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May 11, 2013

Spine and spirit

It is the Sabbath. Jesus is teaching in the synagogue. A strange scene unfolds. There is a woman there who, for 18 years, has been “bent double,” her spine so curved or so weak that she hasn’t been able to lift her head and torso above her waist. For 18 years, her face has always pointed toward the ground. The tasks others take for granted — getting dressed each morning, drawing water at the well, preparing and eating meals — have been “missions impossible” for her. Her affliction defines her and sets her cruelly apart from the rest of humanity — until this day, in Galilee, when this proud young woman will be healed.

Jesus of Nazareth reaches into her life with the very power of God, and her spine (bent for years) is suddenly straightened into a normal upright human shape! A miracle! And perhaps, a parable, about our day and age. Scripture says a “spirit of infirmity” had crippled this woman. But what has this to do with us? Most of us try to stand straight and tall; we really don’t suffer from the affliction of this story, not outwardly at least. But what about “inwardly”? Perhaps our spines are straight and intact, but often our spirits are bent almost double under the daily weight of the world’s terror, its hurt or its cynicism — the daily weight of worry that moves toward panic or the daily despair that coaxes and pulls our faces toward the ground.

But here we are, so many of us, in various faith communities, we who have been given promises of eternal worth and power and can stretch our spirits to the sky whenever we choose — yet we often turn on the TV and see that death and evil were again triumphant yesterday. Many of us in faith communities, who have been promised that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, we can move mountains, add our own voices to other expressions of hopelessness, as we recite this generation’s spirit-killing mantra, “There was nothing I could do!” Our spirits are sadly bent. And we see some of this reflected in our congressional representatives, several Republicans and Democrats, and we wonder, “Are they like us? Or are we like them?”

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