The wind swirls mournfully around my home as I put fingers to keyboard and compose these final thoughts on our scene in Luke 13. Somehow, this feels appropriate.
Before us are three figures, frozen in time by the careful and descriptive pen of the physician. The Spirit inspired Luke to record so many events and details that are absent from the other Gospels. Lest we think this points to a degree of incredulity, we must remember that each of the four authors had a specific audience and agenda in mind when putting pen to paper. This does not detract from the historicity of the lives and events, but rather allows us to view Him and His work through four different vantage points. From these distinct angles, we a privy to a more complete portrait of the Savior than if there was merely one account of Him.
In sorting out what principles we may apply to our lives, let us first consider this howling force outside my window. All around us, in each day of our lives, places, people and experiences envelop us. Sometimes it may even feel as though we are powerless to stem the tide. Our minds yearn for a little rest from the constant task of sorting through each piece of information which enters in. Our hearts scream for a little peace. Tossed by the tide, turned by the wind, we bounce along, fumbling always for a foundation or something solid to grab hold of.
Then, in one crystalline second, everything stops. We are confronted by a truth so profound, it demands every ounce of our attention and affection. The whirl ceases to concern us. We must follow this feeling of complete and utter clarity through until the very end.
I submit to you that this is what happened the day that these three people encountered each other.
The synagogue ruler, the bent woman and Jesus.
Let us place ourselves inside the moment when the synagogue ruler and the bent woman collided head-on with the most intense experience they could possibly have.
The synagogue ruler:
What he got right –
It would be wrong for us to assume that the synagogue ruler spoke out against this woman’s healing simply because he disliked Jesus. We discussed earlier that this man would have had to have been of high standing within his community to be chosen for such a position. He would not have been a person to take his duties and responsibilities lightly. Had Pharisaic religion become a myriad of rules and regulations? Yes. It is a mistake, however, to think that these codes came to be for the sheer sake of code-making. Perhaps some got enjoyment out of causing people to suffer under the weight of such obligations, but I think that, for the most part, the Pharisees were genuinely concerned with serving God and pleasing Him. Their eyes were blinded and their ears deafened to the light and call of truth, but I would say that their hearts were in the right place.
So, when this man stood up and told the people to seek their healing during the other six days of the week, I tend to think that he was simply trying to be obedient. He was a synagogue ruler, yes, but he is not called a rabbi. He was not a teacher who would have been employed in debating the finer points of the Law all day long. He would have been a a devout Jew who wanted to serve the Lord. In this, the synagogue ruler was very right.
What he got wrong –
In obeying the letter of the law, the synagogue ruler made the very common (to their day and ours) mistake of ignoring the spirit. Is it right and excellent to take a day of rest? Had the Lord commanded it? Yes. This man simply failed to recognize that caring for others always takes precedence. There may also have been an element of fear. Jesus, by this time, was extremely famous throughout the land. The synagogue ruler may have had some sense that this Man threatened everything that he stood for, to whatever degree he understood it.
The synagogue ruler also opposed this healing because it did not come in a way in which he was accustomed. I do not think that he wished to see this woman walk around in pain; that would make him a very cruel man indeed. In his call for the people to come and be healed the rest of the week, I think this text shows us that the synagogue ruler truly did hope, pray and work for his friends and neighbors. He was simply too rigid in what he expected that to look like.
The bent woman:
What she got wrong –
We begin with the reverse in the case of the bent woman. What she got wrong in this scene is obvious: she did not go to Jesus for healing. As I mentioned before, He was, at the close of his earthly ministry, very well known throughout that corner of the world. His entrance into any town would have created quite a stir. Yet, we see her attending synagogue as usual. Luke doesn’t say that she ran up to Jesus. He does not write that she sought Him out. She was simply going about doing what she had always done.
What she got right –
This woman did not hesitate to go to Jesus the minute He called her forward. Should she have been seeking Him out? Yes. Her obedience at the sound of His voice, however, indicates to me that she was desperate for Him, even if she did not know it until that very moment. Nobody who has been in chronic, crippling pain for 18 years would pass up the chance to be freed of their affliction. Moreover, she didn’t care who saw her or what they had to say about it. She was going to go to Jesus. That was it.
Each of the major translations of these verses record that, upon being healed, the woman praised God. I don’t think that she went off into some corner and shed a few happy tears into her hankie. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit uses Peter to heal a crippled man who had been sitting outside one of the Temple gates daily. Verse 8 records that “he jumped up, stood on his feet, and began to walk! Then walking, leaping an praising God…” People of ancient times were not repressed as we are about expressing their joy (or their sorrow). I think that there is every chance that this woman, able to stand upright for the first time in years, twirled about the synagogue, looking people in the face. Do you see what He has done for me?!, she must have asked. I think she danced. I think she cried. I think she shouted. Most of all, I think that she kept coming back to Jesus. I even think that she’d be happy enough to hug Him.
Obviously, Jesus didn’t get anything wrong here!
What stands out is His willingness to interact with both the bent woman and the synagogue ruler. We have done ourselves a great disservice in anesthetizing Jesus to the degree that we have. He spoke. He walked. He thought. He touched. I’m bold enough to even think that He laughed at a good joke and that He enjoyed a good party. Still does! Jesus didn’t speak in monotone. He was fully God and fully Man, and both of those aspects of His personality would have led him to feel, and deeply at that.
Jesus knew that this woman wasn’t seeking Him out, but He also knew how much she needed Him. I think His heart broke over her pain, just as it must have broken over each tortured person He met. She did nothing to deserve His attention – yet He called her. He spoke into her life in a way that nobody else ever could or would. As she reveled in her new-found freedom, I think He smiled – and graciously accepted the hugs she might have lavished upon Him.
Is it any wonder, then, that He got so upset with the synagogue ruler and those who sided with him? Even in this, however, Jesus’ love and truth shine. To be called a hypocrite never feels pleasant, but Jesus did not say that all the people who were against this woman’s healing were big, fat jerks and that He was done with them. He did not storm out of the synagogue with a sweep of indignation. No. He stayed. He addressed their need just as He addressed hers. He spoke into the life of the synagogue ruler in a way that nobody else ever could or would. He stopped this man in his tracks and forced him to take a good, long look at himself.
Where we fit:
Well, none of us is Jesus. Hate to break that to you. We all have been and could be, at various times, either the bent woman or the synagogue ruler, though.
Like the synagogue ruler, have you ever been prone to dismiss someone else’s confidence and hope in the Lord, to dismiss their healing and redemption, because it doesn’t look the way you think it should? Because you have not had the same experience? Have you ever been bold enough to tell someone that they must do things your way? Are you prone to walking away from those from whom you have the most to learn? Do you dampen the enthusiasm and praise of the saved by your disapproving looks and sighs?
Like the bent woman, have you ever been in desperate need of release, but sought everything and anything other than Jesus to set you free? Have you thought that He could not possibly notice you? That you were not good enough for Him to love? If He has healed you, do you care too much about the people around you to dance and sing and shout and cry in praise?
Wherever and whichever we are today, Jesus is calling. He notices. He speaks into our lives in ways in which nobody else ever can or will.
Will we listen?
For all posts in the Bent series, go here.