The Power of Touch – The story of the doubly bent over woman.

Jesus and Woman Bent Double


Location, location, location! We are more than familiar with this particular adage. In real estate, location really matters, and so it is with the Gospel narratives – social location really matters. The stories in the gospel accounts are written so we can “find” ourselves in the narratives. When we locate ourselves, we discover who we are, and hopefully,  the answers to what ails us, by the power of Scripture and more importantly, by the delivering love of Jesus.

In the story of the doubly bent over woman, we discover “we are her, ” and she is us. The text compels us, through the power of story, to locate ourselves in the text. While we may not have her obvious physical condition of bent over-ness; we often carry the emotional and mental issues and scars which cripple our psyches, eclipse our destinies, and breaks fellowship with community.  It is only when we bring our emotional and physical wounds to Jesus, we can stand erect in victory, healed to glorify our Creator and bless the world.

And so here it is – the story of the “Unbound Woman.” Some call her the “Doubly Bent Over Woman,” Some even call her the “Crippled Woman.” Her story is found in the book of Luke, Chapter 13: 10-13

And now, The Word from Our Sponsor… . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Luke 13:10-13  New American Standard Bible (NASB)

10 And He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 And there was a woman who for eighteen years had had a sickness caused by a spirit; and she was bent double, and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your sickness.” 13 And He laid His hands on her; and immediately she was made erect again and began glorifying God.

In this story of an infirmed woman, we find Luke gives us the essential details. First of all, we are told that Jesus is teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath. In the book of Luke, this is the first time Jesus is teaching in the synagogue.  These are significant details which become important at the end of this woman’s story (vs. 14-17).  The second set of details are as important – there is a woman with a sickness caused by a spirit which had her bound for eighteen years. Not several years, or a decade, or even 15 years; but specifically eighteen years, as if the Evangelist Luke knows this woman was counting every day of every single year of her infirmity – and certainly she was, because at one time in her life, she was “erect.”

Luke details that her sickness was caused by a spirit – but the most interesting and critical notation is this: the “had had” structure of the Lucan narrative. This detail initially seems redundant, repetitive, and highly unnecessary – until, we examine this construct in the language in which the narrative was written.

At first glance, one of the two “hads” seems excessive – almost like talking too much, giving too much detail, not knowing when enough is enough. But, in the Greek, one of the “hads” is much different than the other.  The first “had” is a participle like  our English word, “had.”

The second “had” means:

  • to have (hold) in the hand, in the sense of wearing, to have (hold) possession of the mind (refers to alarm, agitating emotions, etc.), to hold fast, keep, to have or comprise or involve, to regard or consider, or hold as a possession.

So, in the Greek sense, the spirit which caused this woman’s illness “had” a hold of her, as if the spirit restrained her, as if wearing her like a coat, or maybe like a straight jacket.

The design of a straight jacket is meant to restrain the person in it. The more the person struggles, the tighter the jacket becomes. The movement and struggle of the person causes the straight jacket to constrict until it completely exhausts the wearer, and in most cases, doubles the wearer over, exhausted and defeated.   This is what this spirit was doing to the woman in the story.

The spirit “had” this woman bound, and was wearing her out, little by little, day by day, year by year; for eighteen years, until the spirit tighten its grip on her, so much so, this spirit doubled her over. This spirit which had this woman bound literally, owned her life. It possessed her. The spirit took up residency in this woman’s life.

Image it like this – you own a home; but, somebody comes to your door, comes in uninvited, and takes up residency. And, the “guest” decides to stay and take over.  Ultimately, the home no longer belongs to you – you are no longer the owner of the residence.  This was the spiritual position of the doubly bent-over woman.  Her body was bound by a spirit.

Yet, the obvious question of the text is this: Besides malevolence, what type of spirit was this? Was it a spirit of fear? Was it a spirit of depression? A spirit of addiction/co-dependency? Was it a spirit of jealousy? Was it a spirit of resignation? Was it a spirit of low self-esteem? Was it a spirit of denial? Of depression or grief? We simply do not know.   Luke does not give us this particular detail. We only know that it was a spirit which kept this woman bound until finally, the spirit moved from weakening her mind and her emotions to engaging her body in the affliction, as well.

Psychologists call this psychosomatic illness because some illnesses correspond to a pattern of emotional and psychological stressors influencing the ways in which our bodies ultimately respond.  The illness becomes doubly layered:  mental, emotional, and physical.

We also know as women, we suffer from psychosomatic illness significantly more than men. The stressors of living as a woman, and all that it entails, causes us to suffer with distress and dis – ease (disease) often producing a physical manifestation that matches the emotional output.

Much like her New Testament sisters:  the Syro-Phoenician, the woman with the issue of blood, and the Luke 8 women (Mary Magdalene, Suzanna, Joanna, and others)  Jesus does not come to her – she comes to Him at the synagogue.  For eighteen years, as an “untouchable” this woman comes seeking fellowship in community and a healing.  She hasn’t given up because “her true spirit” continues to seek God.

She may be emotionally bruised, and even doubly bent over; but, she is not bruised enough to give up.  The hope she sustains in her search for healing is evident in the text! The love she has for God  and for fellowship of community sustains her until she finds her healing.  Jesus demonstrates the kingdom of God is realized when the daughter of God healed.  Breaking the paradigm of patriarchy, Jesus chooses a woman on the Sabbath to be healed.  Luke makes certain his audience understands the power of this kairos moment, as the entire synagogue witnesses this daughter’s healing.

We also witness it and see that she participates in her own transformation. She’s not lying on a mat waiting for someone to help her up – she goes to the synagogue, in spite of her condition, because she believes she will find healing there.  She does through the person and power of Jesus.

When Jesus sees her, He does not judge her. He does not say: “Woman, you are free from your sin,” or “Woman you are forgiven.” Instead, Jesus says, “Woman, you are freed from your sickness.” King James translation: “Woman thou art loosed.”

Her story teaches us the following about the Holy Spirit:

(1)  God cares for the vulnerable in the beloved community.

(2)  Jesus cares equally for the daughters of God, as well as the sons of God.

(3)  God restores community through healing us of what breaks our minds, bodies, & souls.

Finally, this daughter of God is made anew. Her life is now her own. Through the touch of Jesus, this woman gains power to live a victorious life and gives us hope to do the same.

Questions for our study and consideration:

Why does Jesus speak to her instead of the spirit?

Besides hope, what else do you think motivated this woman to continue to seek the Lord until she found Jesus?

How does this woman’s persistence help you in your quest to find deliverance, transformation, and healing for what ails you?

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