Human Bodies and The Image of God
a sermon on shame and healing
Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And 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. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the Sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured and not on the Sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it to water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame, and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things being done by him. - Luke 17
Sermon preached at St John’c Episcopal Cathedral in Denver 8-21-22
(So much of the meaning comes in the preaching of sermons - for those who are able, I encourage you to listen - sermon starts at minute 6)
If you watched the HBO show Game of Thrones you know that there are a lot of very disturbing and violent things that transpired on the show. But for me, the most disturbing was a scene of public shaming in which a character’s hair was shaved off and she was stripped naked and made to walk like that through the streets while people spat on her and chanted shame, shame, shame. It was a perfect depiction of what every single day of Jr High feels like if you are the fat kid, or the queer boy or that weird bug eyed girl or the stoner kid who used a wheelchair. Actually, it was a perfect depiction of what every single day of Jr High feels like to anyone who had anything the least bit interesting about them.
This week as I read that story of Jesus healing the woman with the bent back, I kept thinking about shame and bullies and designations and what Satan binds in our bodies.
But before getting too far I also want to say that this week I also thought about the disability community and what it would feel like to me if there were stories in the Bible about Jesus healing the freakishly tall tattooed woman with a bad attitude. I mean, those Sundays would be rough. So I want to start by saying from the pulpit to you who live in bodies which society deem as broken or deficient– that you are already whole, and that you are subjects of your own stories and not just objects for other’s pity or worse “inspiration”, and that you are needed and wanted here exactly as you are. And if you have heard preaching on texts like this and heard anything other than that, I am so sorry.
Today I speak of the woman with the bent back allegorically and metaphorically and spiritually and not as a commentary on the bodies of any of God’s children specifically.
But also the woman with the bent back has made me think a lot about the bodies of God’s children specifically.
Our individual containers of the holy. These inconvenient and disappointing and majestic wonders of God that we carry us through this life from womb to tomb. The woman with a bent back has made me think about how everything that has happened to me (including Jr. High) has happened to my body, the great score-keeper. And every hurtful thing said to you or done to you has happened to your body. And every hurtful thing we, in turn, have said or done to someone else has also happened to their bodies.
We don’t know much about her, the woman who had a spirit that kept her bound for 18 years. We do not know her story, but I have my suspicions. Mainly because I know how the harm done to us and by us can create these thin threads of shame. Alone or in small number, those threads are so thin they easily are broken or shrugged off–but enough of them, over enough time can be sufficient to bind - to pull us down and make us no longer able to stand erect.
I do not know her story but I do know that the designations society places on us when our bodies are deemed too much or too little – too fat, too manish, not masculine enough, too Black, not small enough, too loud, not pretty enough, too limited, not young enough,– that the man made designations our God made bodies are given can add up – so much so that it can feel like a spirit is binding us, keeping us from taking up the space our dignity affords us as children of the most high.
I do not know the reality of this woman who Jesus saw and touched, and healed and called daughter, but I do know the emotional and spiritual forces in my own life that have pulled my face more toward the ground than the heavens. And I know how shame writes it’s own story in our bodies and with every pen stroke how we stand less tall until we no longer can look others in the eye.
And I also know that our Lord and savior will not have it.
I know he wields on our behalf the knife of truth, cutting these cords that bind.
He is teaching on a sabbath when suddenly he sees a weighed down woman - and touching her, and healing her and calling her a daughter of Abraham he unbinds her.
She is no longer just the bent backed woman as though that is her first name -
Her designation is set to right as her spine is set to right.
She stands up straight, her shoulders back, her chin raised, her eyes available to give and receive light and love and recognition. She stands among them with the full dignity afforded her by her creator.
As a side note - it’s interesting that the first reaction of those around was not to praise God but to criticize Jesus. My guess is they felt very comfortable with her just being the woman with he bent back because our egos only know themselves by comparison and when someone is healed - or gets sober, or starts drawing healthy boundaries, or becomes more financially stable just watch how it causes chaos in those around them who no longer have someone to feel better than.
My friend Nikki recently got to hold her great granddaughter - who was just hours old. And Nikki said that when she held this newborn baby that she knew one thing - that this baby was whole. Nikki went on to say that the same is true for all of us, no matter what body we were born with, we were born whole…before the world binds our bodies and spirits with its designations and rankings and assessments - all of which are meaningless to God, before any of that, we were whole.
Therefore, she says, seeking wholeness is always going to be a process of subtraction, never addition.
This is what an encounter with Jesus is like – this is what an encounter with the Holy is like – it’s an unbinding, an unchaining, an unfurling. It is the great subtraction – cutting us loose from the accumulated detritus of human living. Subtracting old stories, and old wounds, and old resentments. Which means you can stop adding things to your spiritual self-improvement to-do list.
Think of the time that will free up!
I do not know the designations that the world has given you, or the things that have been said about your body, or done to your body. I do not know what binds you. But I do know that if the body is the place where Satan sews shame then how amazing is it that a human body is also what God chose to take on to be with us?
That God would, as we say, slip into skin and walk among us…that God would choose to make God’s home in an actual human body – in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
I just can’t overstate the significance of this. Because while shame might be demonic and might pull us low with bent back, it is no match for a God who goes to the cross, takes profound humiliation and insult into their body and responds with only forgiveness and love and 3 days later defeats sin, death AND the devil by rising that body from the dead. And then hangs out with his friends in his still wounded and yet still glorified body and asks where the snacks are.
All of this is to say, that God saves you IN your body, not FROM your body. Your body is in the same form and substance as that which God chose to put on and walk among us as Jesus. Your body is holy and beautiful to God - Your young, old, fit, fat, cis, queer, disabled, strong body. For after all, it is the human body in which God placed God’s image, the imago dei. God could have chosen to place the imago dei – the image of God in the mountains, but instead she put it in our bodies. We might experience the awesomeness of God in the mountains…but we see the image of God in the human body in all it’s perfectly glorious diversity. Billions of human bodies – and each one a different shape and texture and color and size – all bearing God’s image.
This is theological stuff, my friends. The endless depictions of God as a white guy aren’t just boring, they’re blasphemous in their narrow specificity. Because God’s image is seen and comprehended only in the mind blowing diversity of all human forms.
The wildness of human variation isn’t a mistake - it is a sign of the glory of God – and yet we made it a sign for the value and ranking of people. Leave it to humans to take a gift and turn it into a curse.
But your body – your body is not a curse, it is a chariot.
It is a glory and a wonder. An individual container of the holy. It is a glimpse into the image of God. And it deserves so much love and respect for it has carried you through every day of your life – even every day of Jr High. Think of THAT.
So as you come today to receive this body and blood of Christ, may you stand up as straight as you are able. May you walk or limp or roll with all the freedom and dignity and beauty afforded you by your creator.
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