In a music video for a song titled ‘Bent,’ the plot centers on a man who walks through the city streets over the course of a day, minding his own business, and all of these bad things keep happening to him. He gets knocked down by something and every time he gets back up again, something else bad happens to him. The video depicts a 24 hour period and as night turns back into day, the viewer sees that the drama is about to start all over again, with the exact same scene that began the previous day.
It’s like there’s an invisible force that wants to keep him down, and all the while the song is playing over the action, and in the chorus he sings “Can you help me? I’m bent. I’m so scared that I’ll never get put back together.”
Life can sure feel like that at times.
Emilie Townes writes that “we are like the woman bent over and unable to look up and see the sun. We know only the dust and dirt underneath our feet.”
Indeed, there are forces that bend and cripple our lives, which limit our vision and keep us imprisoned in our bodies, or in our life circumstances. We might experience these forces as addiction, illness, baggage from our family history, or even depression.
Bent over in these ways, our field of vision is dominated by our own suffering. The temptation is to surrender to the circumstances and to lose sight of joy and gratitude. Maybe over time we lose our senses of humor and become jaded or become grumpy and irritable. In extreme cases, we might lose jobs or relationships.
Sometimes we even lose sight of God; of God’s love and mercy.
Jesus names the force that bound the woman for 18 years ‘Satan.’ But whether we call these forces satan or sin, bad choices or just plain bad luck, the effect is essentially the same. We struggle under their weight, and it is hard to stand up straight.
There are forces that seem to bend and cripple our communities and the world, too. We see what Paul means when he writes that the “whole creation has been groaning” when we see oil in the gulf and floods in Pakistan. We see greed in our financial markets, hunger and poverty in our community, and a political environment that is unproductive at best and toxic and counterproductive at worst.
I better leave it at that as far as examples go. I’m starting to feel a little blue and discouraged.
Which is probably how the woman in our story felt after 18 long years of suffering. She probably had gotten used to her condition, learned to live with it. We don’t even know her name, let alone her outlook on life after all of this time, but one can imagine that she had grown almost numb to her circumstances. Suffering was the norm in her life. She probably couldn’t even remember a time when she was upright and free. Maybe she didn’t even dare to dream about it anymore.
She was so stooped over, she probably didn’t even see Jesus when she shuffled into the synagogue. But Jesus saw her. Jesus. Saw. Her.
In many of the healing miracles, most of them actually- a person is healed when they take the initiative to approach Jesus, or when friends or family bring them to him. But here it’s Jesus who initiates the healing. A word. A touch. And 18 long years of suffering come to an end.
That same healing word and touch is there for us, too. Whether we’ve been suffering for so long that pain is the norm or we’re recently afflicted, or whether our personal lives are fine but we feel the pain of our communities and the world. We don’t know what form that healing is going to take- physical, spiritual, emotional or all of the above, but we can trust in the freedom that God promises to each and everyone of us, and to all of creation. No exceptions.
I knew a young man who had what they thought was terrible posture but what turned out to be a medical condition- maybe even the same one that afflicted the woman in Luke’s Gospel. After the diagnosis they began a course of treatment that included intense physical therapy and wearing a brace for 12 hours a day. It was hard work, but the results were astounding. Every time I saw him he seemed to have grown an inch taller. And you could see in his face that the healing was not only physical. An light seemed to shine through him that wasn’t really there before.
Sometimes healing happens in one miraculous instant. But more often than not that healing is a journey, and we have a part to play in it.
The question is, when we look out into the world and at our own lives, do we dream of healing and freedom? Or do we resign ourselves and settle for what is?
Do we reach for the compassion and mercy that Jesus offers to us? Or are we like the synagogue leader, committed to the status quo?
A friend had flowers in her front yard as part of her entryway landscaping. They were beautiful, yellow-orange in color. They were crooked, which is to say that the stems were all curved in one direction. They were all the same shape, bent at about the same angle, as if they had assumed a pose in an exercise class and just gotten stuck there. The reason for this as it turns out is that they grew that way from stretching toward the light from the sun. They naturally reached toward the very thing that gave them life.
We can live life bent over, with only the dust and dirt beneath our feet to look at as we make our way through the world. Or we can live life stretching towards the source of life, reaching for the light and heat of God’s love.
When we reach towards God’s love, we are strengthened so that we can stand upright. We are strengthened so that we can resist the forces that try to bend us over again. We can do this in the simplest of ways: by choosing to pray and worship, by gathering in the fellowship of others who are doing their best to reach for God, and by tuning ourselves to God’s presence with us throughout our daily lives.
We can’t always control the things that happen to us, but we can choose how we will meet those challenges. We are co-creators with God, not only in our own lives but in the world in which we live.
Wherever you are in your journey, Jesus’ invitation is to enter more fully into the freedom that he offers. Reach for the One who gives you life. Embrace the freedom that God is offering to you.