|11 - Woman with a Spirit of Infirmity, Nov 30, 2014|
Since we read this Gospel during the season of Advent, let’s presume that it is an “Advent” Gospel given us to contemplate the wonder of Our LORD’s nativity as we prepare for His “appearing” on Christmas Day.
In this Gospel, Our LORD sees a woman who was so crippled by a spirit of infirmity that she could not raise herself up at all. Calling her to Himself, the LORD places His hand on her and heals her. Immediately, she is able to straighten up, an-ortho, and she glorifies God, dox-azei: she became ortho-dox in body and soul.
It says that He was teaching in one of the synagogues. What was He teaching? He was teaching from the Law and the Prophets. Before the first Christmas Day, they were not called the Old Testament. They were simply the “Covenant”, or the “Law”. They held the word of God. That word was able to fill the soul with light to those who kept it, and the sensation that light left on the soul was the evidence of an eternal life that the soul was capable of, but which the soul did not enjoy because she had become enslaved both to the body and to the perversion of the will of the soul inherited from Adam and Eve.
There is clearly something different in the teaching of the LORD this morning in one of the synagogues, clearly something new in His healing of this woman who had a spirit of infirmity for 18 years. And, I believe it is that this healing takes place on the sacred day of the Sabbath, Saturday, the Seventh Day of the week when God rested from the work of creating the world that He had begun to do, as it says in the LXX (Gen 2:3), that reveals that something is different, something is new in the teaching of Christ this morning.
The Old Testament was the Word of God spoken to Israel by the prophets (Heb 1:1). The New Testament is the Word of God made flesh whom the holy apostles saw with their eyes, heard with their ears, and felt with their hands (I Jn 1:1). The Old Testament is about the Word of God. The New Testament is the Word of God Himself. All the words in the Old Testament have been perfected, completed, fulfilled in the New Testament; i.e., in Christ who is Himself the Word of God that the words of the Old Testament were about. With His appearing in the flesh, everything has changed. The shadow of the Old Testament has passed because He who was casting the shadow, the Word of God, the Light of the world, has come in the flesh and now dwells among us not just in the words of the prophets’ teaching, but personally in the human body that He took from His Mother, the Most Blessed Virgin Theotokos. His Body is the Church. It is the New Testament; for, as the holy fathers say, the Incarnation of the Word of God Himself is the only new thing “under the sun”.
As I said, that the healing of this woman took place on the Sabbath reveals that something new is among us. The Sabbath is the day when God rested from His work of creating the world. From the dust of that world, God fashioned the first man, Adam; and from the side of Adam, He brought forth the first woman, Eve. She was called the Mother of All Living, but she in fact became the Mother of all the dead. For, in their disobedience of the Word of God given to them, they gave their desire to the devil and ate from the poisonous fruit in accordance with the word he gave to them. Immediately, the devil became their lord. They became his slaves. Their body and soul became easy prey for the wolf of souls and, in the first Adam, the body taken from the dust of the creation fell subject to death and corruption that was transmitted to all our kind like some pollution from disease (cf. FM, p. 149).
The woman we see in the synagogue this morning, it says, had a spirit of infirmity and that she was unable to stand up at all. That is to say, she was sick in both soul and body. She was sick in the soul and body inherited from Adam and Eve taken from the dust of the creation that God had rested from on the Sabbath. In her, we see the death and corruption that enslaves all of us.
So, who heals her on the Sabbath? The LORD of the Sabbath Himself, the New Adam, the Word of God who Himself created the Heavens and the earth, and who raised Adam up from the dust of the first creation.
How does He heal her? He lays His hand on her, and she immediately straightens up and glorifies God. She becomes orthodox. She is delivered from the slavery of her infirmity and she is able to stand up straight and to glorify God. Her healing is a prophecy of the Holy Resurrection which God the Word Himself was to work when He was crucified in the flesh, and the same hands that delivered this woman from the slavery of her infirmity and enabled her to stand up straight and to glorify God would be nailed to the Cross.
Can you not see that a new creation is being revealed in this morning’s Gospel? Who is working this new creation? It is the LORD of the Sabbath, the Word of God who became flesh and dwelt among us. He is the New Covenant, and qua the New Covenant, He is imparted to us in an altogether new way: not in words but in giving to us His own human Body and Blood, or rather by giving to us His own deified humanity as our food and drink, the “medicine of immortality” that heals the poison of corruption that spread through our nature, and breaks the iron bars of death that hold us captive. Eating His deified flesh and drinking His deified blood, we become members of His crucified and risen and glorified Body. But, where did He who is the bodiless LORD of all get His body so that He could make us members of Himself as the New Adam? How did the Word of God become flesh so that He could lay His hands on this woman? Would He not need a mother to become man?
Here is how this morning’s Gospel reveals to us the terrible wonder and fearsome joy of Christmas! In none of the Church’s Christmas hymns is there any note of sentimental gushing over this cute little baby boy born of the “holy maiden”, as though he were simply the cutest baby ever. No, the Christmas hymns of the Church are filled with fear and wonder and amazement and worship. Not even the Virgin herself knows what to say to her newborn Son: “The Virgin was amazed as she beheld a conception past telling and a birth past utterance. Rejoicing at once and weeping, she raised her voice and said: ‘Shall I give my breast to Thee who givest nourishment to all the world, or shall I sing Thy praise as my Son and God? What manner of Name shall I find to call Thee, O LORD whom none can name?’” (FM 199)
Do you see? The Old Sabbath has “died”, and with it the “Old” Testament. It died in the death of God who is the LORD of the Sabbath. In His death, the Old Testament has given way to the New Sabbath – Sunday, the Day of the LORD’s Resurrection – and the New Testament, the LORD God Himself who became flesh and dwelt among us. This is the awesome wonder of Christmas that makes those who see it rejoice and weep at once with the Most Holy Theotokos.
The LORD of the Sabbath heals this woman on the Sabbath to proclaim that He Himself is Immanuel, “God with Us!” and that an altogether New Covenant has replaced the Old. The Word of God has filled the words of the prophets with Himself. He is born of the Virgin; He becomes flesh not just to tell us about Himself, not even just to heal us; but to become one with us that we may become one with Him, to make us children of God, born of the Spirit, able to stand up straight and to glorify God in the love of God that fills our heart and in which we are granted to abide forever. Amen! Glory to Jesus Christ!