No one likes a hypocrite. The English word hypocrite has its origin in the Greek word for actor and like actors, hypocrites typically love the applause of the crowd – as they say one thing and do the opposite

Come with me to a scene we find in Luke’s Gospel as Jesus traveled towards Jerusalem. The details speak of its historical authenticity – a woman crippled with an incurable sickness and a pompous leader of a synagogue with his high-minded rule-keeping. The scene unfolds in Luke chapter 13, verses 10 following.

Teaching in a synagogue one Sabbath, Jesus noticed a badly crippled woman, bowed and helpless – possibly with spondylitis deformans. It may be her infirmity itself drew attention or she may have used it as an excuse to be noticed. Certainly she had a problem.

Luke the physician tells us that a spirit – an evil spirit – had caused this physical infirmity for eighteen years. Inviting her to come over to him, no doubt so that everyone could see, Jesus said to her, “Woman you are set free from your ailment” (13:12). Luke tells us that Jesus laid his hands on her and immediately she was able to stand up straight again. Feeling strength and health in her body, the woman’s first response was to praise, glorify God (13:13).

The moment of joy, however, was brought to an abrupt halt when the synagogue ruler angrily stepped in: ‘You have six other days in the week for work. You are not to practice medicine on the Sabbath,’ was the force of his harsh words (13:14).

But Jesus was not deterred. “You hypocrites!” he said. “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? 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?”

For Jesus, her healing symbolized something more than God’s power and compassion at work. It symbolized her release from the power of sin and evil. Furthermore, in saying that it was right to heal on the Sabbath, Jesus was pointing out that the Sabbath was consecrated for the ‘good and proper end’ of creation.

Two parables that follow underline this (13:18-20). Both highlight the prolific and pervasive growth of God’s kingdom. The parable of the mustard seed shows how, from a tiny insignificant beginning, God’s kingdom would become immense. From the modest beginning of twelve men, and one of them a traitor, in a tiny province in the Roman Empire, would grow a group numbering millions upon millions. The final return of God’s king is in mind.

If you have ever made bread, you will know how the yeast finds its way through the dough, doubling its size or more, if left long enough. Similarly, God’s kingdom will find its way right through society, into the lives of insignificant men and women as well as into the corridors of political and economic power.

The healing of the crippled woman was a sign of God’s power and of Jesus’ authority. It was a sign of the decision God had made: to liberate men and women from their bondage to sickness, to sin and to Satan. This was God’s purpose.

It was the choice Jesus had made. He had come to liberate men and women from their slavery to self and to sin. And God’s vision is big. Countless millions will be affected. We can be completely confident about this.

And look how Jesus treated this crippled woman. She was a nobody, an outcast, and yet he was prepared to put his reputation on the line for her. Ignoring the potential reaction of the religious elite, he made available for her the benefits of the kingdom of God.

What an encouragement this is for us. Everyone is acceptable. It doesn’t matter who we are: there are no exceptions. And that is why there will be many surprises on the final day.

Prayer. Lord God, you know us to be set in the midst of so many great dangers that by reason of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright: grant us such strength and protection as may support us in all dangers and carry us through all temptations; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

You may like to listen to He Will Hold Me Fast from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

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© John G. Mason

Note: Today’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my book in the ‘Reading the Bible Today’ series, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2018.

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