I have long been ambivalent about miracles, both wanting to believe and afraid to be disappointed. Last Sunday's gospel reading from Luke 13:10-17 is a case in point. It's about a miraculous healing by Jesus.

He is teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath, and in comes “a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight.” (Quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.) Without so much as waiting for her to ask, Jesus calls her over and says, “'Woman, you are set free from your ailment.' When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.”

It must have felt wonderful to the woman who had been bent over for 18 years finally to stand up, straight and free of pain. It would inspire almost anyone to shout "Hallelujah!"

And it all seemed cost-free – no need to ask for anything or explain what's wrong, no drawn-out process to endure, just bang! instant relief. And for the onlookers in the synagogue, no need to wonder if it was real, either. The results were obvious, right there in front of their eyes.

But, of course, the healing really wasn't about the woman. She was just in the right place at the right time to help Jesus make a point. If it hadn't been her, someone else, crippled in one of the dozens of ways that afflict human beings, would have happened along.

Because it was time for Jesus to up the ante with the religious authorities, to illustrate for anyone open to understanding that the creator of the Sabbath is not bound by the Sabbath, that if humane care of animals is permitted on the holy day, so is compassion for other people. This is the sense in which the old law is set aside under Jesus: the law is still there as a guide, but when compassion, when generosity would break the law, then breaking it is following the new commandment to love God and one another.

To love God is to love one another. We cannot truly do one and not the other. It is much easier to love our idea of God than to love another person. But to love God, the source and essence of all that is, requires that we love God's creation. Still, we are in a world bound by time, and must come to this all-embracing love, the oneness with all life, gradually. So even if we start by loving our idea of God, we can eventually make our way to loving actual, flesh-and-blood people. Not necessarily liking them, though I think whether we like them becomes less important to us as we love more.

Jesus probably neither liked nor disliked the bent-over woman – he didn't know her. But he saw her suffering and acted to release her from it. He did not consider the rules. He did not consider, though he probably was aware, what his breaking of the rules would cost him with the religious authorities. He simply enacted his oneness with the woman – that is love. That is his example to us.

In the end, it does not matter whether you believe that Jesus was divine or not. It does not even matter whether you believe that he was a real person. The story itself is a pointer, showing the way for anyone who is open to understanding, who desires to be free, to escape the trap of the ego and claim their unity with all of life.

Of course, his defiance of the religious and secular authorities eventually cost Jesus his life. The miraculous healing that appears to cost nothing actually has the highest possible price. And our own enactment of oneness with creation is sure to cost us as well. If nothing else, loving like that opens us to the deep pain of loss. But we will have losses anyway, and we will have pain.

The real miracle is the deep joy that comes from feeling solidarity with others, even when sharing their pain. That is the source of inner healing, as well.