Have you ever been inside a jail? As a minister I have had the occasion to visit inside prisons. In West Virginia I was invited to preach at the Cabell County Jail in Huntington, WV. It was a rather old dingy and gray place in the heart of the city. When they let me in and the heavy steel doors clank shut behind me, I thought, I sure hope they will let me out. It was not a pleasant place. Again, when we served in the UP I was often inside the prison at Newberry. The chaplain had asked me if I would be willing to assist in perform wedding ceremonies for those in jail. I agreed and I performed at least 20 such services.
They had rules for everything. The couple could exchange rings, but the inmates ring could not have any diamonds. It had to be a simple gold band. If the ring was forgotten the day of the ceremony, then it could not be given to him later. The bride could not wear a dress that was low cut. If she did then a prison smock would be provided to cover her. There could only be limited contact –the kiss after the service and that was all. Only those who served as witnesses to the service were allowed to attend, and cameras were not permitted. Later if I happened to be in the visiting room talking to someone and see someone else I had married previously I was not allowed to speak to that other person. The rules did not have to make sense, they just had to be followed. You can trust me when I tell you that prison is not a fun place to be. It is not just a matter of being locked up, but once inside the prisoner’s life is structured and personal freedoms are limited.
Now the reason this is significant to our text is because Jesus describes the condition of woman in our text in an interesting way. He says that Satan had bound her for 18 years. She is basically described as being a prisoner in her own body -confined, constricted, disallowed. Anyone who has a chronic health problem probably has some idea of how this woman felt. For almost twenty years she could not stand up straight. She spent her time mostly looking at the ground. Her life had limitations.
Besides being physically bound, she was looked upon within her society as being spiritually encumbered as well. The Bible says it was a spirit that had kept her this way. People believed that the physical problem was but the manifestation of a deeper spiritual problem. If she was suffering it was because she was a sinner. Do you remember Jesus disciples asking him about a man who was born blind? “Master” they said, “Was this man born blind the result of his sin or the sin of his parents?” Illness was proof of sinfulness. The woman in our story was trapped physically, ostracized socially, and an outcast spiritually.
Jesus did not validate these ideas. About the man born blind Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” Likewise, Jesus saw the woman as another opportunity for God to be glorified. Jesus healed her. Her body straightened, and she could look people in the eye. She began praising God, and the scriptures tells us the people rejoiced. Essentially her healing represents Jesus’ lordship over all things that cripple people, -physical, socially, and spiritual. She was bound and Jesus set her free!
This is good news for us for even today, because there are many things that can bind us just as good as metal bars, and Jesus still desires and is able to set us free. Jesus has the power to make a difference in your life today.
I once read an article out of a Leadership Magazine, it was a very candid firsthand account of a minister who struggled with an addiction to pornography. He told of his inability to keep from purchasing magazines and describe some of the places he would frequent; all the while he struggled to rationalize his actions and understand his own behavior. He prayed about it, but he just was unable to stop himself. Finally, he broke down and confessed his problem to a friend of his –another minister from a large church in the south. He found out that his friend was worse off than he was. This man had to keep a list of the medications he needed to deal with the diseases he had contracted, because he had acted out the things he had thought up. His friend lost his wife, his home, and his occupation.
The writer of the article reached a point where he wondered if there was a way out for him. His was a soul that was spiritually bound. Preaching on one hand and trying to deal with the wide incongruence of his life on the other. Now the reality is that this story is the story of many. For some people it is alcohol or drugs; for others it may be gambling. With the number of Casinos in Michigan, it does us well to remember that the only true winner when it comes to gambling is the house. That is why people spend millions of dollars to build casinos. They know the people who frequent their establishments will eventually give it all back to them and get nothing in return. Personally, I find it illogical to assume that society can be bettered by gambling. Whatever benefits are found for the few will be paid by a larger group, and often it is those who can least afford to lose what they have.
You may ask yourself what is it that cost you in terms of your health, money, time, and peace of mind. What are the things that bind us –Other addictions, anger, pride, prejudice, greed, or avarice? You may find other matters in life that are equally vexing.
More importantly, is there a way to be unbound? The leader of the synagogue seemed to have had a certain problem with rules. After Jesus healed the woman, he kept telling the people that you have six days to come and be healed, but not on the Sabbath. Jesus’ healing of the woman must have got others looking for help as well. People probably started lining up, and the ruler of the synagogue kept trying to restore the proper sabbath order. Today is the Sabbath and a time for worship. If you need a doctor, take care of those matters during the other six days. Working on the Sabbath was a forbidden sin.
But Jesus just saw things a lot differently. Healing a person so confined wasn’t work to Jesus, but an act of compassion. Restoration of life and one’s connection with God our creator was the reason for the day. That was why there was a Sabbath. Jesus used the illustration of untying an animal to water it on the Sabbath. If it is good to care for your animal and untie it on the Sabbath, then it surely must be good to set one of God’s people free on the Sabbath as well. Those who complained had forgotten the compassion of God behind the law, but Jesus just continued to remind them.
In the midst of the limitations, we sometimes find ourselves captured and bound by, Jesus reminds us too. There is a way out of the things that bind us. It is not like there is the clank of the steely gray bars behind us and we have to know that there is no way out. We should rather remember that we are not prisoners, but we are free people by the grace of God. We are called and named as the children of God. We are called and empowered to be free.
It may sound like a cliché, and maybe it is but Jesus is the one who sets us free. He did it for the women in our story. He did it for the man I was telling you about who found himself addicted to pornography. To finish the rest of that story –After having talked with his friend he began reading a small book by Francios Mauriac. He was a Catholic writer living in France. He won a noble prize for his work in 1952 and died in 1970. In this book was a chapter on purity, in which Mauriac concludes that there is only one reason to seek purity. It is the reason Christ proposed in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Purity, says Mauriac, is the condition for a higher love -for a possession superior to all possessions: God himself.
The man in our story finally came to understand and believe that knowing God better was the true source of spiritual freedom. In repentance he prayed once more and at that point where he was most able to understand his need, God answered his prayers, and he was able to find control and freedom in his life once more. Through his faith in Christ, he gain control back over his life.
God can do the same for us. It is like a child who must put down the poor broken toys being played with in order to take up the wonderful gifts God desires to give. All the negative reasons for escaping an addiction may not be enough, sometimes one must have a positive reason to cling to. It is Christ that always gives us the positive reasons. It is Christ that is the source of greater riches.
Jesus reminds us that God is compassionate and loving. It is worth noting that while others may have regarded the women a sinner, because of her physical infirmity, Jesus called her a child of Abraham. He saw her as belonging, despite the problem she struggled with every day.
Jesus reminds us that God claims us as well. Even if we have an issue or problem in our life, God does not consider us as cast offs, or unworthy of being desired or loved. God still sees us as being one of his children. We just need to claim what is ours. We have a great inheritance available to be received, but we must accept it and put it to use, for it to make a difference. Concentrate on the positive aspects of what purity of heart and life may bring to you. Regain what is already yours. Jesus reminds us that we can have a better life. (a healed life). There are rewards in choosing to live well. We may live within the peace and understanding of God. Therefore, if it is hurting you do your best to get rid of it. Throw away the tobacco, don’t visit the casino, dump the alcohol down the drain, if it’s a problem cut up the credit cards, discard, and destroy the things that are taking more from you then they are giving. Also seek out those around you who will help you. Isn’t this what the church should be about? We should humbly be helping one another to move in the right direction. There are a lot of times when the answer to a problem is found in others. Faith is important, but equally important is our calling to support one another.
Today you can move in the right direction, be unbound, and set free. Amen.