Proper 16, Year C, Church of St. James the Less, Madison

“When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God” (Lk. 13:13).

Jesus’ miracles of healing often emphasize faith: the context within which the miracle occurs. “Daughter, your faith has made you well” (Lk. 8:48), Jesus tells the woman with the hemorrhage of blood after he heals her. Or again, after he heals the centurion’s servant, he tells the crowd, “Not even in Israel have I found such faith” (Lk. 7:9).

Jesus’ miracles always emphasize the power of God, of course, even when it’s an unspoken truth, though there are plenty of examples of its clear vocalization. When Jesus drives the demons out of the Garasene demoniac, and the man is restored to his right mind, he tells him to “Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you” (Lk. 8:39). In other words, the One who made the universe in the beginning has power to make it new; to take what is rusted out and to recast it and refashion it.

Jesus’ miracles, of course, implicitly show his own power and authority, as when Jesus raises the son of the widow of Nain from the dead. “Young man, I say to you, rise!” (Lk. 7:14). Jesus makes his own agency clear with this direct command. The result of the miracle of healing is that Jesus’ fame spreads far and wide. “Fear seized all of them;” it says in Luke’s Gospel, “and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has arisen among us!’ and ‘God has looked favorably on his people.’ This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country” (Lk. 7:16-17).

So, there’s a bit of a romp through the seventh and eighth chapters of the Gospel of Luke. The emphasis in the miracle in our Gospel today is a bit different, to my mind, from any of these. Here this morning the emphasis is on transformation: the difference between the woman’s state at the beginning and her circumstances at the end of the story.

Transformation is certainly part of each miracle of healing, as Jesus changes lives through his proclamation of hope and healing. The healing of the crippled woman, however, foregrounds this aspect through the emphasis on her physical state. “And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight” (Lk. 13:11).  Then the sudden reversal, “When he [Jesus] laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God” (Lk. 13:13).

Transformation: that’s what’s on offer today. Not just physical transformation, because the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection goes far beyond this. “Let us interrogate the miracles themselves,” St. Augustine preached to his congregation, “[for] what they tell us of Christ: for they have a tongue of their own, if they can be understood” (Tract. 24). In other words, we’re invited to look beyond the bare details of the story and into the deeper meaning.

God’s power reaches much further and bears on every aspect of our lives: physical, psychological, and spiritual. We can interrogate this miracle and discover its meaning for us. take this miracle of healing as having hidden depths. Again, Augustine, “This miracle which we admire on the outside, has something within” (Tract. 24).

In our Gospel today, what was bent and misshapen suddenly is recast and made to stand upright. It’s a sign of the transformation that takes place within us through forgiveness as sin and death are overcome and new life begins. Jesus works this miracle on the sabbath, a day on which no work is done, in order to show the power of God, who made all things in the beginning and has the power and prerogative to remake them again. It’s a matter of making and remaking: restoring lost innocence through grace, and lending a new splendor to human life.

Notice how the woman who has been healed stands up straight and begins to praise God. Glory, hallelujah! This is a very important part of the miracle of healing, a detail shared with so many others in the Gospels; important because it sketches out the way that lies ahead of us. We too need to respond with praise; by telling the good things that God has done for us. Today we’re counting on those baptized, confirmed, and received, at our liturgy today, to show us the way. The spotlight is on them but the call is to all of us. We’ve all received the gift of God; the privilege of praise belongs to each of us.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee