Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Can I just say, I’ve got some empathy for this “leader of the synagogue”? I think he would say Jesus was right to heal that poor, bent over, crippled woman who’s been suffering for eighteen years. Who could argue that? The healing is great, he might say, we’ve been helplessly watching this unfortunate, twisted woman for years.
The problem is that there are six other days to do that. The sabbath is set apart. Jesus shouldn’t be using it for work. Call it an occupational hazard, but I feel for this synagogue leader who has a job to do. He’s been appointed to run this religious gathering according to the laws and traditions of his faith. For him, keeping sabbath law is necessary for his community’s relationship with God. He’s got a responsibility to these people and, more importantly, to God. I get that!
What’s more, there’s the simple matter of him being right about the sabbath. There is to be no work done on that day. That’s the law. It must be kept. Because if there are some exceptions to the law the whole thing breaks down. Rather than “10 Commandments” they become “10 Pretty Decent Ideas.”
It must have been exciting to have Jesus come and teach in his synagogue. After all, Jesus is getting to be a pretty big name. Booking Jesus for this sabbath would score him quite a few points with the whole town.
It starts off great, but then it begins to slide off the rails. Jesus sees this crippled woman in the crowd. He stops his teaching and calls her up front. He tells her she is set free and touches her. Suddenly she stands up straight and starts praising God. Unusual, and certainly good for her—except he did it on the sabbath. The one day he can’t do this. And he of all people should know better. It’s just not right. It’s not the way we do things. It’s not how the law works. It’s not respectful to God.
So he feels he has to say something. He has to call out Jesus’ disrespectful behavior. God cannot be pleased with Jesus’ blatant disregard for God’s own law.
Further, he’s got to make sure the members of his synagogue understand this too. He believes that their relationship with God is at stake here. He’s got to rescue them from this type of thinking that you can break God’s law whenever it suits you. This has to stop. And it has to stop now. Jesus has just gone too far.
I get it. If we allow Jesus to push his agenda far enough, I suspect we all can sympathize with this synagogue leader. We all trust what we know, our faith traditions, and our own views and interpretations. And at some point Jesus will go beyond our views, beyond what we’re comfortable with. He will. And when he does:
That’s why some of us have a hard time when the church isn’t like it used to be—Jesus goes too far with his “I’m doing a new thing” message.
That’s why some of us have a hard time welcoming immigrants and refugees—Jesus goes too far in his concern for the poor and oppressed.
That’s why some of us have a hard time seeing people who aren’t Christian as equal—Jesus goes too far in loving everyone.
That’s why some of us have a hard time recognizing how violent our culture is—Jesus goes too far with peace and loving our enemies.
That’s why some of us have a hard time admitting our complicity with racism and sexism—Jesus goes too far with his whole “those at the top will be brought low and those at the bottom will be lifted up” thing.
Sooner or later, Jesus will go too far for all of us. If we don’t think so, we’re not hearing all that Jesus is saying.
As uncomfortable as that can be, Jesus “going too far” is actually the best news of all for us. However far we think we need to be forgiven, Jesus takes forgiveness for us even further. Whenever we are feeling unloved or unlovable, Jesus takes his love for us even further. Every time we come to believe we are unappreciated or worthless, Jesus takes his inclusion of us even further. It’s hard to believe how far he goes. You know how far it is? He goes all the way to the cross.
We get to the point where it’s hard to follow Jesus because he just goes too far. And yet, for our sakes, and for the sake of the whole world, thank goodness he does.