Questions about the Healing of a woman with a long-time infirmity


On the 27th Sunday after Pentecost, the Gospel is from St Luke 13:10-17. It describes the healing of a woman with a longtime infirmity. The Gospel specifically mentions how long she had been infirm. How many years? What was this woman's affliction?







"And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself." (Luke 13:11)

The woman was bent over and could not lift up her head. This was a result of demonic assault.



What is the meaning of the term "spirit of infirmity"?







St Cyril of Jerusalem begins to explain the term "spirit of infirmity":

" Now that the Incarnation of the Word was manifested to destroy corruption and death, and the hatred of the devil against us, is plain from the actual events; for it follows, And behold there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity, &c. He says spirit of infirmity, because the woman suffered from the cruelty of the devil, forsaken by God because of her own crimes or for the transgression of Adam, on account of which the bodies of men incur infirmity and death. But God gives this power to the Devil, to the end that men when pressed down by the weight of their adversity might betake them to better things. He points out the nature of her infirmity, saying, And was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself." (St Cyril of Jerusalem)



In what way was this healing was a little different than others? Think of the reason Christ healed most people, how He became aware of a need for healing, and the conditions in which healings occurred.







Most of the times Jesus healed someone:

  • It was in response to their request.
  • It was in response to the request of another.
  • It was after a conversation between Jesus and the afflicted one.
  • It was during or because of a conversation between Jesus and others in the area.

Jesus very rarely healed anyone strictly of His own volition, or without some sort of encounter with the afflicted one. It is worth our time to consider briefly some of the passages which recount our Lord's healing miracles, then consider the woman's healing (the scripture passages are long, but how can we choose to gloss over them, when they tell a story we should never grow tired of - the healing of our "human condition"?)

Most healings were the result of Jesus being made aware of the difficulty:

So Jesus came again into Cana of Galilee, where he made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum. {47} When he heard that Jesus was come out of Judaea into Galilee, he went unto him, and besought him that he would come down, and heal his son: for he was at the point of death. (John 4:46-47)

And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. {3} And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. (Mat 8:2-3)

And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, {6} And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. {7} And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him. (Mat 8:5-7)

And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee. (Mat 9:2)

Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw. {23} And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David? {24} But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils. (Mat 12:22-24)

And when he was come to the other side into the country of the Gergesenes, there met him two possessed with devils, coming out of the tombs, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way. {29} And, behold, they cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time? (Mat 8:28-29)

(Mark 5:22-23) And, behold, there cometh one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name; and when he saw him, he fell at his feet, {23} And besought him greatly, saying, My little daughter lieth at the point of death: I pray thee, come and lay thy hands on her, that she may be healed; and she shall live.

And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment: {21} For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole. {22} But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour. (Mat 9:20-22)

And when Jesus departed thence, two blind men followed him, crying, and saying, Thou son of David, have mercy on us. {28} And when he was come into the house, the blind men came to him: and Jesus saith unto them, Believe ye that I am able to do this? They said unto him, Yea, Lord. {29} Then touched he their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it unto you. (Mat 9:27-29)

As they went out, behold, they brought to him a dumb man possessed with a devil. {33} And when the devil was cast out, the dumb spake: and the multitudes marveled, saying, It was never so seen in Israel. (Mat 9:32-33)

And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. ... {28} Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. (Mat 15:22,28)

And again, departing from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, he came unto the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis. {32} And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him. {33} And he took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue; {34} And looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. {35} And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain. (Mark 7:31-35)

And he cometh to Bethsaida; and they bring a blind man unto him, and besought him to touch him. {23} And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town; and when he had spit on his eyes, and put his hands upon him, he asked him if he saw ought. {24} And he looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking. {25} After that he put his hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up: and he was restored, and saw every man clearly. (Mark 8:22-25)

And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying, {15} Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is a lunatic, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water. {16} And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him. {17} Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me. {18} And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour. (Mat 17:14-18)

And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. {12} And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: {13} And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. (Luke 17:11-13)

Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. {2} (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) {3} Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. (John 11:1-3)

And as they departed from Jericho, a great multitude followed him. {30} And, behold, two blind men sitting by the way side, when they heard that Jesus passed by, cried out, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou son of David. {31} And the multitude rebuked them, because they should hold their peace: but they cried the more, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou son of David. {32} And Jesus stood still, and called them, and said, What will ye that I shall do unto you? {33} They say unto him, Lord, that our eyes may be opened. {34} So Jesus had compassion on them, and touched their eyes: and immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed him. (Mat 20:29-34)

Other healings occurred after a conversation, or as part of other events:

And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. {2} And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? {3} Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. {4} I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. {5} As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. {6} When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, {7} And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent.) He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing. (John 9:1-7)

