The camera pulls back. His legs are cut off at the thighs as well, with fittings on them, steel claws. This man is climbing a mountain with almost no arms or legs at all.
Recently, many ads and forms of public media feature persons with disabilities. This is a good thing, because for a long time, people did not see persons with disabilities.
I have a friend in one of my former parishes. He is a little less than four and a half feet tall. He is a passionate believer. A pastor’s kid like me. Tells stories of his Missouri synod family up in Nebraska. Wonderful voice, sang in the choir. He was a leather worker by trade. He made belts and satchels. He made leather panels to symbolize the Stations of the Cross in church. Lutheran church, leather panels to represent where Simon of Cyrene carried Jesus’ cross for him, or where Jesus speaks to the women.
He became a member of that church because people actually spoke to him. When he and his wife visited other churches, people would talk to his wife, who was about five feet tall. But they wouldn’t even notice him. He was invisible.
At that church, they treated him like the man he is.
Try riding around in a wheelchair for a day. Notice, people will talk to your friend standing next to you. But they will forget to speak to you. They won’t see, because if they saw you with a disability, then they would have to deal with the fact that there are disabilities in this world, and that therefore they might have a disability someday. And that’s scary.
Don’t see you.
In the Gospel of Luke, it is very important, what people see. At the beginning of the gospel, when Jesus is born, the shepherds out in the fields see the angels, who say “Do not be afraid, for see, I bring you good news.”
Can we see the good news? Can we see the angels announcing that Jesus has come? Can we hear the angles singing? Can we dance with them?
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the churchy people see this person beat up by the side of the road, and they pass by. But when the Good Samaritan sees this person lying there, he stops to help.
In the Gospel lesson for today, Jesus sees this woman, bent over double for eighteen years. And he calls her forward.
Notice, this woman does not ask Jesus to heal her. Jesus makes no comment about her faith, one way or the other. He simply says, “be freed of your ailment, and he puts his hands on her.
What’s it like when people touch us? Especially when we are bent over, in the places and times where we are disabled?
Because we all have some disability or other. We may be a different size than most other people, or our hands might be bent sideways and we hurt. Or our disability might be on the inside, unable to be seen literally. We may have difficulty believing that God loves us, or that the image of God dwells in us. We may be suddenly overwhelmed on occasion by our own fear, or anger, or depression. We may be so focused on details that we can’t see the big picture, or so tuned to the big picture that we can’t see details. We may be so involved in our own way of looking at things that we cannot understand the way other people look at things.
Whatever our disability, when someone touches us, it can hurt. If someone touches us and they do not see us as a person, but rather as an object, an object of derision or mockery that they try to push down and make fun of in order to make themselves feel greater, that can hurt. It can make our disability worse.
If someone sees us as an object of pity—“You poor thing, here let me help you.” SWAT! “I don’t want any help from you.” It can make things worse.
Even when somebody loves us, sees us as a person, and they touch the places where we are disabled, where we are bent over, it can hurt.
Jesus touches this woman. And now comes perhaps the most difficult part of this passage. It says, “Immediately, she stood up straight.” A miracle happens.
We know that miracles can happen. We also know that they don’t happen often. When we have disabilities, we ask ourselves, “Why didn’t a miracle happen to me? I asked for a miracle. Don’t I have enough faith?”
And of course, there is this little voice in the backs of our heads that say, “No, you don’t have enough faith. You’re not good enough. That’s why you’re disabled.”
That voice, of course, is a lie. It’s a lie. God works miracles to cure people, we don’t know when or why.
Most of the time, we are not cured of our disabilities. We have to live with them. God does not always answer prayer the way we want.
Jesus does always see us. Jesus does always call us forward. Jesus always touches us. Jesus always draws us toward healing and wholeness. Jesus always uses us to give life.
That can be disruptive. People might not like it, like the leader of the synagogue in the Gospel lesson for today. That’s okay.
I want to finish up by telling you about another former parishioner of mine. Her name was Elva. Elva got arthritis when she was a young teenager. Back then they could not do much for you. Elva had to stay home from school because she couldn’t get around. So she would sit on her front porch all day. The boy next door was developmentally disabled. He could not talk, really. He would sit on the front porch too. He would call to her. “Aaaaa.” She would call back “Aaaaaa.” Kept each other company.
Elva spent most of her life in a wheelchair. Her fingers pointed in all different directions. She would come to church, and the kids would gather round her, and she would crochet sock dolls and give them out. Did this for decades. Now the children were not afraid of people in a wheelchair anymore, or of people whose fingers pointed in all different directions. They were like Elva.
Toward the end of her life, Elva got brain cancer. They did surgery, so they shaved half her head and put staples in over the incision. She said, “I look like a rock star!”
God never cured Elva. But God shone through her.
I have seen this in you. Some of you, bent over figuratively, some literally. You are able to look up and smile, that sideways smile that warms a whole room, like the sun when it is setting at the end of a cloudy day, sometimes breaks through just at the horizon and the world that has been gray since dawn, now fills with golden light.
Jesus always calls us forward. Jesus always touches us. Jesus always draws us toward healing. Jesus always reaches through us, to shine with golden light.