SET FREE FROM INFIRMITY
Luke 13:10-21 (K. V. 13:12)
“When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her,
‘Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.’”
Last Sunday, we heard Jesus’ stern words such as “pay the last penny,” and “repent or perish.” We also learned that repentance is not just stopping the bad things we have been doing, but to bear good fruit. In that sense, we need spiritual fertilizer to boost nourishment and sap. While Jesus of the last passage can be stern and hardline, the same Jesus in today’s passage can be full of compassion, friendly, and more than willing to give us the kingdom of God. May God help us to receive the freedom that Jesus gives and live out the essence of the kingdom of God in our life!
You Are Set Free (13:10-17)
Look at verse 10. On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues. A synagogue literally means “an assembly” or “a house of assembly.” Some ethnic Jews call their synagogue, “Shul,” in their native tongue, from which we have the term, “School.” It is quite fitting that Jesus was teaching in the school of the godly people. Surely, we are all in the school of Jesus here and now. While Jesus was teaching in the synagogue, there was a woman who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. The condition of this crippled woman is unthinkable. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all for a long time. According to the Greek version Bible, her posture was as if she were bowing down, like that of Three Magi bowing down before the baby Jesus. Imagine how difficult it is to maintain daily life with that posture. She cannot even look up to pray to the heaven. With this posture, the only thing she could do was possibly begging. In our Friday meeting, someone pointed out that this woman’s posture shows how sin makes us bent, completely unable to stand before God. The Scripture says we are like earthworm (Isa 41:14) with our spine severely bent or gone at the whim of sin’s bending. Sometimes, it is not just sin that makes us bent. A traumatic experience or a fear can possibly make us paralyzed, not being able to stand tall. What can we do in that situation?
Look at verse 12. In that situation, we can hear Jesus’ voice, obey him, and experience his healing grace. Note here that the woman did not initiate the healing request. Rather, it was Jesus who reached out to her first out of his abundant compassion. As Jesus put his hands on her, she immediately straightened up and praised God. Her spine was put in a right position and her hands were uplifted to offer a song of praises. Perhaps, she could later join a praise team in the synagogue. The fact that the first thing she did was giving praises to God shows how her physical healing led her to spiritual healing. Her complaining spirit was now converted to a praising spirit.
Surely, Jesus sets us free from the bondage that had bound us even for a long time. He does so through his words of truth. In John 8:31-32, Jesus says, “‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” According to Hebrews 2:14-15, we can be assured that through his own death, Jesus breaks the power of death that the devil holds against the children of God. Holding onto Jesus’ teaching and understanding the meaning of his death is the key to our true freedom.
It was one of the most wonderful events that the worshipers in the synagogue could ever witness. However, there were some people who were not happy with this amazing healing. Look at verse 14. The synagogue ruler (or leader) was indignant that Jesus had healed her on the Sabbath. Perhaps, he was very much okay with the healing itself. What bothered him the most was Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath. To him, it was out of the question that anyone should work in his synagogue on the Sabbath even if it involved an emergency healing. To him, Jesus was a Sabbath law violator. His adherence to the Sabbatical law is admirable, and yet he was too legalistic, not knowing the heart of God. He was also spineless, as he did not have courage to directly confront Jesus. Instead, he confronted Jesus very subtly by saying, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.” It is like submitting an anonymous tip as a whistleblower to the agency after observing a lawbreaking activity.
What was Jesus’ argument against this subtle criticism? Look at verse 15. “‘You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water?’” One of our members on Friday pointed out that while the animals were also subject to the Sabbatical law by not carrying their loads on the Sabbath, if their owners are abundantly compassionate, they were allowed to drink water. The animals were to be untied from their bondage and became free to do whatever they loved to do. Jesus applied the same principle to this woman. In doing so, he exposed the naysayers’ hypocrisy.
