13 - The Crippled Woman, Nov 28, 2010

Ephesians 6:10-17

Luke 13:10-17

We are now less than four weeks from Christmas, when the great mystery of God the Word becoming flesh to dwell among us is revealed for the first time to the world. We read in 2 Timothy this last week that the appearing of Our Savior, Jesus Christ – i.e., His birth, Christmas – reveals the purpose God had in mind for the world from all eternity.

Therefore, when God the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, He clothed Himself not only with our flesh but also with the sin, the death and the corruption that was now mingled with our flesh; but in becoming flesh, He “destroyed” death, as St Paul writes in 2 Timothy, and He made human nature to shine in the light of life and immortality through the Gospel.[2] The salvation proclaimed by the Gospel is a healing of soul and body that is so complete that it transfigures death into the death of death; the tomb it makes into the womb from which we are regenerated in the resurrection of Jesus Christ to the divine, uncreated life of God, made whole in soul and body, alive in the Spirit of God in the eternal life and incorruption of Christ.[3] St Peter writes in his first epistle that prophets searched and inquired about this salvation that they were prophesying about, angels longed to look into it; for, it was the great secret hidden in God before the ages. And it has been revealed only in these last days in Christmas – in the appearing of Jesus Christ, God With Us born of the Virgin Mary to become flesh and to dwell among us so that He could destroy death from within, and deliver us from the devil who held us in the power of death.[4]

Christmas, therefore, in revealing to us the appearing of the Savior who delivers us from the devil and who destroys death by His death, reveals to us also that we are in the last days. This, I think, is the theological meaning of the fact that so many of Jesus’ healings take place on the Sabbath – the last day of the week. In the biblical world-view, the Sabbath is holy because it is the last day of the primordial week when God created the world. It is the day on which God rested from the work he had begun. The NT reveals that the primordial week of creation was not ordinary time, so that we would say it was in the past. It is theological time: time that moves in God and in the purpose for which He created the world, time that moves within ordinary time, guiding and controlling ordinary time, perhaps we could say like a shepherd herding his sheep. Thus, the Sabbath of ordinary time is a recurring icon in ordinary time of the Last Day of the world in theological time. The appearing of Jesus Christ, as demonstrated by all the healings He performs on the Sabbath, reveals that the Last Day of the world according to theological time is here. Theologically, we are in the Last Day.

We get a sense, I think, of the theological meaning of the Savior’s healing miracles on the Sabbath from St Peter. He writes in his first epistle: “According to the greatness of His mercy, God regenerated us to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is incorruptible, unfading, and spotless, which is being held in the heavens for you who through faith are being guarded by the power of God for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the Last Time.”[5]

The significance of the salvation of Christ is lost if we do not understand that it is of both body and soul. That is to say, contrary to the common wisdom of human religious philosophy, even the soul of man is in need of healing and deliverance. The soul is not delivered from imprisonment when it is separated from the body in death, nor is it delivered from sickness and death when it leaves the body at death, as the philosophers taught. How can the soul be sick unto death, how can it be enslaved if it is by nature incorporeal and immortal?

The soul is enslaved to itself because out of self-love we have rejected God to follow after our own will. The seed of self-love and self-will has produced the passions of gluttony, lust, greed, anger envy, vanity and pride growing like weeds in the soil of our soul. Their harvest is death, even the death of the soul. And, what is the death of the soul? What does it look like? How does it feel?

I think we experience the death of our soul when, deprived of the comforts and diversions of the world on the outside, we are forced to face ourselves on the inside, and we find ourselves peering into a dark emptiness that grips us with fear, foreboding, hopelessness and despair. This, I think, is what the death of the soul looks like and feels like; and I think many, many, many have already tasted it; and they devote all their time and energy in this life to all kinds of diversions – political, religious, philosophical, hedonistic pleasure – to escape this cold terror of the death of their soul.

 Call the soul immortal if you will; believe it continues on in an after-life, if you will; believe that it is re-incarnated into another bodily existence, if you will. It doesn’t matter. I submit from the Gospel that when the soul leaves the body, it is simply deprived of the bodily pleasures and comforts that diverted it when it was “alive”, and far from ascending to some kind of blissful nirvana, it falls into the terrifying, empty darkness it was already in as into a bottomless pit. For the soul is not “life” by its inherent nature, as the philosophers taught; it is dead, for it is separated from God. As the body is dead when it is separated from the soul, so the soul is dead when it is separated from the Spirit of God – and the soul of man died at that moment in the Garden when it chose to serve its own will and not the will of God, to nourish itself on created nature and not to become a partaker of the divine nature by following after the will of God.

