Sunday’s gospel (Luke 13:10-17) is a miniature of Jesus’ mission and message. 

It begins: 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.

Jesus had come as the fulfilment of Jewish prophecies so it was fitting that he went to synagogues, interpreting scripture. He visited synagogues as an itinerant teacher (Luke 4:15-16), so this visit was part of a larger pattern.

That the woman had also come to the synagogue despite being bent over and could not straighten up at all… for eighteen years, suggests her faithfulness. It would have taken great effort for her to be there. Given her assumed lack of mobility, this was likely her ‘home’ synagogue. Despite her piety, her inability to do productive work may have meant that she was marginalized by her community as not contributing. 

This nameless woman does not appear in the gospels before or after this brief episode. Her anonymity may mirror her ‘nobody’ status, Yet, she was precisely whom Jesus came for.

The eighteen years of being crippled appears as a specific detail in Luke’s story. This period coincides with two other scriptural references of captivity and oppression. Judges 3:14 notes that the Israelites were freed from Moabite captivity after 18 years. This trial was presented as being a test of the Israelites to see whether they would obey the Lord’s commands, given their ancestors through Moses. (Judges 3:4) The other reference to 18 years is in Judges 10: Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord…the Lord…became angry with them. He sold them into the hands of the Philistines and the Ammonites, who… shattered and crushed them. For eighteen years they oppressed the Israelites…Then the Israelites cried to the Lord, “We have sinned against you, forsaking our God and serving the Baals.” In Judges 11, the Lord gave the Israelites victory over their enemies. Freedom from oppression or captivity of one sort or the other is a gift of God. So, eighteen years had a previous scriptural significance as a time, after which, God had granted freedom. 

When suffering becomes normalized - as it would have for the woman in this morning’s gospel after 18 years – it limits one’s life: what one can do, how long it takes: what one plans. The woman in this morning’s gospel may have been so bent that she would have gotten used to looking at people by looking up and sideways. After 18 years, she could hardly remember any other way of seeing the world. The pain had probably etched itself into her appearance. 

The crippled woman did not ask for relief. Jesus took the initiative and reached out to her. His spontaneous gift of healing came without a question of whether she was ‘deserving’. The fact that she was part of God’s creation made her lovable and worthy.

Beyond the freedom from the pain was the immediacy: Jesus put his hands on her and immediately she straightened up and praised God. (As someone slowly recovering from multiple broken bones following my biking accident two weeks ago, I appreciate this detail. Modern medicine can image the breaks, contusions and air leaks, but it can’t heal me faster or do more than mute the pain.) The woman’s sudden sense of freedom would have been joyous. Being able to straighten up painlessly would have, indeed, been a reason to praise God. Jesus didn’t ‘just’ cure her, he did it in the blink of an eye, wiping away 18 years of misery. It symbolized his life’s work of wiping out the consequences of sin. When Jesus cured her, she was able to recalculate her whole life and literally see the world differently. Possibilities opened up. Through him she experienced a “new creation”. Her world expanded. She would have appeared younger. What a delicious set of prospects she would have to consider.


One would think that this cure would be welcomed by all and that both Jesus and the woman would be celebrated. That is not what happened.

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.” 

The commandments forbidding work on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:10; 31:14–15; Leviticus 23:3; Deuteronomy 5:14) left “work” undefined, allowing for various interpretations. The synagogue leader apparently favoured a narrow, literal interpretation.

Reading between the lines it seems like Jesus’ cure of the woman had taken the spotlight off the synagogue leader so he lashed out. However, instead of attacking Jesus directly, the synagogue leader addressed the woman and others at the synagogue: There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.” He used the cover of piety for the sabbath to drape self-serving words and acts with noble reasons. But he avoided addressing Jesus directly.

Having none of this, Jesus intervened with the synagogue leader: 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.

Jesus did not address just the single synagogue leader but plural hypocrites and, two verses later, Luke also referred to all his opponents. This change reflects Luke’s earlier note that the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to oppose him fiercely and to besiege him with questions, waiting to catch him in something he might say. (Luke 11:53-54) It seems that the entourage of those following Jesus to the synagogue that morning included not just his disciples but those intent on proving him wrong. 

Jesus’ folksy logic won the day. His humanity and life experiences gave him the examples from which to draw for his divine intervention. He fused his divine and his human knowledge to serve the woman.


As a miniature of his life and mission, this gospel shows Jesus’ compassion to a ‘nobody’; in doing so he brought salvation and new life to the crippled woman; he demonstrated his divine power. He used familiar day-to-day experiences to argue for his work.

He also faced off against the religious establishment who used a twisted interpretation of the law to try to repress him and those whom Jesus might cure. This conflict with religious authority would ultimately lead to his crucifixion. 


  • Do you think that Jesus loved the synagogue leader, too? How would you explain that? 
  • Does this gospel suggest to you that Jesus wants the most generous and caring interpretation of scripture? Does it make a difference to you in your understanding of difficult passages?
  • Did Jesus only cure the woman of her physical issues or did he also change her spiritual life too? Did she become a disciple? Did she devote herself to the care of other marginalized people? Did the community esteem her as the visible beneficiary of God’s love? Something else?