Look at verse 16. Note what noble title Jesus used when referring to the woman. It was a daughter of Abraham. Why is this title so special? It is because a son or daughter of Abraham means he or she has God’s favors and His promises in the heart. In that sense, we are all the sons and daughters of Abraham, sharing the same promises of Jesus, who is the ultimate Son of David, the Son of Abraham. Note also a parallel and contrast Jesus adopted: a daughter of Abraham versus an ox; bound by Satan versus bound in the stall; for eighteen years versus for a day. In that way, Jesus emphasizes how important it is to unbind a precious daughter of Abraham from the grip of Satan and let her taste heavenly freedom.
Look at verse 17. How did the people respond? All Jesus’ opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing. Those who have the general sense of normality could rejoice with Jesus. Those who are high-minded and legalistic could not be happy with him.
Before I met Jesus, I was like this crippled woman, bent in my own sins and bound in my own cage of criticism. I was an imperfect perfectionist who was groundlessly proud, and yet never accomplished anything but constantly blamed myself, not being able to be satisfied or settled down. Maybe I was also like the legalistic synagogue ruler, indignant toward myself. This self-blaming became all the severer when I could not get into the college that I wanted. At one point, it was so much so that I felt like I was being chased down by a stalker in my head with never-ceasing harassment. I knew I was sin-bent and self-blamed but could not be straightened up myself. Then, Jesus came to me through 1:1 Bible study invitation. With that, I was kind of admitted to Jesus’ orthopedic rehab center where my prideful skull and my crooked self-criticized spine were gradually rehabbed little by little, step-by-step. In fact, I had to be always in the Bible house, my spiritual rehab facility, having all kinds of fellowships with my fellow coworkers. I still had ups and down with the lingering effect of self-criticism toward my weaknesses and mistakes, but I no longer suffered from self-inflicted blaming wounds. My spiritual skull was mended, and my spiritual spine was straightened up. I just gave all my things good or bad to God regardless of the results. May God help us to be straightened up through Jesus’ healing grace so that we may live a life that gives praises to Him.
A Mustard Seed and Yeast (18-21)
Look at verse 18. After a bout with some legalistic Sabbath-law supporters, Jesus must have been very tired. Yet, he picked up where he left off and went into the in-depth Bible study right away. He had a good Bible Q&A session about the kingdom of God. “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to?” The essence of the ministry of Jesus on earth was about the kingdom of God. Jesus was dying to impart this essence of the kingdom of God to the people and yet it was a very difficult task to do. Hence, he used two valuable parables to make them understand it a little better.
The first parable is relating to a mustard seed. It is one of the smallest seeds and yet when it grows, it becomes big, like a tree, despite its being a plant, and the birds would love to perch in its branches. This represents the progressive nature of the kingdom of God. Even though God’s kingdom starts small but when it progresses it becomes very much influential and provides weary birds-like people a place to take a rest. It worked like that in our ministry. The co-founder of UBF is Mother Sarah Barry. She was born in one of the smallest cities, Benoit, Mississippi, (total population around 200), went to Korea around 1960s (one of the poorest countries at that time) and began a humble campus ministry along with late Dr. Lee. Her starting point was very small, maybe almost invisible compared to other big ministries, but her invitation of the students to English Bible study became very influence and was felt throughout the world including Europe and Africa. I was told that Mother Barry still teaches the Bible in her 80s to whoever wants to perch in her house.
The second parable is about yeast. While the first parable, the parable of a mustard seed, is relating to the outward progress and external growth of God’s kingdom through the gospel preaching or Bible study, this parable is possibly relating to our inward maturity and internal growth. As we only need the small amount of yeast to permeate the entire dough, we only need small things to influence ourselves and others. Sometimes, a small act of kindness (like cooking for the worship service), a brief text message to the Bible students, a joyful chat with the body of Christ and a small gift to the needy will make us matured internally and collectively. As a result, we become seasoned dough together. I was told that there would be a seasoned gentlemen’s Bible study at the Panera Bread place. It is quite a fitting application of the passage onto our life.
In conclusion, we learned how sins bend us and make us unable to stand before God. We also learned how Jesus sets us free through his words so as for us to live a life that gives praises to Him. We can be like-minded with Jesus, rejoicing with those freed from the bondage, not like the legalistic synagogue ruler. We can be a mustard seed and yeast to grow externally and internally. That is the essence of the kingdom of God.