Jesus was teaching in a synagogue on the sabbath. And a woman was there who for eighteen years had been crippled by a spirit; she was bent over, completely incapable of standing erect. When Jesus saw her, he called to her and said, “Woman, you are set free of your infirmity.” He laid his hands on her, and she at once stood up straight and glorified God.
But the leader of the synagogue, indignant that Jesus had cured on the sabbath, said to the crowd in reply, “There are six days when work should be done. Come on those days to be cured, not on the sabbath day.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Hypocrites! Does not each one of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger and lead it out for watering? This daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound for eighteen years now, ought she not to have been set free on the sabbath day from this bondage?”
When he said this, all his adversaries were humiliated; and the whole crowd rejoiced at all the splendid deeds done by him.Luke 13:10-17
Since returning to the Denver area after many years in the Midwest, I’ve become very close to my brother-in-law Rob. We’ve become cycling partners, spending hours together riding the mountain roadways or venturing off-road to explore the many biking trails that dot the foothills west of the city. The combination of physical activity and deepening friendship has done wonders for my mental and spiritual health. Sometimes when riding, sweating, laboring up another hill with Rob at my shoulder, I can’t believe my luck. And on the downhill, forget about it—my mind, body, and spirit are set free.
As I reflect on Jesus’ response to those who balk at God’s freedom and desire to help a woman overcome her most intractable infirmity, I can’t help but think of Rob. This daughter of Abraham, ought she not to have been set free on the sabbath day from this bondage? Five years ago, Rob nearly died from alcohol addiction. This son of loving parents, partner to a wonderful wife, brother and lifelong friend to my wife, and now beloved friend to me, nearly lost his battle with “demon alcohol.”
I know there were many long days and nights that Rob felt crippled and bound by the yearning to drink. He got through it with the help of AA, a community of friends that embodied for him God’s Spirit of mercy, solidarity, and liberation from an attachment that was wrecking his life.
It is painfully true that not everyone is as fortunate as Rob and all who love him. Many will never savor the fruits of such a liberation. And the victory, at least on this side of death, is not guaranteed. But when it happens, the adversary is indeed humiliated, and all can rejoice at the splendid deeds that are made newly possible when God becomes flesh in a loving human community.
Note: my thanks to Give Us This Day, October 24, 2022, for permission to republish this meditation.