Reflection for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity and the railway dispute.
‘Just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” ‘
From Luke 13:10-17, NRSV.
”What we can’t have is imposition of change and detrimental changes to our members‘ lives.” Mick Lynch, General Secretary, RMT.
“That would involve conversation rather than confrontation.” Dan Panes, Rail Delivery Group, of the current railway negotiations.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus has been teaching in the synagogue on the sabbath when a woman who has been unable to stand up straight for eighteen years appears. Jesus does not ask anything of her, other than to come to him, and when she does, he simply tells her that she is set free and lays hands on her. She immediately stands up straight and begins to praise God – there is no need even for her back gradually to adjust to its new position. The change is immediate and obvious to all present.
Although the crowd present rejoices at what has happened, the synagogue leader is indignant, criticising Jesus for healing on the sabbath, which was not permitted. Jesus, however, calls him a hypocrite and suggests that, if donkeys can be untied to be taken to water that day, so the woman should be set free. He gives her a name, though not her own name, by calling the woman a daughter of Abraham and indicating that she is included and not shunned because of her disability. The woman was probably given help by the synagogue and was able to be present but its leader still criticises Jesus for what he does. Nor is he acting unreasonably according to the Torah, under which the sabbath was to be regarded as a day of rest from work after six days of labour. Neither does Jesus dismiss this, but says that, since the care of animals is justified, so the woman’s right to being set free from restriction is also justified on the sabbath. Those who disagree with him are shamed as the crowd rejoices and God’s kingdom breaks through the rules and restrictions that have been imposed. As both the woman and the crowd praise God, so God’s healing work is shown through Jesus, whether or not it is the sabbath, and comes to those most in need of it – in this case, a lowly, unnamed and disabled woman.
The condition she is suffering from could be physical but Jesus indicates that she has been bound by a spirit and so her ailment may be spiritual. Just as the woman was unable to stand up straight then, so the weight of the past can sometimes be more than we can bear today as regret, anger, grief and other emotions can also prevent us from being upright. We can be frozen with fear or inactivity too – sometimes, the weight of what we bear can crush us for longer than the eighteen years the woman bore.
That can be seen in the rumbling and ongoing disagreement about the railways, which faced many continuing challenges after nationalisation in 1948 and the Beeching Axe and consequences in the sixties. Struggling after the pandemic, revenues are now 30% lower than they were and the difficulties of establishing a working agreement are clear as strikes continue and negotiations are convened without yet a breakthrough. Like the situation in the synagogue, the same events can be interpreted very differently as the comments of Mick Lynch and Dan Panes show. Meanwhile the public continues to be inconvenienced as the disagreement and conflict continues.
The situation on the railways is only one aspect of disagreement about change and sometimes confrontation is necessary or unavoidable. Many individuals and families are now having change imposed on them, from the rising cost of living to having to consider different possibilities through not achieving the necessary exam results after studying during the chaos of Covid. However, there is always the possibility that the change, though a confrontation initially, may eventually lead to conversation with hope prevailing. That was so for the disabled woman when Jesus spoke to her – what did she feel when singled out by Jesus so publicly and told to make her halting way to him in front of so many other people? As national and international events continue to confront us all, may conversation begin to straighten out the confrontation – when it does, we can all be sure we’re on the right track!
With my prayers; pob bendith,