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20. THE WOMAN WITH A SPIRIT OF
LUKE xiii. 10–17.
We have here another of our Lord's cures which, being accomplished on the sabbath, awoke the indignation of the chief teachers of the Jewish Church; cures, of which many, though not all, are recorded chiefly for the sake of shewing how the Lord dealt with these cavillers; and what he himself contemplated as the true hallowing of that day. This being the main point which the Evangelist has in his eye, everything else falls into the back ground. We know not where this healing took place ; we are merely told that it was “ in one of their synagogues.” While there was but one temple in the land, and indeed but one for all the Jews in all the world, there were synagogues in every place: and in one of these Christ, as was often his wont, was teaching upon the sabbath. Among those present there was a woman that was bent double, that had, in the words of St. Luke, “ a spirit of infirmity,” which shewed itself in this permanent and unnatural contraction of her body. Had we only these words, “ spirit of infirmity,” we might be doubtful whether St. Luke meant to trace up her complaint to any other cause beyond the natural causes, whence flow the weaknesses and sufferings which afflict our race. But our Lord's later words concerning this woman," whom Satan hath bound,”—are more explicit, and leave no doubt of his meaning. Her calamity had a deeper root; she should be classed with those possessed by evil spirits, though the type of her possession was infinitely milder than that of most, as is shewn by her permitted presence at the public worship of God. Her sickness, having its first seat in her spirit, had brought her into a moody melancholic state, of which the outward contraction of the
muscles of her body, the inability to lift herself, was but the sign and the consequence*.
Our Lord did not here wait till his aid was sought, though it may be that her presence in that place was, on her part, a tacit seeking of his help,—as, indeed, seems implied in the words of the ruler of the synagogue, bidding the multitude upon other days than the sabbath to “ come and be healed.” Seeing her, he himself “ called her to him, and laid his hands on hert,”—those hands being here the channel by which the
* This woman is often contemplated as the symbol of all those whom the poet addresses
Oh curvæ in terras animæ ! For the erect countenance of man, in contrast with that downward bent of all other creatures, is the symbol impressed upon his outward frame, of his nobler destiny, of an heavenly hope with which they have nothing in common; which the poet, describing the gifts which God gave to man at his creation, has well expressed :
Os homini sublime dedit, cælumque tueri
Jussit, et erectos in sidera tollere vultus : and JUVENAL, Sat. 15, 142–147, in a yet nobler strain : compare Plato's Timæus, Stallbaum's, ed. p. 360, and the derivation of avopwnos, namely, the upward looking, which some have suggested, is well-known. On the other hand, the looks ever bent upon the ground are a natural symbol of an heart and soul turned earthward altogether, and wholly forgetful of their true home, and of man’s good, which is not below, but above, him. Milton's fine use of this symbol in his description of Mammon (Par. Lost, b. 1) will readily occur;
Mammon, the least erected Spirit that fell
Were always downward bent. Thus Augustine (Enarr. 2" in Ps. Lxviii. 24): Qui bene audit, Sursum cor, curvum dorsum non habet. Erectâ quippe staturâ exspectat spem repositam sibi in cælo . .. At verò qui futuræ vitæ spem non intelligunt, jam excoecati, de inferioribus cogitant: et hoc est habere dorsum curvum, à quo morbo Dominus mulierem illam liberavit. Cf. Enarr. in Ps. xxxvii. 7; Quæst. Evang., l. 2, qu. 29 ; AMBROSE, Hexaëm., 1. 3, c. 12. Theophylact (in loc.): Ταύτα δε μοι λάμβανε τα θαύματα και επί τον εντος αι θρωπον συγκύπτει γαρ ψυχή όταν επί τας γηίνας μόνας φροντίδας νεύη, και μηδέν ουράνιον ή θείον φαντάζηται.
+ Chrysostom (in CRAMER's Catena): II pooemiti0noi dè kai reipas aúrn, ίνα μάθωμεν ότι την του θεού λόγον δύναμιν τε και ενέργειαν η αγία πεφόρηκε σάρξ.
