The Woman with Osteoporosis and the Nativity of Christ

In the Gospel lesson of Luke 13:10-17, our Lord Jesus Christ performs an act of mercy to a woman without demanding anything from her – neither repentance nor faith.  An opponent of Christ finds this as an appropriate occasion not to rejoice or give thanks to God, but rather to criticize the woman, though they carefully avoid criticizing Christ.  God shows mercy, the religious zealots criticize the recipient of God’s compassion.  How jealously we react to the blessings others receive, especially when we have judged that they aren’t worthy of such blessings.  Christ reminds us  to treat our fellow human beings better than we treat the animals that serve us or our pets.   St. Luke writes:

     

Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath.  And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up.  But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.”  And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.”  The Lord then answered him and said, “Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it?  So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound-think of it-for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath? And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.

In the time of St Gregory Palamas (14th Century) this particular Gospel lesson was read as part of the pre-Nativity season on the 3rd Sunday before Christmas.  This is unlike the Slavic Orthodox tradition in which the same Gospel is read on the 26th Sunday after Pentecost whenever that occurs.  It is a good example of the variations we readily find in Orthodox Tradition, and also shows us that Orthodox liturgical tradition changes over time.  According to the Orthodox typikon of his day, by November 21 the Church is singing hymns of the Nativity of Christ – already proclaiming “Christ is born!” weeks before Christmas arrives.

So the footnotes in the collection of St. Gregory’s sermons explains:

“Note that the theme of the third Sunday before Christmas is an extension of the first and second. By this time, however, the Christmas fast had already begun (on 15 November); the singing of the Christmas Canon, ‘Christ is born, glorify Him’, would have been introduced on the feast of the Entry of the Mother of God into the Holy of Holies (21 November); and also the Kontakion of the forefeast, ‘Today the Virgin gives birth to the Pre-eternal Word’, would have been sung from the leave taking of the feast of the Entry (that is, from 25 November) onwards. But it is in the Gospel reading for the third Sunday before Christmas (Luke 13:10-17) that, in reference to the Crippled Woman who was Healed by Christ, we heard the words, ‘daughter of Abraham’, which refer to Christ’s own lineage, ‘according to the flesh’, and signal the beginning of the theme of the forefeast for Christmas: the commemoration of Christ’s ancestors and, by extension, all the righteous of the Old Dispensation.” ( The Homilies, p 633)

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