I sometimes see this woman, bent over, her physical and emotional pain blocking out the stars. She’s the tired mum shopping in the supermarket with her three pre-schoolers, the elderly woman crippled with arthritis, the retrenched woman, too young to retire and considered too old for meaningful work, the woman looking hopelessly though the wire of a detention centre far from her place of birth.
Jesus noticed her, sitting apart on the stone bench that ran the length of the little synagogue. He was a visiting preacher, there by invitation of the synagogue leaders. The woman was disabled, familiar but virtually invisible. Imagine what that did to her sense of self, alienated by a community perception that her condition was just punishment for some hidden sin, humiliated by her obvious difference.
If you have ever felt like this then Jesus’ next move would be confronting, because he invited the woman to move out of her space and into the ring of watching and listening men. The choreography speaks to me, and I wonder why Jesus didn’t move over to where she was. Instead, in spite of her fear, she did as he asked and moved from the edge where custom had placed her and right into the centre where Jesus stood, In one fluid movement he bent down, looked into the woman’s eyes and reached to embrace her. Her head lifted, her back straightened and she found herself looking into Jesus’ eyes.
In the eyes of the surprised and scandalised synagogue president this visiting preacher was aligning the woman with themselves. Jesus and the woman stood united. Once again he had moved out of recognised religious boundaries and standing with the disenfranchised and the marginalized. The centre had moved and religious authorities suddenly found themselves standing on the periphery. Outraged, they spat out words that put the blame onto one who minutes before had been burdened not just by her physical condition but by cultural traditions and expectations.
Nothing had changed and everything had changed. Humiliated for reasons beyond her control, her dignity was ignored. Until Jesus reached out to her nobody else had stopped to see the woman she was inside. It takes courage to hang on to your best self when circumstances beyond your control push you out to the fringe. It takes courage, too, to move into a place at the centre, a place that seems reserved for others. Maybe making that move in response to a loving invitation was the miracle that enabled the healing.
It seems to me that this is a story for our time, a story that Pope Francis keeps reminding us about in word and action. So many, not just women, have been pushed to the edges by the greed of a few, hungry for power in all its manifestations. All of us are in this story. Where do you stand – or sit?