There are few things in life more difficult to bear than a prolonged illness or permanent condition. In the Gospel a few weeks ago, Luke 13:10-17, meet a woman who probably expected a lifetime of physical pain and struggle. She had been contorted not just for a week or a month or a year, but for a full eighteen years. There was no reason to believe her situation would change. She was bent over at the waist – contorted, the Fathers say, by an evil spirit. She had a most abnormal crease in the middle of her body. She couldn’t straighten up. The Lover of mankind looked with concern and sympathy on this miserable human creature, and saw in her not a withered and twisted animal, but a daughter of Abraham, a soul created by God and deserving of His mercy.
Bent and twisted as this lady was, we should notice that her priorities were a lot straighter than those of many who walk upright. Saint Luke tells us that her miraculous healing occurred in one of the Synagogues on the Sabbath. We may ask ourselves, “What was this lady doing in the synagogue?” Well, obviously, she was there to worship. But you know what? It couldn’t have been easy for her to be there. If she had been looking for an excuse not to be there, she had a pretty good one! You can imagine her saying, “Rabbi, I just prefer to stay home. It’s hard for me to walk to synagogue, my back hurts terribly by the time I get there. When I’m there, people stare at me and I feel so uncomfortable. It’s just better for me to stay home!”
The truth is that she was there because it was a priority for her to be there. Her body may have been bent, but her priorities were straight. God came first. She did not let the obstacles of life get in the way; She didn’t let it stop her. She was there and that is the point. She made herself available so that God in His time and through His means could heal her. All she did was to show up and be present.
The example of the woman healed today is a good lesson for all of us. If we take our life in Christ seriously, and believe that the church through her sacraments offers us grace and healing, as long as we are physically able, it is important for us to be present in the life of the church. If we are honest: most people usually figure out a way to do the things they really want to do. This crippled women struggled to put God first. She, in her own feeble way, was saying yes to the Master.
I want to stress that in today’s gospel the women’s healing was the result of her presence in the synagogue that day, not the cause of it. There is no indication in the text that she came looking for healing. She just came to the assembly where God’s people were gathered, as was probably her custom. Jesus saw her and called out to her. She didn’t see Him and call to Him; she was not even near Him. So we can see that because she was there, she was available. She was available to receiving the healing grace that Jesus offered that day. Had she just stayed home that Saturday, her back would have remained just as bent as it was on Friday.
Here’s the point for us: A most basic condition for the grace of the Holy Spirit to be present in our lives is that we be available to God. Sounds simple… So how do we practically make ourselves available? We try, with God’s help, to continually say Yes to God in all that we do throughout our day and we practice patience in our infirmities, no matter what they are. We also have many gifts of grace available to us. In addition to the rich services of the church and the holy sacraments, a consistency in a rule of prayer, accountability and an ongoing relationship with a Priest. Sometimes we forget that what attracts the grace of God is just being quiet and still, saying the Jesus prayer. Also visiting monasteries, and making pilgrimages to holy sites, and the observances of fasts and feasts are aids for us in reminding us of what is important on this earth. All these, and much more, have the purpose of rendering us available to God.
We all should realize that the bent over woman in the Gospel had no special claim to the mercy and grace of God. God simply was a priority in her life; so much so, that she was willing to endure pain, suffering, and discomfort to be faithful to him, and wait on Him with patience. But in that process of putting God first, she found the solution to the thing she struggled most with. When the mercy and salvation of God entered that synagogue on that day, she was there. She didn’t have to plead for anything from God; but she was available. And so the abundance of God’s goodness was poured out on her. Let us be reminded of Jesus’ words: “…seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.”