And it came to pass, as he went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread on the sabbath day, that they watched him. {2} And, behold, there was a certain man before him which had the dropsy. {3} And Jesus answering spake unto the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day? {4} And they held their peace. And he took him, and healed him, and let him go; {5} And answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day? {6} And they could not answer him again to these things. (Luke 14:1-6)

And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. {6} When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? {7} The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. {8} Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. (John 5:5-8)

And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him. {11} And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? {12} How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days. {13} Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other. (Mat 12:10-13)

And one of them smote the servant of the high priest, and cut off his right ear. {51} And Jesus answered and said, Suffer ye thus far. And he touched his ear, and healed him. (Luke 22:50-51)

And there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, {24} Saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God. {25} And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him. (Mark 1:23-25)

There are only a few healings which occurred totally because of Jesus' independent action, without any significant preamble:

And when Jesus was come into Peter's house, he saw his wife's mother laid, and sick of a fever. {15} And he touched her hand, and the fever left her: and she arose, and ministered unto them. (Mat 8:14-15)

And it came to pass the day after, that he went into a city called Nain; and many of his disciples went with him, and much people. {12} Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her. {13} And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. {14} And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. (Luke 7:11-14)

We now are ready to consider the healing of the woman with the infirmity of eighteen years. Her healing was perhaps the simplest of all. Jesus saw her, and healed her before she even was aware of Him. Nobody told Him about her, and there was no challenge to His Divine authority (that happened immediately AFTER the healing). Blessed Nicolai Velomirivitch posits a significant aspect of this healing - none can plausibly claim that it was the result of auto-suggestion, a common slander of miracles by unbelievers:

"The Lord worked this wonderful miracle, not at the request of, or in response to the faith of, the woman, but on His own initiative and in His own power. Is this not a clear rebuttal to all those who seek maliciously to belittle the divine greatness of Christ's miracles, intimating that these miracles only come about through auto-suggestion on the part of those to whom they happen? Where is there a trace of "magical" auto-suggestion in this twisted woman? Her infirmity prevented her from even seeing Christ's face. She did not ask Christ for mercy, nor did she express faith in Him by any sign. Not only thins; the woman was not even near Christ. She did not go up to Him, but He called her to Him." (Homilies, Volume 2, Page 279)



How was the woman healed? Jesus did two things. What is the significance of His physical action? To answer this question, one must think about the social milieu at the time, and especially how people with illnesses were treated, and the purpose of the incarnation.







"And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity. {13} And he laid his hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God." (Luke 13:12-13)

Jesus put his hand on her after He spoke to her. His physical action would have had great social significance at the time. In those days, the Jews would fiercely judge those with affliction and showing compassion on them, or even touching them was rare. Our Lord, on the other hand, loves sinners, and is not loathe to touch them and offer them mercy, thereby showing His great love for man, and at the same time giving us a living example of true compassion. His touch, which imparted healing power, also teaches us holy dogma about His incarnation:

"... His holy flesh imparted both the power and the energy of the Logos. For His flesh was His own, and not that of some other human person alongside Him, separate from Him in hypostasis, as the impious Nestorius thinks." (Blessed Theophylact)

"But our Lord, to show that His coming into this world was to be the loosing of human infirmities, healed this woman. Hence it follows, "And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said to her, Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity." A word most suitable to God, full of heavenly majesty; for by His royal assent He dispels the disease. He also laid His hands upon her, for it follows, "He laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God." We should here answer, that the Divine power had put on the sacred flesh. For it was the flesh of God Himself, and of no other, as if the Son of Man existed apart from the Son of God, as some have falsely thought." (St Cyril of Jerusalem)

The touch of Christ which heals has other incredible implications for us. He took on our flesh, and made it able to live, and be empowered. He healed with HUMAN flesh, the same flesh we possess! His entire life in the flesh is both an example and a prophecy for us. He has shown us how to live and shown us it is possible to live as He has shown. The touch of Christ which heals the woman also heals mankind.



The Jewish Ruler was angry that Jesus healed the Woman. What was his stated reason, and what was his real reason?







The Ruler of the Synagogue was filled with jealousy and envy as well a false pride and the desire to appear righteous before men, and therefore concocted a preposterous excuse, which looked acceptable and pious to those who only know the letter of the law and not its spirit:

"And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the sabbath day, and said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day." (Luke 13:14)

"But the ungrateful ruler of the synagogue, when he saw the woman, who before was creeping on the ground, now by Christ's single touch made upright, and relating the mighty works of God, sullies his zeal for the glory of the Lord with envy, and condemns the miracle, that he might appear to be jealous for the Sabbath." (St Cyril of Jerusalem)



How did Jesus put the ruler of the synagogue to shame? Why did he call him a hypocrite? Is there a lesson here for us?







