11 Just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight.
Eighteen years. We bear our burdens for a long time. Grief. Shame. Fear. Such things do not go away easily.
I will never forget the elderly woman who called me one day with a plaintive request that I come hear her confession. It was a powerful moment, a wrenching story during the depression when there was not enough food to feed her children. Now, late in life, unable to escape the memory, she cried out for mercy. The story poured forth, lingered in the prayer of David’s psalm, to be swept away by that precious word of absolution. For the first time in 50 years she stood free. But a few days later I received another phone call. She had a confession to make, would I come. The word of grace had been forgotten, and the shame had returned.
I understood, then, there were issues of memory at work. But I grieved for her – her memory of guilt was greater than her memory of grace. She lived bent over, not 18 years but more than 50.
The miracle of healing is not what happens in our bones; it is what happens in our hearts. It is what happens when a wounded and bent life is brought under the reign of grace. It is not in the text, the text says he laid hands on her, but I imagine Jesus reaching out to lift this woman’s face – and in lifting her face, straightening her whole life.
Lifting our face is the hardest thing to do when we are ashamed, hard to do when we are carrying secrets. Every impulse is to curl up, to look down, to look away, to slump over, to hide behind whatever masks or duty is at hand. But there is that strong, tender hand of Jesus, lifting our face to his, meeting our shame with his healing light and freeing us to stand upright.
Each day we may call, and each day he will come back, until our memory of grace is stronger than our memory of shame.
2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and do not forget all his benefits–
3 who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the Pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, (Psalm 103)