Stand Tall

Scripture: Exodus 20:8-10; Psalm 119:97-104; Luke 13:10-17

She had come to the Temple on the Sabbath as was her custom to worship God.

The walk to the Temple was difficult because of her physical condition. It had happened gradually over the years, something in her back that caused great pain.

She had sought treatment, but the physicians had been unable to help her, and over time, her condition had grown far worse. Now, she wondered how much longer she would even be able to attend the Temple worship. She was now so bent over that she could no longer raise her head to look into anyone’s face.

She had determined that she would not blame God for her condition, even though some well-meaning “friends” assured her that there must be some sin that perhaps she had forgotten about that had caused God to punish her in this way. All illness and disability was blamed on some sin within the person.

Today there was a man who was teaching in the Temple. He was not one of the priests, but she had heard of Him and she was looking forward to hearing what He would say. She had heard that He taught with authority, that his teaching was straightforward, and He often drew hugh crowds to hear what He would teach.

She entered to worship as she always had, quietly and for the most part unnoticed. She was a familiar sight, so few people turned to look at her in her strange physical condition.

Not so with Jesus. He saw her enter and seemed to immediately decide what he was going to do. He called her over and simply said, “Woman you are freed of your illness.” He laid his hands on her and immediately she stood straight and tall for the first time in years. What joy! How does one praise and thank this Man enough for what He has just done for her?

It created quite a response from the Temple officials, mainly the Pharisees.

Ah, the Pharisees! No group in Israel was more dedicated to their religion than the Pharisees. Everything that Jesus said and did seemed to enrage them. The teaching of the Pharisees had turned the Good News of God into a dreary, burdensome religion that lacked any expression of joy.

Perhaps they had been raised as children to have joy in the God they worshiped. When, as children, they had reached their second birthday, a family member would take the Torah, a scroll of the Law, and put honey on it. The little boy would then be encouraged to lick the honey from the scroll. It was intended to implant into his mind that the Word of God was sweet. The section of the Psalm that was read this morning describes that very process.

At age four, he would begin memorizing the Book of Leviticus. By twelve years old, he had memorized Genesis through Deuteronomy. As a teenager he memorized the writings of the Prophets and the Psalms. More and more, little by little, the sweetness of the Torah became a yoke that they wore that reined them into a path that could never become religious enough.

Their dedication to the Law overcame the sweetness of God. When God in the flesh stood before them and worked a miracle, rather than falling down to worship Him, they counseled about how to take away his power.

In their own eyes, they saw themselves as full of piety and holiness. Jesus saw them as self-righteous hypocrites. On other occasions Jesus had called them “sons of hell” (Matthew 25:15), and a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 23:33). On one occasion Jesus told them that their father was the devil (John 8:44). As one came to understand more about the Pharisees, one could understand why Jesus would say those things about them.

They had counted everything that they claimed to be the Law of Moses and had numbered them as 613 in total. However, they had created something that they called “fence laws” to help assure that they followed the other 613. These “fence laws” numbered 1500 additional man-made restrictions to keep people from sinning.

Some examples of these “fence laws” included:

  • You could not spit on the Sabbath because it would disturb the dust on the ground, and you would become guilty of plowing.
  • You could not swat a fly on the Sabbath because you would become guilty of hunting.
  • A woman could not look at her reflection in the mirror on the Sabbath because she might see a gray hair and pluck it out which would be doing work.
  • If your house was burning down on the Sabbath, you could not carry clothes out of it. However, you were permitted to put on several layers of clothes as the house was burning, and you could leave without breaking their law because you were wearing them instead of carrying them.

Keeping these man-made laws actually became more important to them than keeping the Commandments of God.

They prayed three times a day, morning, noon, and afternoon no matter where they happened to be. Often, they were found in the marketplace praying on the street corner to be seen of others. Even their prayers had a formula that had to be followed. When they wanted to give something to the poor of the town they would go out onto a busy street and “blow the trumpet,” actually a ram’s horn, which ostensibly would call the poor to come and receive gifts. Actually it called the attention of all those who heard to notice how “righteous and caring” they were. Everything that they did was an attempt to make themselves appear more holy in the sight of others. Their “brand” of holiness had become the example that others were expected to follow. No wonder Jesus fell out of favor with them!

Some people knew Jesus to be the Son of God, who touched lepers, who raised the dead, who healed a little boy with epileptic seizures, who made a mentally ill man healthy enough to return to his family, who dared to heal a woman in the very Temple of God on the Sabbath. No wonder that the Pharisees saw Jesus as a threat to their religious control over the people. No wonder that on one occasion they complained, “There’s nothing we can do. They’ve all gone after Him.” (John 12:19)

All of the Pharisees died long ago, but there is the danger that the spirit of the Pharisees will invade our idea of true worship of God. It demands a “check list” of activities and duties as a Christian that must be done in order to have favor with God. It demands that we follow a set of laws that we have made for ourselves in order to be holy. There is the danger that we will forget that following God is following Jesus and the teachings of Jesus. There is the danger that we will forget that following God is about a relationship with God. There is a danger that we will forget that following God is about becoming more and more like the loving, caring, compassionate, ministering Jesus.

Jesus would tell those who came to hear his teaching to “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy and My load is light.”  (Matthew 11:29-30)

I believe that our Lord is pleased when we have a conversation with Him. We were created for relationship. But Jesus is always present with us and knows our needs even before we ask.

There is no record that the bent woman ever made a request of Jesus. It was Jesus who saw her and had compassion upon her and thought that her welfare was more important than any “fence law” that man had written.

Not in the expectations of others, but in our relationship with our Lord will we also find healing and wholeness and true joy in our lives.