Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”
The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”
When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were rejoicing over all the glorious things being done by Him.
We can imagine that if Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, the large crowd that followed him was there. Scholars debate whether or not women were separated from men and sitting in a separate gallery in synagogues at this time. It is probable that most synagogues were more like the house churches of the early Christians. Whether this was a separate building or part of a large house, the crowd following Jesus likely pushed the capacity to its limits, spilling over to listeners outside. The synagogue official either had enough respect for Jesus' teaching to let him teach or was influenced by the desires of the crowd. This is the last recorded time Jesus will speak in a synagogue and occurs only months before his death.
In the midst of the congregation, Jesus calls over a woman crippled and bent over for eighteen years. Perhaps it was age related, perhaps it had another cause, but Luke mentions a "spirit of infirmity". In whatever way, evil forces have been at play in her life. For eighteen years she has slowly walked to the synagogue to stand unnoticed in the shadows. For eighteen years the eyes of the community have watched her, certain that some sin in her life caused the malady. But at the moment Jesus calls her forward, she slowly shuffles into the center of a battle between good and evil, true worship and religious trappings.
With the words and a touch from Jesus, she immediately straightens. Vertebrae snap back in place along a perfectly curved spine. Damaged nerve endings begin firing orders - no need for months of therapy. No more pain. No more suffering. No more shuffling through the shadows of life. She throws her hands in the air and praises God for all to hear. What other response could there be?
Well, one at least. The leader of the synagogue, the most highly respected layman in the community, looks at the crowd and reprimands them, "There are six other days in the week for this circus. Come and be healed on those days! This is completely out of hand. Today is not a day for work, but for rest. It is the Lord's day! We have a system, and this man is not following the rules." He may have been annoyed by the huge crowd ruining his normally solemn day of worship. Perhaps he was already among those who believed Jesus was working for Satan. It is possible that he was so tied to the regulations surrounding keeping the Sabbath that he could not handle any deviation. We will never know what sets him off.
Jesus is intentional. He is on the offensive at this point in his ministry. The Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and any other branch of Judaism in the community would have been at this synagogue, watching Jesus closely. He chose to heal for a purpose, and he chose this woman for a reason as well. There is no indication she sought healing from Jesus. He heals her to unmask their hypocrisy. Of course everyone listening gave water to their animals on the Sabbath. They all ate food themselves. There was certain work that was forbidden and certain work that were not. Jesus exposes their reliance on the letter of their Sabbath laws rather than enjoying the Sabbath as a time of worship, rest, and focus on God. In a society that placed women in a lower status, just above animals, Jesus calls the woman a "daughter of Abraham", as much an heir of God's promises as the esteemed synagogue officials and religious leaders. His opponents were humiliated, all the more reason for them to plot against him. But the crowd rejoiced at another miracle.
We so easily fall into the trappings of false religion. Certain things will satisfy God. Certain things will make him love us more. Certain sins are greater than others. We mingle grace with works. We choose which regulations from Scripture to follow and which to ignore. Then we argue with other branches of Christianity who deviate from our interpretation.
Of course some scriptures are cultural. I rarely pray with my head covered (1 Cor. 3:5) and do wear clothing made of two materials (Lev. 19:19). But Jesus exposes our hearts with his words. We focus on the wrong things. We cling to lists of right and wrong, because this seems easier than relying on grace and the Spirit as well as allowing us to feel superior to others. Caring for mankind and seeing each person as created in the image of God is far more important than following any list of prohibitions. It may and should take us out of our comfort zone as we venture further into the kingdom of God.
This woman then is a picture of the sovereign work of the Lord in salvation, a picture of the enslaved, oppressed sinner under the burden and bondage of Satan, hiding in the shadows aware every moment of suffering the wait and the burden of sin - hopeless, robbed of dignity, bent over like an animal. The image of God defaced. So is the picture of the sinner shuffling one day into the presence of God to hear the word of God. She is met by the Lord and He out of His sovereign love delivers her, straightens her up and makes her a true worshiper. This is the picture of the work of God in salvation. God offers salvation to the outcast, the humbled, those bent over by the weight of sin, who will come and hear Him and He will turn them into true worshipers and He bypasses the curious and the self-righteous.
- John MacArthur