strcame of his truer life, which was to dissolve those bonds, spiritual and bodily, whereby she was held, should flow into her, saying at the same time, (for though recorded, as was necessary, one after another, we are to assume the words and imposition of hands as identical in time,) “Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity.” And the effect followed the words and the hands laid on : “ immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.” She glorified, too, no doubt the author of her salvation, and this was what the ruler of the Mynagogue could not bear, (cf. Matt. xxi. 15, 16,)—an “hypocrite,” as the Lord calls him,—zeal for God being but the cloak which he wore to hide, whether from others only, or, in a sadder hypocrisy, from his own heart also, his true hatred of all that was holy and divine*. He was not, in fact, disturbed because the sabbath was violated, but because Christ wis glorified. Therefore drew he down upon himself that sharp rebuke from him, whose sharpest rebuke was uttered only in love, and who would have torn, if that had been possible, from off this man's heart, the veil which was hiding his true self even from his own eyes. Another part of his falseness was, that not daring directly to find fault with the Lord, he seeks obliquely to reach him through the people, who were more under his influence, and whom he feared less. He takes advantage of his position as the interpreter of the Law and the oracles of God, and from “ Moses' seat” would fain teach the people that this work done to the glory of God--this restoring of a human body and a human soulthis undoing the heavy burden—this unloosing the chain of Satan, ---was a servile work, and one, therefore, forbidden on the sabbath. Blaming them for coming to be healed, he indeed is thinking not of them, but means that rebuke to glance off on him who has put forth on this day his power to help and to save.
* Augustine (Enarr. 2" in Ps. Lxviii. 24): Bene scandalizati sunt de illâ erectâ, ipsi curvi. And again (Serm. 392, c. 1): Calumniabantur autem erigenti, qui, nisi curvi ?
Every word of Christ's answer is significant. It is not a defence of his breaking the sabbath, but a declaration that he has not broken it at all *. “You have your relaxations of the sabbath strictness, required by the very nature and necessities of your earthly condition; you make no difficulty in the matter, where there is danger that loss would ensue, that your possessions would be perilled by the leaving some act undone. Your ox and your ass are precious in your sight, and you count it no violation of the day to lead them away to water. Yet is not a human soul more precious still ? the loosing this as allowable as the loosing those ?” Every word in his answer tells. “Each one of you, whatever your scheme and theory may be concerning the strictness with which the sabbath ought to be kept, disciples of Hillel or disciples of Schammai, you loose your beasts; yet ye will not that I should loose a human spirit-one who is of more value than many oxen and asses ;—and this you do, though they have not been tied up for more than for some brief space; while, in your thoughts, I may not unloose from the thraldom of Satan this captive of eighteen yearst. Yours, moreover, is a long process of unfastening and leading away to water,—which yet, (and rightly,) you make no difficulty about; but ye are offended with me who have spoken but a word and released a soul I." There lies at the root of this argument, as of so much else in Scripture, a deep assertion
* Tertullian (Adv. Marc., l. 4, c. 30): Unusquisque vestrùm sabbatis non solvit asinum aut bovem suum à præsepi et ducit ad potum? Ergo secundùm conditionem legis operatus, legem confirmavit, non dissolvit, jubentem nullum opus fieri, nisi quod fieret omni animæ, quantò potius humanæ. Cf. IRENÆUS, Con. Hær., l. 4, c. 8.
+ Ambrose (Exp. in Luc., 1. 7, c. 175): Vinculum vinculo comparat. . . . Cùm ipsi animalibus Sabbato solvunt vincula, reprehendunt Dominum, qui homines à peccatorum vinculis liberavit.
Chemnitz (Harm. Evang., c. 112): Tempus etiam inter se confert. Jumenta fortassis ad noctem unam aut paucos dies præsepi alligantur. At verò hæc fæmina vel saltem ob temporis prolixitatem omnium commiseratione dignissima est.
of the specific difference between man, the lord of the creation, for whom all things were made, and all the inferior orders of beings that tread the same earth with him, and with whom upon the side of his body he is akin. He is something more than the first in this chain and order of beings : he is specifically different. (Cf. 1 Cor. ix. 9. “Doth God take care of oxen?” and Ps. viii. 8.) And more than merely this: the woman was a “ daughter of Abraham.” Some think here that the Lord means to magnify her claim to this benefit, as being an heir of the faith of Abraham,—one, indeed, who, for the saving of her soul in the day of the Lord, had come for some sin under the scourge of Satan and this long and sore affliction of the flesh. Yet it is more probable that he means but this, that she was one of the chosen race, a daughter of Abraham after the flesh, however, after this healing, she may have become something more, a child of the faith of Abraham*.
* In a sermon on the Day of the Nativity (Serm. Inedd., p. 33,) Augustine makes the following application of this history: Inclinavit se, cùm sublimis esset, ut nos qui incurvati eramus, erigeret. Incurvata siquidem erat humana natura ante adventum Domini, peccatorum onere depressa; et quidem se in peccati vitium spontaneâ voluntate curvaverat, sed sponte se erigere non valebat ... Hæc autem mulier formam incurvationis totius humani generis præferebat. In hâc muliere hodie natus Dominus noster vinculis Satanæ alligatos absolvit, et licentiam nobis tribuit ad superna conspicere, ut qui olim constituti in miseriis tristes ambulabamus, hodie venientem ad nos medicum suscipientes, nimirum gaudeamus.