Ok, I like to think that I connect the biblical story to the modern day as much as the next preacher. However there are those who try to do so in such a way that drives me crazy. Here is the latest incident:
There I was in my office, innocently reading a commentary on the Gospel of Luke. The story I was focused on was the one where Jesus heals a woman who has been bent over for 18 years. This is an incredibly powerful story. You can pray over it for hours imagining the woman hunched over all those years until she becomes accustomed to having to strain to look up at the sky, accustomed to straining to see the stars. It screams out for imaginative connections to today where people are bent over under the weight of debt or stress or depression or even racism and sexism. So much in life keeps us from being able to stand up straight and see the expansiveness of creation.
But the writer of the commentary suggested that maybe the woman had osteoporosis. He actually tried to make a medical diagnosis on a person from a story 2000 years ago. I could feel all the life and energy of the passage being sucked away.
He isn’t alone in doing this to a biblical story. The Exodus narrative is deprived of power when people say, “oh, it wasn’t really the Red Sea they crossed, it was the Reed Sea and it was more of a swamp.” Stories of people possessed by demons get turned into tales of people with undiagnosed epilepsy.
When did we become such unimaginative literalists?
One of the worst consequences of this is that the story becomes something you read dispassionately, it becomes something to be studied instead of lived. We remove ourselves from the text instead of immersing ourselves in it.
Let the stories breath. Let these stories speak. It is not about whether or not Satan bound a woman or she had an undiagnosed bone disease, it is about how we are all bent over and in need of healing touch. Amen.