So, right now, as you read this, does anything hurt? Maybe your body is sore from an injury or your heart is aching over something that you have endured. Since the Fall, pain and suffering have been a part of life on this earth, and while we can work and pray for these experiences to be minimized in our lives (and in the lives of others), the curse of sin on this world means that suffering continues to harm people.
Let’s take a look at an account of someone who was suffering, as recorded in the Bible:
On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen 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.
Luke 13:10-13 NIV
A couple quick points of context, here: First, we find that these events are taking place on the Sabbath, which would be Saturday in the modern week. For the Jewish people of the first century (and many people today – both Jewish and non-Jewish), this is a day of rest.
In the first century, the idea of “not working” (which perhaps isn’t always the same as rest) was enforced rigorously by the Pharisees, a religious group within the Jewish people. Regardless of what else people were doing on the Sabbath when this account took place, though, this was also a great day to be in a house of worship.
Secondly, Jesus is teaching in a synagogue. We remember that Jesus was not just our Lord and Savior, and the Son of God (although He is all of those things). He was also a teacher – a rabbi.
It sounds like teaching in a synagogue wasn’t necessarily like a church today where a single pastor usually preaches a single lesson. Instead, it sounds like more of an open forum, where teachers (like Jesus or Paul) could speak; or at least a venue that was open to “guest speakers”. Maybe they took reservations, or announced who was going to speak on any given Sabbath (even with some research, though, I’m not sure).
In this context, we find that there is a woman with an infirmity here. Externally, it seems that she might have something like scoliosis or – as one article suggested – “ankylosing spondylitis” [The many layers of the story of the women bent double in Luke 13 | Psephizo].
However, Luke notes that she had a “spirit of sickness” (per NASB footnote). Interpretations vary on this, but it seems to me that if there was a physical condition that had caused this problem, Luke – a physician – might have very well listed it, rather than saying what he did. As a result, it is possible that an evil spirit was responsible for this condition, which I think would be torture. In fact, verse 16 seems to further affirm this idea. After all, physical and spiritual attacks aren’t mutually exclusive.
Did you notice that the woman was still in the synagogue, though? If I was suffering like this, I might be tempted to just stay home all the time. And, unlike this woman, I can watch services online, yet she made it to the synagogue somehow.
Regardless of the source of this woman’s condition, though, Jesus has power over her illness. In fact, notice the order of events as recorded by Luke: Jesus pronounces her free first, then he places hands on her. She is able to stand again (“immediately”, no less!), and she praises God. She knows Who is ultimately responsible for healing her.
Now, I want to be careful of over-using a “name it and claim it” philosophy, but it looks like Jesus knows that the woman is healed before she actually stands up. When my faith is weak, and I’m praying for a suffering friend, I’m tempted to say (or at least think) something like, “Well, I’ll pray for you and I know that God can heal you, but I’m not sure if He will choose to.” That may be true, but I think that Jesus has faith far more than even our “mustard seed faith”. He pronounces the woman free, and He knows that she is – or will be – free.
And, let’s not forget that suffering isn’t a one-time issue. This woman had been afflicted for 18 years. When we hear of a friend getting sick with an initial diagnosis, or a disaster that strikes, it’s easy to pray, call, or help. But, being sick can last weeks, months, or even years, and experiencing trauma can have effects that last for a long time.
As a result, I encourage you to keep a prayer list, and use it to remind yourself to follow up with people who are hurting, even if they have been sitting in pain or despair for a long time. Yes, we should often follow up in the first few days that a problem hits (or when we hear about it), but many people still need our help in the weeks after that. If our desire to show God’s love to those who have been hurting for a long time was just as compelling as our compassion for those who have just been hurt, what would that look like?
From Sunday School lesson prepared for April 24, 2022
- The Lookout, April 24, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation.
- The College Press Commentary, Luke, by Mark C. Black. College Press Publishing Company, © 1996.