When I was a child, I remember thinking how amazing it would be to possess the ability to become invisible. I used to daydream about all the things I could get away with! I could sneak out of the house to play with my friends even if I was grounded! I could drink soda all day long and no one would tell me to stop! I could play practical jokes on my brothers without the risk of retaliation! Invisibility as a superpower would be absolutely fantastic!
But as I’ve grown older, I come to realize that there’s another form of invisibility that’s not so fun. There’s the all too common experience of emotional, relational, social, economic, and even spiritual invisibility. These are the times in life when you wonder if anyone really sees you, the times you wonder if anyone takes notice and truly cares for you. And it’s not about being alone, because you can be surrounded by people and activity and even ministry, and yet stillfeelinvisible. You see, there is something inside every one of us that longs to be seen. There is something that desires to be noticed and acknowledged.We are hardwired with a deep need to know that someone cares about us and who we are.
And yet, when I talk with people today, I so often hear people sharing about the ways in which they feel isolated, disconnected, disillusioned, and, at times, even invisible. We have become a culture in which people are identified more and more as a number and not a name. We’re a culture in which many people spend far more time staring at Facebook than the actually face of another human being. The result is that our longing to be seen, our longing to be noticed and cared about is being revealed now more than ever. And this especially true when it comes to our relationship with God! A few years a New York Times article was published entitled “Googling for God.”The article talks about the fact that many people won’t take their challenges and questions about God to a friend, or a family member, or even their pastor, but they will type them into a Good search engine, where they can remain anonymous and invisible. And when you look at the analytics, what you find is that the most searched questions about God are questions like: Why does God allow suffering? Why does God hate me? Why did God make me the way I am? Does God really care about me? At the root of all these questions is this fundamental question, “Does God see me?”
At the beginning of today’s gospel reading, we encounter a woman has been crippled for eighteen years. She has been bent over at the waist and unable to stand up for eighteen years. Given the fact that the average life expectancy in the first century was 30-35 years, the woman in today’s story has been in this condition for most if not all of her life. Unlike other healing stories, this woman never addresses Jesus.She never cries out.She never petitions Jesus for anything. But rather, Luke simply tells us that “Jesus sees her.” Now this may seem like a rather unremarkable statement, but it is profoundly significant when you begin to understand that this woman in her cultural context was essentially invisible.
First of all, she was socially invisible. As a woman with no apparent means of support, she would have been an outcast on the margins of first century society.
Secondly, she was religiously invisible. In the ancient world, there was a close association between physical ailments and spiritual affliction. Luke tells us that this woman’s physical condition was the result of the spirit of weakness. And so, the religious authorities would have viewed her has spiritually inferiorand perhaps even unclean.
Finally, she was physically invisible. In a first century synagogue, it was customary for the teacher to be seated, while the congregation remained standing. In a crowd of people all standing straight, this woman bent over at the waist would have virtually invisible to Jesus.
And yet, despite her social, religious, and even physical invisibility, Jesus SEES her. And when he SEES her, he CALLS her.And when he CALLS her, he lays his hands upon her and declares YOU ARE FREE! Immediately she stands up straight and begins praising God!
Now, the leaders of the synagogue were furious with Jesus because he was healing on the Sabbath. The religious leaders did not see what Jesus saw. Despite the fact that the Sabbath was a day when the Israelites were commanded to remember their own liberation from their bondage in Egypt, the religious leaders didn’t see that this woman was in need of liberation from the bondage she had endured for eighteen years. They couldn’t see past the social, religious, and physical barriers. For the leaders of the synagogue, this woman was utterly invisible.
But Jesus saw her and when he saw her, he set her free. And he even goes so far has to call her a “daughter of Abraham,” which signifies that she is worthy to inherit the promises of God. Her restored posture is not just a physical restoration; it’s an emotional and spiritual restoration as well. She has received grace upon grace ALL because Jesus saw her!
I believe this story speaks powerfully to those times in our lives when we wonder whether or not God cares, whether or not God takes notice, whether or not God sees us in our pain! This story speaks to those times when we feel invisible. This story contains the promise that Jesus sees you!
Maybe there are challenges in your family.
Maybe there’s conflict at work.
Maybe you’re searching for sense of meaning and purpose in your life.
Jesus sees your struggle!
He sees your brokenness!
He sees your need for restoration!
And when he SEES you, he CALLS you. And when he CALLS you, he lays his hands upon you and declares you are FREE!
But there is another element of this story that we should notice. As a result of being set free by Jesus, this woman SEES the world from an entirely new frame of reference. THINK ABOUT IT…For 18 years, she has been staring at the ground. For 18 years, she has been looking at her feet and the bottom half of her cane. For 18 years, she quite literally only witnessed the underside of life. But because she has been seen by Jesus, she is now able to see!
She sees her world.
She sees her neighbors.
She sees her community.
But most importantly, she can now see others who are invisible. She can see those who go unnoticed and uncared for. She can see those who are bent over by the weight of the world and need to be lifted up.
You see, healing and transformation should always compel us to mission.
We are healed to heal.
We are transformed to transform
We are changed in order to be agents of change in the world.
This is a story of being seen in order to see! And so, this morning, I pray that you will receive the promise of God sees you and calls you and sets you free. But more importantly, I pray that our eyes will be open to see past the social, religious, and physical barriers of our own day, to see those in our midst who desperately need to be seen, to see those who need to be loved, to see those who need to be set free.