Connections 08.25.2019: From Looking Down to Looking Out

Luke 13:10-21

Because of a back problem, the woman had been bent over for eighteen years. She had spent almost two decades looking at the ground and at people’s feet.

Then Jesus healed her.

Suddenly, after nearly twenty years, she could see the sky. She could look into people’s faces.

Imagine what it must have been like for her to have her field of vision so greatly enlarged and her outlook on people so greatly expanded.

She was able to experience life in a much broader way. The world became more than the ground.

She had been able to see so little of the world. Now she could see so much.

She was able to experience people in a much broader way. People became more than their feet.

She had been able to see people in such a limited way. Now she could see them much more fully.

The fellow in charge of the synagogue saw the world and people in a certain way too. He mainly saw them in light of the rules.

There were rules, he knew, and they should be followed. Give a little here and little there, and pretty soon society falls apart. The rules keep the chaos from erupting.

The synagogue leader wasn’t saying that the woman’s healing wasn’t a wonderful thing. But it happened on the Sabbath, and there were rules—long-standing, important, traditional, dependable rules—about such things. You weren’t supposed to work on the Sabbath, healing was work, so Jesus’ violation of the regulations was plain to see.

He wasn’t saying that the woman’s healing should be undone. But he was saying let’s not let such things happen again. He wanted things done the right way.

Compassion was all well and good, he figured, as long as it was demonstrated within the confines of the rules.

Besides, the whole business was unnecessary. The woman could have waited until the next day to get healed and all this brouhaha could have been avoided.

Jesus would have none of it. It’s not that he didn’t see the value in religious practice. He was at the synagogue on the Sabbath when this all happened, after all. But for Jesus, when someone needs compassion, there was no time like the present to offer it, rules notwithstanding.

Rules have their place, but that place isn’t between you and someone who needs your help.

I think it’s fair to say that the synagogue leader viewed life through the rules. I think it’s also fair to say that he viewed people through the rules.

Jesus straightened the woman up so she could see life and people more fully.

Jesus wanted to straighten the synagogue leader out so he could see life and people more fully too.

Before Jesus healed her, the woman couldn’t see someone’s entire body. After he healed her, the synagogue leader still didn’t see people in their full, hurting, broken humanity. He saw only their breaking or keeping of the rules.

We don’t know if this experience changed the synagogue leader’s perspective. I hope it eventually did.

In showing compassion to the woman, Jesus shows us that compassion is the right lens through which to view life and people.

When we do, people just may rejoice at all the wonderful things we do (v. 17b).

And these days, we sure could use more attitudes and actions that produce joy.


  1. The woman didn’t request healing. Why do you think Jesus took the initiative to heal her?
  2. Is it possible to follow rules in a compassionate way? Why do you say that?
  3. Is it easier to follow the rules or to practice compassion? Why?
  4. What about Jesus’ words shamed his opponents? The only opponent named in the lesson text is the synagogue leader. Who might the other opponents have been?

Reference Shelf

The synagogue leader voices his objection: “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be healed, and not on the sabbath day” (v. 14). His objection is derived from a certain type of reading of Exodus 20:8-11 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15. Healing is labor; it is, therefore, prohibited on the Sabbath. In the Greek his reaction appeals to the divine plan. There are six days on which one must (dei) work (see the same dei used in certain passion predictions [Luke 13:33]). He claims his interpretation of the law is in accord with the divine plan for human life.

Jesus’ pronouncement comes in vv. 15-16. It is an argument from the minor to the major. The minor comes first. “Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger, and lead it away to water it” (v. 15)? At Qumran (CD 11:5-6) travel up to 3000 feet on the Sabbath was allowed for pasturing. In m. Shabbat 7:2 thirty-nine forms of labor on the Sabbath are prohibited, while others are permitted; m. Shabbat 5 indicates that leading cattle to drink is permitted. The Lukan Jesus assumes such a practice was in place in his time. This is customary Sabbath practice, obviously based on compassion for animals. The major comes next. “Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day” (v. 16)? Should not a Jewish woman be untied out of the same compassion? The synagogue ruler is condemned by his own practice. The outcome is that Jesus’ enemies are put to shame while the people rejoice at his wonderful deeds.

Luke understands Jesus’ exorcisms as signs that the kingdom was breaking in (11:20—“if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”). Such deeds are some of the “weather signs” that Jesus’ generation needs to interpret correctly (12:54-56; note the use of “hypocrites” in 12:56 and 13:15). If they do, then they will see what Jesus has done for this woman on the Sabbath as the in-breaking of God’s kingly rule. That Jesus understands his actions this way in 13:10-17 is indicated by his use also of the term for the divine plan (edei). In v. 16 one might translate: “Is it not necessary (edei, according to the divine plan) that this woman be untied?” There is a clash between synagogue ruler and the Lukan Jesus as to who is acting out of the divine necessity. The pronouncement story makes clear that, in the Lukan plot, Jesus’ version of God’s will wins the day!

Charles H. Talbert, Reading Luke: A Literary and Theological Commentary, rev. ed., Reading the New Testament (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2002), 164

How may churches help to liberate persons with physical conditions that create severe, chronic pain? Others are bent or bowed down by depression, sometimes as the by-product of some other physical or mental illness. Would that we could lay hands on them all and help them to walk straight! What we can do, we should, and that includes refraining from increasing their suffering by adding guilt to it; an elderly woman in steady pain from arthritis or osteoporosis does not need to be scolded for failing to attend every church service or for needing someone to listen to her complaints. Let our goal be to loosen, as much as we are able, what binds people, and so imitate our Lord.

Richard B. Vinson, Luke, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2008), 457.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan and Isabella. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.


For further resources, subscribe to the Connections Teaching Guide and Commentary. Additionally, the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series is a scholarly but accessible means for enhancing your study of each lesson. To purchase the volume quoted in today’s Reference Shelf, please click Here.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email