I suspect we’ve all seen before and after pictures; before and after the diet or workout plan, before and after a re-model, before and after a particular event or experience. If you looked at my before St. Philip’s pictures you’d see brown hair. And after, gray. That’s what today’s gospel (Luke 13:10-17) reminds me of. It shows us before and after pictures of the woman who appears in the synagogue while Jesus is teaching.
The before picture shows her crippled, bent over, and unable to stand up straight. She’s been like that for eighteen years.
What do you see when you look at her? What do you imagine she’s feeling and thinking? What feelings does she bring up in you? What is she looking for? Do you recognize yourself in her? Where have you seen her in Uvalde or our country? What does she represent for you? Maybe she represents the way we can be weighed down by circumstances and the heaviness of life. Maybe she represents the ways in which our lives can be crippled and bent out of shape. Maybe she represents how social, political, economic, justice, or religious systems can be crooked, bent, or crippled, and oppress others.
The after picture, however, shows her standing up straight, restored, upright, and in alignment with Life. What do you see now when you look at her? Imagine the possibilities that now lay before her and how her life might be different. Where have you seen this picture in your life and our world? What feelings does she bring up in you? Hope, courage, desire, inspiration, joy, gratitude? Isn’t it a picture of what you want for yourself, others, our country? What would it be like for us, Uvalde, America, to stand up straight, restored, and aligned with the life and values of God?
They are two very different pictures that show two realities of our lives and world. We’ve all known times when we were crippled and bent over. And we’ve known times when we stood tall and straight.
Whenever I see before and after pictures I always wonder, What happened in between?
Luke tells us what happened to this woman. Do you remember? Two things: “Jesus saw her” and “he laid his hands on her.”
It’s a pattern we see again and again in the gospels. Jesus sees and touches another and the picture of life changes.
What’s going on when Jesus sees and touches? Some might say it’s a supernatural intervention that only Jesus can do. Others might say it is fantasy, magical and wishful thinking. Either way we close ourselves off from the truth and power of this story. So what if it’s neither? What if we set aside both those interpretations? What if we simply opened and exposed ourselves to the truth that seeing and touching have the power to transform lives?
You know what that power is like, don’t you? My guess is that everyone here has experienced it.
Recall a time or situation in your life when you felt invisible, overlooked, passed by. You were looked at but not seen and it left you crippled and bent over. Now recall a time when another really saw you, valued you, and acknowledged your life as important. I’ll bet you stood up just a bit straighter. That’s the power of seeing.
Haven’t there been times when you said to someone, “Do you remember when you said or did …? It really touched me and made a difference. Thank you. ” And he or she had no idea of what you were talking about. And I bet there have been times when someone thanked you for touching their life by what you said or did and you didn’t recall doing or saying anything.
Who has seen and touched your life in a way that let you stand a bit taller, be more yourself, or be more fully engaged in life? When have you done that for another? And what would it be like if we lived together like that today?
Maybe Jesus is showing us how to change the picture of life and asking, even insisting, that we also see and touch others like he does.
Imagine how the picture of life for our community and one another would change if we saw with the eyes of Jesus and touched with his hands. Isn’t that what we are seeking every time we pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven?” That the seeing and touching life of Christ would be in this world embodied by you and me, that we would be the seeing and touching Christ for one another.
I think we would be a community in which offense is met with forgiveness, hatred with love, fear with courage, exclusion with welcome, suffering with compassion. It would be a very different picture than the one we often see.
So why don’t we do that? Why don’t we see and touch others in that way?
I wonder if it’s because we put our rules, law, opinions, agendas, and attitudes over people. We stand stiff, rigid, and indignant like the religious leader in today’s gospel. “There are six days on which work ought to be done,” he says; “come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” Every time we make the rules or policies more important than people our lives are out of shape.
What if the leader would have seen and touched the woman? I wonder in what ways she and he would have been untied and freed.
I don’t think the woman is the only crippled and bent over person in today’s gospel. The leader is just as crippled and bent over. The difference is the woman knows she is but the leader doesn’t know he is. He has chosen law, rules, and “the way we’ve always done it,” over another human being and it has distorted and crippled his life. I wonder if that sometimes happens to us. In what ways might this picture of the leader describe our lives today?
Jesus never did that. He always put people first even when it meant upsetting the authorities, breaking the rules, and changing “the way we’ve always done it.” He saw them and he laid hands on them regardless of who they were, what had happened to them, or what they had done. People came first.
That’s how I want to live, don’t you? It’s what I want for this parish and our town. I want to be seen and touched. I want to see and touch. I want to be a part of changing the picture of life for you, Uvalde, and myself.
What would that look like in your life today? Who are the crippled and bent over people needing to be seen and touched by you? Where do you see crooked, bent, and oppressive systems?
What would it take to see and lay hands on another in a way that allows her or him to stand up taller and straighter? What if we were to see and touch them in a way that makes a difference; to touch with love, forgiveness, compassion, hope, courage, or encouragement?
When I imagine what life and our world would look like I see a picture I want to be in, don’t you?
We have the power to change the picture of life, to see and touch. I wonder how we will be a part of creating a new after picture.
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