Jesus put the man to shame by showing him that even he would take care of his animal on the Sabbath day, and yet his blind envy would purport to deny a human being simple mercy:

"The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? {16} And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?" (Luke 13:15-16)

Our Lord used this example or one similar at other times also. (Luke 14:1-6, Matthew 12:10-13).

"Lastly, God rested from the works of the world not from holy works, for His working is constant and everlasting; as the Son says, My Father works until now, and I work; that after the likeness of God our worldly, not our religious, works should cease. Accordingly our Lord pointedly answered him, as it follows, You hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath-day loose his ox or his ass?" (St Ambrose, Bishop of Milan)

"The hypocrite is one who on the stage assumes a different character from his own. So also in this life some men carry one thing in their heart, and show another on the surface to the world." (St Basil the Great)

"Now the ruler of the synagogue is convicted a hypocrite, in that he leads his cattle to watering on the Sabbath-day, but this woman, not more by birth than by faith the daughter of Abraham, he thought unworthy to be loosed from the chain of her infirmity. Therefore He adds, And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham whom Satan has bound lo, these eighteen years, to be loosed from this bond on the sabbath-day? The ruler preferred that this woman should like the beasts rather look upon the earth than receive her natural stature, provided that Christ was not magnified. But they had nothing to answer; they themselves unanswerably condemned themselves. Hence it follows, And when he had said these things, all his adversaries were ashamed. But the people, reaping great good from His miracles, rejoiced at the signs which they saw, as it follows, And all the people rejoiced. For the glory of His works vanquished every scruple in them who sought Him not with corrupt hearts." (St Cyril of Jerusalem)



The excuse given by the Pharisees and the response of Jesus begs the question which we all must answer: what is true "rest" on the Sabbath day? Before we do this, we must understand this: which day for a Christian has supplanted the "Sabbath Day", and why? How are we to keep this day, in accordance with the law concerning the Sabbath day, whose principal is still in effect?







Christians must judge things spiritually. It is obvious to a Christian soul that the "rest" proscribed for the Sabbath does not preclude good works, and in fact requires them! "Rest" is not freedom for labor - it is freedom from all things earthly.

The Sabbath day for the Jews was Saturday. Since Jesus Christ rose from the dead on Sunday, this day has supplanted the Jewish Sabbath day. Let us keep our Sabbath day by resting from earthly cares, and worldly excuses for our sins and secular concerns. The true keeping of the Christian "Sabbath" is not limited to a single day, but is the entire living of the Christian life. If we cannot live in a perfect way at all times, let us at least prepare ourselves for the resurrection, which we celebrate each week. Let us come to the church with a desire to learn and worship, and say our prayers, and at least dedicate a small part of our week to spiritual things. Let us commune the mysteries with fear, and after careful preparation, and let us attempt to hold the grace of these mysteries within ourselves as long as we can, before worldly cares again make our heart cold.



Was the Woman a Jew or a Gentile?







The Woman was a Jew, as Jesus called her a "daughter of Abraham":

"And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?" (Luke 13:16)



The woman's infirmity mystically points to an affliction common to all sinners. Explain.







The woman's back was twisted, and she was bent over, inclined towards the earth. This is not the way man was created. Twistedness denotes our inclination towards sins and depravity, and the woman's posture indicates our common inclination towards earthly thoughts. Like the woman, we are often UNABLE to incline ourselves towards heavenly things, because of our sinful habits and inclinations, and our weak will.

"For every sinner who thinks earthly things, not seeking those that are in heaven, is unable to look up. For while pursuing his baser desires, he declines from the uprightness of his state; or his heart is bent crooked, and he ever looks upon that which he unceasingly thinks about. The Lord called her and made her upright, for He enlightened her and succored her. He sometimes calls but does not make upright, for when we are enlightened by grace, we oft-times see what should be done, but because of sin do not practice it. For habitual sin binds down the mind, so that it cannot rise to uprightness. It makes attempts and fails, because when it has long stood by its own will, when the will is lacking, it falls." (St Gregory the Theologian)



The length of the woman's illness also has a mystical, spiritual meaning, which points to the core reason for her infirmity. Explain.







In Greek, the length of the woman's infirmity reads "ten and eight years". The Holy Fathers have understood this to mystically point to the real cause of the woman's infirmity. The "ten" refers to the ten commandments, and by extension, all of God's law. The woman was a sinner. The "eight" refers to her being weak in the hope of the "eight day". She was bent over with earthly thoughts. Those who sin are weak in thinking about spiritual things.

"For when a man is feeble in keeping the commandments of the divine law, which are ten in number, and is weak in his hope of the eighth age, the age to come, it can be said that he has been bent over for ten and eight years. Is not that man indeed bent over who is attached to the earth, and who always sins in disregard of the commandments, and who does not look for the age to come?" (Blessed Theophylact)


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