In the Gospel for the last Sunday of August (Luke 13:10-17), Jesus rebukes temple leaders who question him for healing a woman who had endured a bent posture for 18 years.

Jesus challenges their outdated Sabbath theology that appears to treat livestock better than people. In the same manner, I wrestle with an outdated scriptural lens some preachers use with this story that labels this woman as disabled. Although those leaders and some of us in the crowd are probably physically standing upright, our application of Scripture renders us bent.

One January, while waiting at a Chicago train stop, I noticed a former mentee from my prior career as a mental health professional. Once we made eye contact, I could tell by the tilt of his head and the squint of his eyes that he remembered me. We scurried through the maze of bodies entering and exiting the arriving train and cupped our hands around our mouths to holler greetings.

Directly across from us, on the departing train, I noticed an unkempt man in his late 50s. He was holding onto the safety bar at the exit door with one hand. His eyes were closed, and his torso was perpendicular to the floor.

“Everybody knows Charlie … he’s on this train every day at the same time. He’s family.”

As I watched his body sway, my mentee asserted, “Everybody knows Charlie … he’s on this train every day at the same time. He’s family.” Although I suspected Charlie was ill, judgment blurred my vision. Before I could say anything, my mentee continued, “Bent.” I nodded.

The word “bent” is often associated with being inebriated or impaired due to a controlled substance. My mentee didn’t explain further—he didn’t have to. Now I noticed the faded army uniform and the hospital sticker above Charlie’s heart.

Coincidentally, my involvement with my mentee years ago was spurred by his mother’s addiction. Trying to redirect the conversation, I asked, “How is your mom doing?” He replied, “Clean … 10 years.”

When Charlie’s train prepared to leave, my mentee and a couple other voices started calling out his name. Without breaking his posture or opening his eyes, Charlie murmured, “OK,” and exited the train.

Whenever we forget that the women in the synagogue and the Charlies of the world are still family, we are the ones who are bent.

Yehiel Curry
Yehiel Curry is pastor of Shekinah Chapel in Riverdale, Ill., an ELCA synodically authorized worshiping community.

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