The following article is excerpted and adapted from the sermon preached for EndItNow Emphasis Day. To learn more about EndItNow and watch the message in its entirety, visit women.adventist.org/enditnow-day.—Editors.
For 18 years the woman suffered; standing up with a straight spine was a distant, faded memory. No doubt she longed to see a majestic blue sky with white puffy clouds, or to look up into the night sky and see stars and a full, rounded moon. Instead, her natural field of view was perpetually downward. Then one Sabbath a visitor came to the synagogue and changed everything. His name was Jesus of Nazareth.
In the New Testament era women were overrepresented among the poor, suffering, captives, and oppressed, as they typically didn’t hold a very high place in society. In fact, it’s difficult to exaggerate how great their misery was. But Jesus uplifted them. His ministering to the bent-over woman of Luke 13 is just one example. “On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for 18 years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, ‘Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.’ Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.
“Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, ‘There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath day.’
“The Lord answered him, ‘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? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?’ When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing” (Luke 13:10-17).
Luke, by naming neither the location nor the woman, broadens the application and significance of this event beyond this one individual woman to all women who are in bondage everywhere. This beautiful story offers hope to victims.
With the tenderness of a physician, Luke describes the severity of her condition. Bible students have speculated about the specific disease she was inflicted with. Others suggest this woman showed symptoms consistent with injuries suffered from sexual abuse or violence. Ultimately, Jesus laid the blame of her suffering upon Satan. The point is that there is nothing Christlike about abuse. No genuine Christian would sexually force himself on a woman, not even his wife. No genuine Christian would beat a woman, any woman, especially the one he promised to love as his wife.
This type of behavior is totally at odds with the teaching and values of Jesus. When He came to that synagogue that Sabbath, everything changed. Jesus saw this woman even though she was bent over. The Bible says He called her. Her body was disabled, but her faith was alive and well. We can imagine her making her way with difficulty as best she could, arriving before Jesus still stooped. She did exactly what Jesus asked her to do.
Then Jesus said the most wonderful words she’d ever heard: “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.”
In an instant she could look into people’s faces—into the face of Jesus, the one who ended her bodily pain. Jesus’ face was probably the first face she saw as she stood tall for the first time in 18 years.
The very first thing she does, upon being miraculously healed, is glorify God. Of all the Sabbath miracles in Luke, she was the first and only healed person to praise God when she was set free from her infirmity. Just as she had done nothing to deserve her 18 years of suffering, she had done nothing to deserve this healing, but was healed only by the grace of Jesus. For this reason she glorified God. And by glorifying God, she was letting the world know what she thought of His Son.
Not only did Jesus come to the support of the healed woman—He aligned Himself with her by designating her a daughter of Abraham.
But while her physical pain and her physical health had been restored, her psychological torment wasn’t finished.
Also in the crowd that Sabbath was the synagogue ruler. He was not impressed with what happened. In indignation, the synagogue ruler blurted out, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.” Clearly, he was using the Sabbath as a weapon against Jesus and the woman. He even quoted a portion of the Sabbath commandment in his attack.
This is a technique often used by people who abuse others—taking the words of Scripture and distorting them for their evil purposes. But the Bible is not a tool to justify the abuse of women.
Ellen White offered this valuable insight regarding Jesus and the Sabbath: “Christ, during His earthly ministry, emphasized the binding claims of the Sabbath; in all His teaching He showed reverence for the institution He Himself had given. In His days the Sabbath had become so perverted that its observance reflected the character of selfish and arbitrary men rather than the character of God. Christ set aside the false teaching by which those who claimed to know God had misrepresented Him. Although followed with merciless hostility by the rabbis, He did not even appear to conform to their requirements, but went straight forward keeping the Sabbath according to the law of God.”1
Jesus put the woman’s abuser in his rightful place. The ruler and his ilk were correctly identified as hypocrites, showing more compassion to animals than they did to a woman who was a daughter of Abraham, a person created in the image of God. The synagogue ruler and his allies would not allow a beast to go for a few hours on Sabbath without being released and allowed to drink its fill. But they were outraged that a woman’s suffering was not extended for at least another day. While Jesus was not saving the woman from impending death by healing her, He made a point about Sabbath being important to the enhancement of life.
No woman should endure abuse, be it sexual, physical, psychological, or emotional, any day of the week. But the prevention of abuse doesn’t need to be confined to a special Sabbath. While this woman’s physical suffering was ended by the physical healing provided by Jesus, the synagogue ruler increased her spiritual and emotional suffering with heartless words. It is for this reason that some of the strongest and most direct words we have in the Bible were directed against this man of privilege.
Not only did Jesus come to the support of the healed woman—He aligned Himself with her by designating her a daughter of Abraham. Thus, the synagogue ruler found himself in the unenviable position of being on the same side as Satan in opposing Jesus; the wrong side of the daughter of Abraham and of Abraham himself. In our church today, some may try to dismiss the importance of programs such as the EndItNow initiative. They may resort to disagreeing with it as the synagogue ruler did. They may say the Seventh-day Adventist Church has a mission that should not be distracted by social issues.
Ellen White wrote: “True sympathy between man and his fellowman is to be the sign distinguishing those who love and fear God from those who are unmindful of His law. How great the sympathy that Christ expressed in coming to this world to give His life a sacrifice for a dying world! His religion led to the doing of genuine medical missionary work. He was a healing power.”2
This is the test the great Author of truth used to distinguish between true and false religion. True believers will not ignore women who are marginalized an
d suffering abuse and victimization. We have an ongoing duty to protect and shield all woman in these vile circumstances.
How did Jesus’ visit to this synagogue end? It concluded with the enduring image of a healed woman standing upright and praising God. This daughter of Abraham who had been bent over became a model for all people of all ages, showing what Jesus can do for someone who’s been oppressed.
Would you like Jesus to heal you, to reshape your life and your future? Perhaps there are men who may be thinking about their treatment of women; perhaps their attitudes toward women are not what they should be. Now is the time to ask Jesus for a new heart to treat women the same way as Jesus treated women—with kindness, compassion, and respect.
For women still suffering today, just as Jesus healed the woman who couldn’t stand straight, He can touch you with His pure love to reshape your life and future. Jesus’ words can lift you up just as they did for the woman from so long ago.
Anthony Kent is an associate secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association.