In today’s Gospel (Luke 13:10-17) we meet a women possessed by a spirit of infirmity. She is described as bent over and as unable to fully straighten herself. I would argue that this is a malady that we all suffer from. Jesus tells us that Satan has bound this woman for eighteen years (we are never told her age — thus, we are allowed to understand her as a woman of eighteen years). We’ve heard this story before, in the fourth chapter of Genesis when Cain is contemplating the murder of his brother Abel:
The Lord asked Cain, ‘Why are you angry and downcast? If you are doing right, surely you ought to hold your head high! But if you are not doing right, Sin is crouching at the door hungry to get you. You can still master him.’ — Genesis 4:6-7
In the Hebrew, Cain turns his face downward. He is bent over. Satan is clawing at the door trying to lead Cain away from God — to keep him bent over, downcast, and turning away from God.
This is a conflict we all suffer. We are constantly being pulled at by sin. We are constantly tempted to orient ourselves to the world. We are constantly being lured to turn our backs on God. This is particularly evident during the Christmas season. We have hundreds of businesses and millions of people that refuse to use the words “Merry Christmas.” We have TV commercials that try and tell us that Christmas is about getting stuff. This year, some of the worst offenders are Kay Jewelers and Best Buy. “Every kiss begins with Kay?” Really? Are you actually trying to tell me that love has to be bought and paid for? That there is no such thing as unconditional love? That I had to buy Christ off so that He would go to the Cross? This year Best Buy has come up with the “Twelpforce Carolers.” To the tune of traditional Christmas Carols, they tell us how awful our life will be without more stuff. For example, “If you’ve only one computer, your family could become a bunch of lunatics.” In other words, Christ won’t do anything for you this year, but more computers can save your family.
By ourselves, sans God, we cannot overcome the demons crouching at our door waiting to devour us. God, however, has given us hope. He tells Cain that he can still master Sin. We can master Sin. If we are doing right, God tells us, surely we ought to hold our head up high. In Hebrew, the word literally means uplifted — looking toward God. In the Greek doing right literally means offering — if we offer ourselves and our whole life unto Christ our God, surely we will be lifted up with Him where He sits at the right hand of the Father in glory.
Here, the stories of Cain and the infirm woman diverge. Cain refuses to turn towards God. The consequence is death and murder. This reality has played itself out in history over and over again, especially in that darkest of centuries — the twentieth. Less than a hundred years ago, humanity experimented with atheism at the macro level. Communism and Fascism turned entire societies away from God. The result was the death and murder of countless millions. We may never know the true body count. Sans God, sin will not only devour us, but everyone around us.
The infirm woman, on the other hand, turned toward God. We are told that Christ was teaching in the synagogues when he saw the woman. She, in her infirmity was seeking out God. He calls to her and when she comes into contact with Christ, she is immediately restored — straightened. She is able to lift her face toward God. Standing straight, looking towards God, she is able to glorify Him.
This is what we are called to do, as we say in the Anaphora: “Let us lift up our hearts. Let us give thanks to the Lord.” This isn’t just for liturgy on Sundays. It is a prescription for our infirmity. When the world is pulling at you with temptation, with hopelessness, with despair, with struggle, with tragedy, we are called to seek God, to lift up our faces and our hearts to Him, to give thanks. With Him, we have the power to overcome. We have the power to master sin.
As we approach the Nativity of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ, let us imitate the infirm woman, especially now that the world is cranking up to pull our faces, our attention, and our lives away from God. Let us seek God, let us come into contact with Christ, let us lift up our faces and our hearts. Let us give thanks to the Lord, for He was willing to become a babe, lie in a feeding trough lined with hay, in a cave for us. He was willing to humiliate Himself so that, like the infirm woman, He could lay His hands on us, to lift us up with Him. Always now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.