She was in the synagogue! If anything should shock us about this passage, it’s that this woman was in the synagogue.
Eighteen years without control of her own body. Eighteen years spent doubled over, having a clear view of people’s feet but not their faces. She’d spent all those years without the ability to stretch her body, restricted and in pain, unable to look up at the sky on a sunny day, unable to meet the embrace of the people she loved and the people who loved her. But she was in the synagogue, the place where the people of God went to worship.
We don’t know what had happened in this woman’s life eighteen years prior to leave her in this state. Luke doesn’t give us any details. We only know that, whatever it was—whatever she had done, or whatever had been done to her—this woman’s life had been changed forever.
Somewhere along the way, she’d encountered a spirit that had taken over her body. She was trapped and in bondage.
It can be hard to imagine the scene. We live more than two thousand years removed from this woman. In Western culture, we don’t often talk about the supernatural. We have complex, intellectual, scientific answers to meet what we assume are complex, intellectual, scientific problems we encounter in our everyday lives. Yet, if we’re honest, even two thousand years removed our world is not all that different from the woman’s world. Sometimes all the complex, intellectual, scientific answers we have simply aren’t enough to alleviate our suffering. Sometimes we’re still left wanting.
The Bible will tell us explicitly when a person is suffering from a physical illness. But while it’s clear that the woman was suffering, Luke makes it equally clear that the root of her problem ultimately wasn’t physical but spiritual. And the truth is, when it comes to our spiritual lives, we’re just like this woman. Maybe our spiritual problems don’t leave us doubled over for eighteen years, but the chal lenges can still thwart us. Augustine had a phrase for it: incurvatus in se, the life bent over on itself.1 He understood that our spiritual lives, when not in check, would lead us to self-preoccupation, turning us inward and robbing us of the love, joy, and community we were made for. (Note: Augustine was a theologian of the late Roman period whose writings greatly influenced Western Christianity and philosophy.)
This woman’s spiritual condition had left her so debilitated she couldn’t see Jesus. But Luke tells us that Jesus saw her. And even though we’re not told outright, we can be sure that Jesus took compassion on her
because when he saw her, he called her over and, without asking so much as a single question about the circumstances that had led to her bondage, he set her free.
We all have things we tolerate in our lives—toxic relationships, mental or physical ailments, or addictions. Maybe they’re things we once asked for freedom from, but we’ve since given up hope. Maybe they’re things we don’t
think Jesus is interested in changing.But we all live with bondage. The question is, do we really believe Jesus has come to set us free?