We need rain. I see the tawny dust squirt out from beneath my worn sandals with each step. My two canes make little furrows as I move them forward. It’s easier to look at the ground than to look forward. For normal people that would be like throwing their heads back and looking straight up. I used to be able to look up, but now the best I can do is to look about two steps in front of me. It’s painful for me to do more than that.
How did I get like this? God cursed me and sent Satan to afflict me. Why? Apparently, I am a sinful woman. That’s what everyone says; and it makes sense. God would not allow me to be bent over like this unless he had to punish me. In his anger God has cursed me.
My nightmare began 18 long years ago. One afternoon, I went to pick up my baby girl from her crib. She was crying and I went to comfort her, to see if she needed to be fed or changed, just routine.
Then it happened as I bent over, I felt something lock up in my lower back. I could not straighten up. The pain was intense and radiated down my legs. I called for my Jude, who was about seven at the time. He took the baby from my arms. I collapsed on the dirt floor where I lay like a tree bent over by a constant wind until my husband came in from the fields.
At first, he was compassionate. He tried to help me up, but I could not stand. I was bent at the waist and had to hold on to something to stay on my feet. He called for a physician. The the doctor just shook his head. He was no help.
My husband then got our local rabbi to come over. He glared at me as if I were some kind of freak. The rabbi explained to my husband that this would not have happened to me unless I had done something terribly wrong. He talked to him as if I were not in the room. He said God was obviously punishing me for some grave sin I had committed.
My husband asked, “What kind of sin would make God cripple her like this?”
The rabbi responded, “In my scholarly opinion, the Holy One, Blessed be he, would only curse her like this if she had broken one of the Ten Commandments that Moses was given on Mt. Sinai.”
My husband turned to me and with venom in his voice, questioned me, “So which one was it? What did you do? Did you steal something or poison someone? Who did you sleep with?”
I cried, “I have done nothing like that. All I did was bend over to pick up our little girl. She was crying.”
The rabbi called him over to the side of the room and whispered something in my husband’s ear.
The rabbi and my husband stepped back toward me and the rabbi began to interrogate me.
“If you repent, there may be a chance God will lift this curse. But you have to admit what you have done.”
I persisted, “I’ve done nothing wrong.”
He responded, “You might as well tell us. Whose is she?”
I was crying but furious, “Whose is who?”
“Your little girl is not from your husband, is she? She is the fruit of adultery. Admit it!”
“No, no, no!” I shouted.
“Why else would God strike you when you were reaching to pick her up?” the rabbi persisted.
Turning sideways and pulling my hair from my eyes so I could see him, I said to my husband, “I’ve never been unfaithful to you. I love you.”
My husband just shook his head and turned his back.
“Please believe me,” I pleaded, “I love you.”
The rabbi stepped out of our house. I sobbed.
With his back to me, my husband said, “Just tell me who it was that you slept with.”
“No one, my love! I’ve always been faithful,” I insisted.
“Don’t try to protect him. You both deserve to die. That’s what the Torah says.”
The rabbi came back with our neighbor. “I’ve brought a witness,” the rabbi said to my husband.
My husband hesitated. Then he glanced back at me bent over and hair hanging down to the ground hiding my stream of tears.
“It’s for the best,” the rabbi said as he handed a piece of papyrus to my husband.
Without even looking at me my husband said slowly as he wrote, “I divorce you. I divorce you. I divorce you.”
He signed it. Then the neighbor, who was shaking his head at me, signed it. Then the rabbi signed it.
I fell to my knees, and pleaded with my husband, “Please tear that up. I thought you loved me. What am I going to do? What about our children?”
My husband said, “Since I cannot be sure they are mine, they can go with you.”
The rabbi nodded in agreement.
I begged, “No, honey. Don’t do this. We can work this out.”
My husband crossed his arms and said, “Get your things and the kids and leave now.”
