Have you ever felt like you’re all alone in the world and struggling to find the strength or desire to face another day? That the same pain, the same heartache, and the same loneliness that plagued you yesterday is still there today, will be there tomorrow, and the day after that?
At least that’s all that you can envision for yourself – you cannot imagine a day free from your pain. Even feast days come and go, lacking the joy that is intended to be a part of such celebrations. They are mere reminders of all that is – and all that is not. You are just… empty. That emptiness consumes you until one morning, you wake up and think to yourself,
“I can’t do this anymore!”
That was me. After eighteen years of bondage, I hit that wall. Just rising from my bed was excruciating. I was so bent over that I needed a cane to maintain my balance, even for a moment. Everyday tasks were dreaded ordeals to be endured. If anything could be neglected, it was. The only sound in my tiny home was that of my own labored breathing and shuffling footsteps as I went through my morning routine, day after day after exhausting day.
It is a lie we tell ourselves, that one day will be like those before it. We fail to recognize that for better or worse, change comes to everyone. When times are good, this lie deceives us, lulling us into a false sense of security and complacency. When times are bad, it torments us, replacing any glimmer of hope with one of despair. You become one with the lie, married to your captor, and seeing no way to escape – except one.
It was my bondage to that lie that led to my breaking point that morning. As usual, a neighbor’s daughter arrived with water to get me through the next two days. Later in the day, the same family would provide a double portion of bread or soup since Shabbat would arrive with the sunset. I had nothing with which to return their kindness, and I regretted that I was a burden to them. As I watched the girl make her way back to her home, I envied her carefree days. I was once young and filled with hopes for the future too. I never imagined the endless monotony that my life would become. A familiar thought troubled my mind, and I considered again the possibility that I could most effectively bless this family by removing myself from their lives. Usually, I brushed such thoughts aside, but that morning I didn’t have the energy to fight it. A fierce determination engulfed and energized me.
“This ends today!”
I looked around my home and wondered how I might like to spend my last day. I wanted to leave my little house in better order, to spend time outside appreciating the birds and the flowers. When my bread arrived, I needed to extend my deepest gratitude to the family who had been so kind and gracious over the last several years.
I was suddenly filled with an unexpected longing; I wanted to go to Synagogue. It had been years since I heard the word of the Lord read aloud. I wanted to sing. and I wanted to prepare myself for whatever came next. I was convinced the Lord would understand my decision, perhaps wondering why I waited so long. Evening would usher in Shabbat, and it would be a perfect day to rest from my labored existence. Before another sunrise, I would see him face to face!
It is said that God has a way of meeting our expectations in unexpected ways. I was about to learn how true that statement was!
I embraced the day with the confidence of knowing that my pain would soon end, and before I knew it, it was time to go to Synagogue. I left my home with no intention of returning; I had other plans for the evening. The walk was long and painful. I arrived late and was surprised to see how crowded the building was. It occurred to me that I should have used some of the remaining water to wash myself before leaving. My life of solitude and painful mobility had led to an extreme disregard for the cleanliness expected of respectable people. I considered returning home but summoned the courage to continue, right into the rear of the Synagogue. The good people of our town would be subjected to my presence only once; they would survive.
It was impossible not to draw attention to myself as I scanned the room for a place to lean against the wall. My breathing was especially labored after the strenuous walk, and each step created a shuffling noise followed by a long exhale. As heads turned in my direction, I wanted the earth to open and swallow me alive.
I did not recognize the man who had risen to speak but assumed he must have been the one who attracted the large crowd. Since he lacked the polished look of a Pharisee sent to grace our humble synagogue with profound teaching, I assumed that he was a Galilean itinerant teacher.
He meditated on the words of the scroll before him briefly before scanning the faces of those gathered. As his gaze landed on me, he stopped and began to recite a scripture.
Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgments against you;
he has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall never again fear evil.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Fear not, O Zion;
let not your hands grow weak.
The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival,
so that you will no longer suffer reproach.
Behold, at that time I will deal
with all your oppressors.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.
At that time I will bring you in,
at the time when I gather you together;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes,” says the Lord.
He fell silent for a moment. Still holding my gaze with his own, he motioned me to go to him.
