Worship

When reading this story, I am struck by the fact that this woman still attended her place of worship even though she was markedly different from those around her. In today’s world, it is a sad fact that people with disabilities are often unable to enter places of worship. Many church buildings are inaccessible to wheelchair users. There are also very few churches who have the resources available to provide sign language interpretation, large print hymnals, or orders of worship printed in braille. (Link: 16 Easy Ways the Church Can Be More Accessible).

How much harder must it have been to gain access of a place of worship in the first century, when concepts like the Americans with Disabilities Act were thousands of years in the future?


We Are All Made in God’s Image

In the ancient world, there was also a strong stigma against people with disabilities. Many people believed that if a person had a disability, it was because that person was cursed by God.  

Despite the popular opinion of the times,  Jesus does not believe this woman to be cursed. In fact, he calls her to him. When the rest of the world has failed to notice her, Christ sees her despite the fact that many people view her as cursed. He gives her human dignity and calls her a “daughter of Abraham (Luke 13:16).”

It is important to note that the language Luke uses surrounding this story places an emphasis on the fact that the woman is bound by a spirit. Both the NRSV and NIV translation use the term “crippled,” although I find this be a problematic term. Despite the use of the objectionable term, when Jesus heals the woman, he states that she is “set free,” from what binds her (Luke 13:16).


Everything Changes When Jesus Shows Up at Church

I admire this woman for even going to her place of worship. I can’t help but wonder: Did she go to the synagogue every sabbath day for eighteen years because of her deep faith?  Or did she go on that particular day because she had heard that Jesus was going to be there?

Whatever this woman’s reasons for being at the synagogue that day, it seems clear to me that she was searching for an encounter with the sacred. The reason anyone attends worship on a Sunday morning (or any day of the week) is because we are looking to encounter something holy. We have an innate internal desire to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

I admire this woman because I know from personal experience how embarrassing it can be to go into a public space when you look different from everybody else. Recently, when I had my sixteenth (or was it fourteenth? I’ve lost count) eye surgery and had stitches in my eye, I refused to appear in public wearing an eye patch because I couldn’t stand the heavy gaze of the people starong at me. I was lucky because the eye patch eventually came off, but this woman had a disability that was apparent for all to see.

Nevertheless, this woman, who had been bound by a spirit for eighteen years, chose to attend worship. She wanted to be near God. Her faith is an inspiration to all of us. I will confess that before I was appointed to serve a church, there were many Sundays that I simply didn’t attend worship for no other reason than that I was tired or simply not in the mood. However, this woman, the stares and the judgement from those around her, made the decision to honor the sabbath and to seek God at the synagogue.

It’s a good thing she did, because when she went to worship, she got the surprise of her life: Jesus showed up-

And when Jesus shows up, it changes everything.


Jesus Sets Us Free

Jesus humiliates his opponents by asking, “Should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Stan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her (Luke 13:16)?”

The emphasis here, as well as in the later section of this story, is on the fact that Jesus sets us free. We are all bound by something. This woman is bound by a spirit of infirmity, while the religious leaders are bound by own hardness of heart.

This week, I am inspired by the knowledge that when Christ shows up, he breaks down barriers. In Christ, there is no division. We are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).

It is my prayer that we will all continue to seek Christ in both our sacred spaces as well as in our lives, and when he shows up, I pray that our hearts are not hard like those of the religious teachers in the synagogue. Instead, I hope that we will all stand up with joy, just like the woman who was healed, and praise the Lord.


Until Next Week,

-Rev. Rebecca

Until Next Week,

-Rev. Rebecca

Rev Rebecca Writes Logo

This post is part of the series, “His Encouragement: Thursday Thoughts to Strengthen Your Soul.”

Now, it’s your turn! What Scripture verse is inspiring you this week? Let me know in the comments below!

Thursdays are always a really long day of the week for me. As a pastor, Sunday feels like the natural beginning of my week. By the time I get to Thursday, I am tired and drained. That’s why I’m excited to join with a group of blogging friends in order to offer you a weekly devotional which will be posted every Thursday.

Please be sure to check out the other great bloggers involved in the His Encouragement weekly series! 

Trisha @ Joy of Reading
Jacquelyn @ A Heavenly Home

Have you heard about Audible? Audible is one of my favorite apps. I use it all the time to read books. Try Audible today and get two free audiobooks! I recommend Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor or Can You Drink This Cup? by Henri Nouwen. Try Audible for completely free, and if you cancel, you still get to keep the books!

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