Luke 13:10-17 – The 14th Sunday after Pentecost – for Sunday, August 21, 2016
The synagogue leader, incensed that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, responded . . .” (Luke 13:14)
The synagogue leader remained, still reeling from the unexpected confrontation. The words he’d challenged the Nazarene with kept repeating inside his mind, as if a giant muscled an anvil back and forth, slinging it against the sides of his head:
There are six days during which work is permitted. Come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath day!
He could’ve done better than those sentences. He was, after all, the leader . . . their leader. The one the congregation trusted. The one people looked to for an example. Wasn’t he the one who knew the laws, the scripture, and the difference between right and wrong?
He should’ve kept it simple and ordered the interloper to leave!
Get out of my synagogue. Now!
He should’ve shamed Jesus. Reminded him who really knew the law!
You dishonor God and the Sabbath and all of the laws of Moses and do not deserve to be called one among the Chosen! You are not a teacher, but a charlatan and a disappointment!
He should’ve reminded him who was superior! This wasn’t Jesus’ home, and no one had invited him to be here!
How dare you come to a place not yours, and speak to a people that are not yours, and presume to heal those you will soon walk away from. Take your fancy tricks and uppity followers and bother another village with your disgraceful behavior!
He should’ve threatened him.
I’ll turn you over to the Romans. They will be worse than God’s wrath. If you are so powerful as to heal a sick woman with your touch, then try to stop a centurion with those same hands when he strikes you with a whip until you cry for your mother!
The leader of the synagogue stood in the spare space. The benches were now empty. The walls, where only a short time before men had leaned against them, were barren. The hard-packed floor, scuffed by thousands of calloused heels over the years, seemed to shift beneath him, like a boat traversing the Sea of Galilee. Outside, the day’s light faded. Inside, a few oil candles flickered.
Why had he said anything? Why did he so easily yell and shout?
But he always was shouting . . . or teaching, scolding, preaching, answering questions, making decisions, encouraging, and correcting. Didn’t everyone expect him to offer an opinion or cast judgment?
In truth, he wasn’t angry with Jesus. How he wished he hadn’t said anything. And what he’d just shouted—those perfect insults and accusations and arguments that he usually crafted after the person had left, after a debate ended—were lies, reminders of self deceit.
He crumpled to his knees, trying to pray to God for forgiveness, but the only sounds were his sobs. His tears sprinkled the floor, dark splotches on the dirt. Raising his head, which felt as heavy as a boulder, he gazed through the open door.
And then he glimpsed her, striding through shadows in the Sabbath’s final light.
It was Miriam*, the one Jesus’ touch had healed. Crippled for eighteen years, Miriam had always been a kind and generous woman. Unlike Jesus, all he’d ever done was pity her. Still kneeling, his body trembled, wracked with sobs. How many times had he instructed Miriam that God’s ways were mysterious, and that she’d likely sinned in the past, or her parents had sinned in the past? She should just accept her suffering.
Now she walked by. Upright. Healed.
How he despised Jesus.
No, not that.
Be honest, he said to himself and maybe to God.
He was jealous. Yes. He was ashamed. Yes, also that.
Why did anger and envy guide how he acted toward others? Why was he so afraid to be seen for who he really was: faithless, petty, a coward?
He wailed, head thumping against the floor. He didn’t care if the entire village heard him. And yet, he knew what he truly wanted to say. Not an insult. Not an accusation. Not a threat.
Damn the laws he demanded believers must follow. How did it happen that one day those commandments had become clever excuses instead of a path toward God’s mercy? If only he could turn back time. He stood, legs weak, whispering the words he’d longed to admit . . .
Teach me your way of love, Jesus.
A face appeared at the synagogue door.
“Are you all right?” Miriam asked. “Was someone weeping?”
He said nothing.
“Today was so different and . . .” her voice trailed. Quietly, she added, “You were right about breaking the Sabbath laws, but still”—her tone even softer, only heard because the interior was empty and silent—“didn’t Jesus also give me, give us, a blessing?”
He said nothing.
“I wondered if you’d come to my home and share a meal with my husband and family. It has been a long while since I’ve cooked much of anything. Would you join us? It would be our honor.”
Her invitation echoed in the hollow synagogue.
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*With Miriam, I created a name for the woman Jesus healed. My fiction is more than a name, for the synagogue leader was exclusively irksome in the Gospel story. Still, I like to wonder if the leader’s bluster was transformed. It might’ve been easy to condemn Jesus . . . but later what would’ve happened if he encountered the healed woman? Sometimes, it’s only the wounded that can help the wounded.