This is why Christmas is such Good News. St Peter writes: “According to the greatness of His mercy, God regenerated us to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Christmas means that the last day of theological time has dawned for us. If it is the last day, that means that the purpose of God is beginning to reveal itself fully. Grace has come because the salvation of the body and the soul has come in the Person of God the Word, who has become flesh to dwell among us. If the One who is born of the Blessed Virgin on Christmas is Immanuel, God With Us, that means that we are no more separated from God. Christ is born! Glorify Him, because God has united Himself to our mortal flesh; and that can only mean the destruction of death, the deliverance not just of our bodies from the grave but also of our souls from the terrifying darkness of the death that enslaves us. It means that the Light of God, the Word of God who clothes Himself with Light as with a garment, is shining on us the life of His Holy Spirit that is the life of the soul. United to our flesh, we now can unite ourselves to the Spirit of God and become in Christ illumined with the uncreated immortal life of God’s Holy Spirit.

Thus, when in the fear of God – and no longer in the fear of death – with faith and in love, we draw near to Bethlehem on this the Last Day of the world, to fall down and worship in love and obedience the Holy Christ Child, God With us, and to unite ourselves to the Savior born of the Virgin, it is no longer our death but His death that becomes the new principle of our life; and that means that our life, even in our death, is now rooted in Christ’s Holy Resurrection on the First Day, Sunday, of the Age to Come, that destroys death and gives life to us who were dead in our trespasses and re-creates the world in the goodness and by the power of the Holy Spirit

So, when Jesus heals this crippled woman on the Sabbath, the last day of the week, He is doing much more than healing a crippled woman on the Sabbath. This miracle is a burst of uncreated light that penetrates the gloomy darkness of our death in the life of this world with a “great light” that emanates from the divine nature of the Christ Child laid in the manger to reveal in its glorious luminescence that salvation – that life, that holy calling, that grace – that the prophets prophesied about, that the angels longed to look into, now shining on the world from the cave of Bethlehem as from the tomb of Pascha. On the Sabbath, the Lord touches the crippled woman who has been bent over for so long by the heaviness of the life of this world shackled in the dark unbreakable chains of death and fear. And, lo, on the last day, the chains are broken by the touch of the Savior. She rises as though born from above in the power, the life, the grace, the salvation of the Holy Spirit to stand erect. She stands a new creature, a child of God, and she becomes herself that silent word of heaven foretold by the prophet, the word of heaven that tells the glory of God, the word of the firmament that proclaims His handiwork. She stands in that “Day”, the First day of the New Creation, that pours forth speech to the day, the “last day” of the old creation; of that “Night”, the impenetrable Night of the incomprehensible Wisdom of God, that declares knowledge to the night of this world.[6] Surely the knowledge she silently proclaims is of Christmas: God With Us. Surely, the word that pours forth silently from her standing in the power of the Holy Spirit is the speech of Christmas: “Christ is born! Glorify Him!”

Beloved faithful, let us stand aright with her – for we, too, have been touched by the Savior’s hand in the doctrines and in the prayers and in the sacred sacraments of Christ’s Holy Church – and in the power of His grace that pours over us in the mysteries of His Holy Church let us raise our minds on high, and, in the unspeakable joy of this woman raised up in this morning’s Gospel, let us go in the Spirit of the Nativity Fast to Bethlehem, and with the eyes of our soul, let us look on the Virgin as she hastens to the cave to give birth to our God, the Lord of all, who in His Holy Nativity grants the world great mercy.[7] Amen.

[1] II Tim 1:9

[2] II Tim 1:10

[3] II Tim 2:11

[4] Heb 2:14-15

[5] I Pt 1:3-5

[6] Psalms 19:1-3

[7] Festal Menaion, p. 201

[1] Reading St Paul’s words to St Timothy, we hear the early Christian preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and we see into the original vision of the Christian Faith. Even before He created the world, God’s purpose was to give life and grace to His creatures in His only-begotten Son and Word, Jesus Christ. God’s purpose cannot be cancelled by sin. The fruit of sin is death; and so, God’s purpose cannot be cancelled even by death. His purpose is more powerful even than death.