Creative Commons Image by Amber Rain Hernandez on Flickr.
“Immediately, she stood up straight and began praising God.” I have a feeling that when this woman bent over for eighteen years was finally able to stand up straight there was a good chance that the first eight verses of Psalm 103 were voiced from her mouth.
Read these words again:
1 “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
2 Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5 who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
6 The Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed.
7 He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.
8 The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”
Imagine how, all of a sudden, every single one of these beliefs about God, the bent-over woman could now feel in her standing-up-straight body. In a moment of lectionary brilliance, we are given a glimpse into the true sense of what it means to praise God. The Psalms are not just words -- they are utterances of the soul, embodied faith, when faith is challenging, when faith is uplifting, and everything in between.
Yet, the woman is not only healed of her ailment, but also recognizes who is responsible -- and thus, there is no other response but praise. The Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed -- including her. Note that the verb tense “she began to praise God” is imperfect (ongoing, linear type of action in Greek). Her reaction is not just a one time “thanks a bunch, God” kind of prayer but a way of existence, a way of being in the world.
Of course, Jesus sees her, not just an important theme in Luke, but actually what is necessary to bring about the Kingdom of God here and now. She would have been easy to overlook, quite literally. You could cast a glance into the crowd and totally miss her. But Jesus didn’t.
And now, she is able to see with a whole new set of lenses. Once only able to stare at the ground, only able to get an alternate view by straining her neck for some sideline sight, only able to look at her own feet or those of another and never into their eyes, now she can see faces. Now she can see where she is going. Now she can see that God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Not that she didn’t see that before, but it’s different when the love of God becomes incarnated in your very self. She is now able to see what and who Jesus sees -- who needs to be cured. Who is in bondage. Those who are bent over with the weight of a world that continues not to care.
That’s what Jesus is trying to get the leader of the synagogue, the leaders in the church, to see -- that when you are able to see how Jesus sees, it is not just a another perspective but an alternative way of living and leadership.
That’s what so many do not understand, and even seem to reject -- that when God does what the nature of God is – mercy, grace, and love -- then mercy, grace, and love are then how we are to be toward others. If mercy, grace, and love were the litmus tests for leaders in our midst, both secular and sacred, there would be far fewer candidates eligible for election.
One of my mantras in raising my two boys was “come from a place of kindness.” As leaders in the church, we are to come from a place of “mercy, grace, and love.” But I continue to be amazed, and not in a good way, at how “church” leaders, in congregations, in seminaries, in synods, in judicatories treat each other, their colleagues, their staff, their pastors, their parishioners.
There is no end to leadership resources, lists of characteristics that are to secure effective leadership. But what should make leadership in the church stand out? How do we talk about leadership in our preaching? How do we model leadership in our ministry that suggests to our parishioners that leadership in the Kingdom of God is different?
Our way has to be a different way. We have to believe that our way is a different way. The world needs us, Dear Working Preachers. The world needs to see that the ways of the church mean willing to heal on the Sabbath. To call out the hypocrites. To name evil where you see it alive and well. To release the captives even in the face of righteous indignation. All for the sake of those who for too long have been bent over by the systems that perpetuate bondage; to say to them, “stand up! for you are truly the daughters and sons of Abraham.”