Panic welled up within me. Didn’t he see my entrance and realize how humiliating it was? I only wanted to remain invisible in the back of the room for one evening. Couldn’t I have just that one request? He offered a gentle, encouraging smile that seemed to draw me to him. I reluctantly took one step after another. He closed the gap, and extended his hands to me, his eyes still locked on mine. The gentleness in his voice suddenly gave way to authority as he shouted.
“Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.”
Immediately, I felt the change inside of me. A weight was lifted; a bond had been broken. For the first time in eighteen long years, I felt the kind of freedom that only those who have experienced deep, lengthy bondage can understand or appreciate. I also felt a quickening course through my body, the muscles in my back pulled me upright, and I stood eye to eye with all of the people around me!
Before I could recover from the shock of the encounter, a controversy began. The leader of the Synagogue stepped out from the middle of a group of men huddled around him and addressed the crowd. Standing tall and proud, he tried to rival the power and authority of the teacher as he focused his attention on me.
“There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on Shabbat.”
I cast an apologetic and humiliated look toward the teacher. No one would believe that I didn’t come to Synagogue for this very purpose! Now, my last act on earth would be to bring disgrace on this man who could only be a servant of God!
The huddle of men stepped forward in solidarity with their leader. Some of the teacher’s followers started to rise in his defense, but he motioned for them to remain seated. Silent tension filled the room, as the two men faced one another.
With those words, he began a well-reasoned justification for his actions as well as a harsh criticism of religious hypocrisy within our leadership. I must confess that I had become too lost in my own thoughts to hear all that this stranger spoke on my behalf, but I was captivated by his final statement.
“And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?”
“…this woman… a daughter of Abraham… AS SHE IS!”
These words were salvation to me.
“I am a daughter of Abraham!” I quietly echoed. My identity had been restored! I was free! I was whole! Memories of childhood flooded my mind, a Psalm our family recited during the festivals. It appeared the men had said all they were going to say, and I could no longer contain my joy.
“The Lord is my strength and my defense.
he has become my salvation.
Shouts of joy and victory
resound in the tents of the righteous:
“The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!
The Lord’s right hand is lifted high;
the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!”
I will not die but live,
and will proclaim what the Lord has done.”
It had been too long. Now only scattered phrases came to mind, but I offered up what I could remember.
“ I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
you have become my salvation.”
I stood and wept. No one knew about my plans for this evening. This teacher would never know what he did for me, how he not just healed me; he gave me life! I looked back at him, only to see his eyes on me, once again kind, tender – and understanding. Or did he know? How could he know that my condition had lasted for eighteen years? He smiled at me as he picked up the Psalm where I had stopped. His voice resonated with power and authority.
“The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
The Lord has done it this very day.”
He looked back over to the Synagogue leader and his companions. He raised his voice in an unapologetic invitation for them to join in celebration,
“Let us rejoice today and be glad.”
The Synagogue was divided; some were joyful, while others were critical. He appeared unwilling to allow rebuke and rejection to diminish his joy. He was rejoicing over me! Just like the prophet declared – the very words this man had spoken only minutes before! I was not surprised at all when he and his friends began to sing!
I couldn’t understand how it was possible, but I was certain that he knew the truth. Even more surprising was that I was at peace with him knowing. He saw my pain, and he was willing to face scorn and rejection to save me. He alone knew that another day would have been too late. Because of him, I was looking forward to the days to come – however many were gifted to me.
For this reason, I share my story. Years have passed, and as can be expected, things have changed. Your encounter with him will be different than mine, but his gaze is every bit as much on you as it was on me that day in the Synagogue. He wants to set you free from your prison! He wants to change your life in ways that you can’t imagine! In these days of fear and uncertainty, I beg of you to reject the lie and embrace the truth!
That day, he saw me when I knew and cared nothing about him. In spite of my ignorance, he willingly faced rejection, judgment, and eventually, death, to restore me to wholeness. Today, I do know him, and I boldly declare his name to you with unrestrained joy.
“I will not die, but live, and declare what Jesus has done for me!”
(Scriptural Inspiration: Luke 13:10-17; Zephaniah 3:14-20; Psalm 118: 14-24)