10 He was teaching in one of the synagogues every Sabbath. 11 Look, a woman a breath she has a breath of weakness for eighteen years. She was bent together. She was not able to stand erect at all. 12 He saw her, Joshua did. He called to her he said to her: Woman: You stand released from your weakness. 13 He placed on her his hand suddenly she was straightened. She glorified Elohim. 14 He answered the leader of the synagogue did he was angry because in the Sabbath Joshua cured.. He kept saying to the crowd: Six days there are in which it is binding to work. In these therefore you come and be cured and not in the day of the Sabbath. 15 He answered him haShem did, he said: Poser. Each of you, in the Sabbath, don’t you untie your ox, or your donkey, from the stall and lead it out and water it? 16 This is a daughter of Abraham. whom the satan bound; look, eighteen years. Is it not binding that she be untied from this bondage in the day of the Sabbath? 17 When he said those things, all were ashamed, all those opposed to him. The whole crowd kept rejoicing at the glorious things, the things that happened by him.
I have written about this scene before. More than once. More than lots of times. You could check my book, Provoking the Gospel of Luke: A Storyteller’s Commentary. You could read what I posted three years ago on this blog: https://provokingthegospel.wordpress.com/2016/07/01/a-provocation-fourteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-luke-1310-17/
This is something else.
The woman has a “breath of weakness,” at least that’s how I translate her condition. Most translators tell you that she has a “spirit that had crippled her” (NRSV). That’s a good translation. The word that I read as “weakness” is commonly used to refer to anything that cripples anyone. And πνεῦμα is often translated as “spirit.”
I have two problems with this translation. First, making it a “spirit” brings in an entire supernatural realm that doesn’t fit the world I think I live in. I understand that ancients lived in a world filled with invisible supernatural beings. I understand that a colleague and friend of mine, full-blooded Lakota, lives in a world in which there are “little people” who are always just out of your direct line of sight. But I also understand that I do NOT live in such a world, not even when my friend and I are in the same room. When you translate anything, you “carry it across” (trans-late) into your world. The world is wildly more complicated, and thus infinitely more interesting, than my own limited perception of it, but that does not mean I think it is helpful to set up audiences to read this as some kind of fairy tale.
And the second reason I have trouble with making this a “spirit” is that πνεῦμα also ALWAYS means “breath.” And breath is particularly crucial in this scene. The woman is “bent together,” bent double, perhaps, when she enters the scene and the synagogue. The storyteller informs us that she has been this way for 18 years. Before you go interpreting this scene, you should figure out what “bent together” means for her. So, stand up, bend double, hold that posture, and read the scene aloud. Notice what happens to your voice. That was the voice that this woman had, the only voice she had had for almost the entire time anyone in the synagogue had known her. Stay bent double. If she couldn’t just stand up, neither can you.
Sure this is a scene about Shabbat. Sure it is about Jesus and his ability to heal. But this is a scene about the woman whose breath was weak, and whose voice was stopped up, weakened. Even if she raised her voice, she couldn’t raise her head, and so people just over-looked her. Over—looked. Her.
What do you suppose her voice sounded like when she was finally able to raise it? The storyteller tells us she “praised Elohim.” That is the Name used for God, so say the rabbis, when God is acting to bring about justice. So this is a scene about justice? If so, the embedded statement is that NO ONE should be “weak in breath,” no one should have her voice stopped up, no one should be “bent together” so that she could be overlooked.
How many times have you heard this response the the #MeToo movement: “Why didn’t she say something at the time?” “Why do you suppose she waited until NOW to finally speak up?”
Maybe this little scene gives a hint. In our world, ancient or not, there are people who, being “bent double,” are weak in breath and those of us who think all it takes to be successful is to “stand on your own two feet,” “stand up straight,” and “stand up for yourself.”
By the way, I didn’t tell you that you could stand up yet. Bend double. Stay that way.
In this scene, a woman regains her voice. I wonder what it sounded like? I wonder if even she was surprised, after all those years? In this scene, a woman regains her voice. No wonder she praised Elohim. Whatever else is going on here, this is indeed a scene about justice. So, who else is bent double? Who else has a voice that has been stopped up? Who else is over-looked?
While you’re still bent double, look around. Who else do you see who is waiting, maybe for longer than 18 years, to be able to stand up straight? Sure, you should stand up for them. Sure. But it’s not justice unless they are able to stand up for themselves.