So then, my brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh--for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ--if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment." When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day."
The Lord answered him and said, "You hypocrites! 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? And 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" When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at al the wonderful things that he was doing.
Seeing badly stooped people tottering step by step, or leaning on a cane lest they collapse to the ground, is an all too common sight to anyone who has traveled in under-developed countries. They have spent their strength and twisted themselves out of shape by back-breaking work in rice fields or elsewhere; they have looked so long at the ground that they physically cannot look up to the heavens. But though bent over, these folk are often spiritually strong. Their words carry an enormous common sense, their minds cut through idle speculations. Their calloused hands can handle the infant grandchild with delicate care, their weakened eyes still carry a sparkle of pride and peace.
Jesus saw one such woman while teaching in a synagogue on a sabbath day. He knew what was proper and lawful to do on the sabbath, but could not rest till every man and woman was re-created to the divine image. In the Ten Commandments, the reason for resting on the sabbath is that after the work of creation God "rested on the sabbath day" (Exod 20:11); but on this particular sabbath, Jesus could not enjoy his sabbath rest until the work of creation was completed and this woman was restored to what she was meant to be.
At the sight of her, Jesus says a healing word, then puts his healing hand on her, and immediately she stands up straight and starts thanking God. His action was prompted by divine wisdom and his conviction of what the sabbath was supposed to achieve. When the synagogue ruler became indignant that the healing was on the sabbath, Jesus' response comes from the impulse of mercy and from the spirit of common sense imbedded in his heart. "You hypocrites. Which of you does not let his ox or ass out of the stall on the sabbath to water it? Should not this woman be released from her shackles on the sabbath?"
In a more theological tone, Paul recognizes the mysterious presence of God's spirit within humankind: The Spirit makes our spirit aware that we are children of God. Tomorrow's reading is even more pointed, "The whole created world eagerly awaits the revelation of the children of God." Jesus' words to the stooped woman echo this hope; his healing word calling out to her responds to the hope of the created eagerly awaiting that revelation. To sum up, grace heightens our awareness of natural goodness and actually builds on it. Our crippled or handicapped neighbours often hold the key to our understanding of God's revelation in Jesus.
In the gospel a synagogue official insists that no work be done on the Sabbath. In reply Jesus insists that God's work can be done on any day of the week. He was doing God's work by releasing a woman from a condition that prevented her from standing upright. He untied her bonds; he set her free from what was setting her back.
His message is that life-giving work is always timely. There is no day, no time, when it cannot be done. Jesus wants all of us to share in some way in his work of releasing people from what holds them back. We are to be friends, to be kind, forgiving each other as God has forgiven us in Christ, loving one another as Christ has loved us. In this way we share in the Lord's life-giving and liberating work. Such work is always timely; there is never a wrong time for it. His cure of the woman led her to glorify God rather than Jesus. We are told that when "she straightened up; she glorified God." That is always the goal of our sharing in the Lord's work too. We do the Lord's work, not in order that we are glorified but so that God is glorified.