The fact that she was freed from eighteen years of pain was lost on him. He could not see past the threat to his own authority. So, when the circumstances of this event conflicted with his religious understanding his response was not joy or amazement, but a reasserting of law and order – an indignant reasserting of power. Jesus exposed his preposterous hypocrisy by pointing out a simple inconsistency. The people were delighted. The powers-that-be were left exposed for who they truly were.1
Power is not a public servant but is truly self-serving and self-preserving. The struggle to gain and then to maintain power becomes the focus of the powerful leaving little to no room for any true progress. When enough pressure mounts it is forced to engage but moves no further than platitudes and disingenuous sentiments. “I hear you” is an empty stalling tactic that maintains the status quo. As in the story above, this woman’s situation had been around for eighteen years and when it was finally remedied those in power cried foul because, at that point, their leadership nor approval were needed. Their power was, at that moment, irrelevant. Reasserting their authority, the powerful reminded the people that “There are six other days for this. We have instituted rules about what can and what cannot be done on this day.” But, there were not six other days for it. There was that day when the one person who could do something about it was there.
Power creates a false complexity and gets bogged down in minutiae. For the powerful, it couldn’t be as simple as someone getting healed. No, their rules and “laws” kept them from doing what was right. Today, that is why our healthcare system is such a mess, gun reform (or progress on ending mass violence) has been bogged down for decades and those without significant resources are powerless against the legal system. Power cares more about “the law” than it does the person. This leads to hypocritical situations where a father who immigrated here thirty years ago is separated from his family by “lawmakers” who claim to uphold family values as they wash their hands of it with the dirty soap of “just upholding the law.”
This goes beyond our government into our places of work, our churches, and our personal relationships. CEO’s get golden parachutes while employees get let go. Investors drive the business plan that exploits the worker and neglects any responsibility we have to take care of the planet we live on. Big givers shape the church in their own image and Lead Pastors say only what will keep them employed. Progress in theology and function is slowed to an ineffective crawl or scoffed at all together. Again, the powerful stay unaffected and in place.
Right after this ridiculous event happened in the synagogue, Jesus makes clear the contrast between the synagogue they were in and the kingdom of heaven. The synagogue was a rigid structure with chief seats for the powerful. The kingdom of heaven was different. It was more like a seed that grew into a tree where the birds of the air perched.2 The people came into the synagogue on the terms of the religious rulers. The kingdom of heaven is there, like a tree, for anyone that needs rest. The synagogue was governed by rules. The kingdom of heaven is like a tree that grows and adapts to fulfill its purpose.
So it should be with our government, our laws, our churches and all the systems that we have created. If we truly wanted to create a system that provided healthcare to every person equally, we could. Yet money and power bog us down in arguments that miss the point of finding a solution for the greater good. If we really wanted to find a way to decrease violence and to keep our kids safe in schools, we would move beyond arguing amended rights. But money and the powerful breed fear, wash their hands of responsibility and hide behind a facial expression of concern. Nothing changes because lessening violence or providing care for everyone are not truly our first priority. We must be honest about that.
As Christians, when we talk about repentance, forgiveness of sins and use the word gospel, we must understand that the injustices of our political, economic and social systems are included in our long list of sins. Beyond our own personal immoral failures, collectively we are responsible for the state of our political, economic and social systems and these systems are connected to and used to carry out some of humanity’s greatest sins. And this collective responsibility includes the church. For when we fail to speak out against such things for fear of losing our “big givers” and our ministry jobs we let money have the last word and the powerful keep things under their control. We fall victim to the false complexity of our political issues and fail to speak clearly where clarity is desperately needed.
But the kingdom of heaven does not seek to change the world by starting with the powerful and trickling down. Indeed, it is like a man with a small seed, that when planted becomes a great tree. When we look to the powerful to change things, we are simply keeping them powerful. But, when we speak and act on our own, like Jesus, we will not need to ask for permission to heal.
1 Luke 13:10-17
2 Luke 13:18-19