My son starting crying. He ran to his father and clinging to his leg pleaded, “Daddy, don’t make us leave.”
He said, “I’m sorry son. Your mother brought this on all of us.” My son turned to me and glared, “How could you, Mommy?”
It’s a look I’ve become familiar with. The neighbors glare at me. The people at the synagogue look down their noses. I can feel it even if I don’t twist my head to see them. My extended family and even my children, who are grown now, condemn me as a sinful woman. They do not allow me to see my grandchildren.
It was extremely hard on me to raise them. I had to use two canes to support my upper body as I stayed bent over. That made cooking, cleaning, working, doing anything, much more difficult.
But what was even harder was to carry the burden of those accusing glares. I refused to give up. I knew that I had not been unfaithful to my husband. My father was the only one who believed that I was innocent. If he had not taken us in, we would have starved. I worked extremely hard and by the grace of God, we survived.
I clearly remember the day that changed my life. I slowly made my way up each step into the synagogue, I began to pray, “Lord God, praised be your name. I give you thanks for helping me raise my three children. Thank you for giving me enough to survive until this moment. But Lord, why have you cursed me? Why have you allowed Satan to bend me so that I always have to look at the ground? Lord, please release me from the invisible chains that keep me hunched over. Have mercy on me, God Most High. Have mercy on me. Amen.”
In the synagogue I shuffled bent over behind all the women, who were sitting behind all the men. There was no seat for me.
Jesus, a guest rabbi all the way from Nazareth was speaking. He was different. I liked what he was saying about God’s love and how God cares about all people.
But if that’s true why has God afflicted me for 18 years? My eternal question, “Why, O Lord, do you make me suffer?”
Suddenly Jesus stopped talking. He pointed to me and called me forward. I hesitated.
Our rabbi and the synagogue president invited him to speak. Maybe he wanted to accuse me like our rabbi had all these years. Jesus kept calling me to come forward.
Maybe he was going to get me up there and point at me and tell everyone, ‘See this is what happens when you sin.’ I could feel the glares of the crowd. But I felt compelled to go forward. What did I have to lose?
When I got to him, Jesus bent over, face-to-face with me, his face only inches from mine. He looked into my eyes. His eyes filled with tears. It was like he felt my pain and all my heartache. Despite being hardened by the years, my tears began to fall.
Then Jesus put his hands on my shoulders and said with a voice filled with compassion, “Woman, you are set free from your sickness.” Then with the gentlest pressure, he raised me to stand upright like everyone else. It was a miracle!
Both standing, still looking into each other’s eyes, all I could feel as I was standing there was pure joy. He was smiling. I was smiling. It seems like we were caught up in a moment beyond this world. But it ended quickly.
The president stood and shouted pointing his finger at me, “Six days are work days. Come on one of the six if you want to be healed, but not on the seventh, the Sabbath. It is holy to God.”
The president and our rabbi glared at me. They were accusing me of breaking another of the Ten Commandments, the law of the Sabbath. I started to bend over again. Jesus caught me and whispered, “You are free. Stand tall.”
Then Jesus spun around and lambasted the synagogue president and rabbi, “You hypocrites! You frauds! Each Sabbath you regularly untie your cow or donkey from its stall, lead it out for water, and think nothing of it.
“So why isn’t it all right for me to untie this daughter of Abraham and lead her from the stall where Satan has had her tied these eighteen years?” (The Message) She is free!”
Wow! Jesus healed me and Jesus called me a daughter of Abraham. He did not condemn me. Amazing.
Then another amazing thing happened. All the people in the synagogue jumped to their feet and applauded. The standing ovation for Jesus went on and on.
The rabbi and the president of the synagogue slipped out the back door. My ex-husband and his new wife and kids filed out behind them. Jesus turned back to me and laughed. I fell at his feet and thank him
But Jesus lifted me up, and said, “Oh no you don’t. You’ve spent too much time looking at the ground. You are free now. Hold your head high.”