Care Enough to Cause Trouble

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She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. (Luke 13:11)

For a decade before my father died, the same could have been said of him. He spent years alone in a dark basement apartment, so cramped he could not stand straight in the living room. For the few of us close enough to see, it was an ironic representation of his inner life.

Bent people and bent institutions surround us. We worship in bent churches, work with bent employees, and live in bent neighborhoods. Some of it goes on for generations, but even eighteen years, according to Luke's telling, is a long time to live in any kind of bent position. The sole, and sufficient, consolation regarding the extent of this infirmary list is that Jesus cares for all of it. "For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things" (Col. 1:19-20). The challenge is that we care for all of it too.

I'm humbled by Jesus' concern with "all things," not only because it includes me, but because his breadth of care calls my limited service into question. Consider a demonstration of this concern when he addressed more than just the bent woman in Luke 13.

Bent Woman or Bent Man?

The miracle took place on the Sabbath. It took place in a synagogue. It took place in front of a synagogue ruler. These elements never combined peacefully for Jesus, so we aren't shocked that the indignant religious leader confronted him in verse 14. But I must ask: Was Jesus surprised by this confrontation? Was he surprised by his own frustration with the synagogue ruler?

I doubt it. Jesus knew this situation would cause trouble, and he also knew it would create an opportunity to address the ruler's bentness. As he showed mercy to the bent woman, he showed mercy to the bent man. The act demonstrated Christ's role as the reconciler of more than just "easy" things. It showed him as the merciful gardener from Luke 13:8 who asked for "one more year" for a fig tree that wasn't producing.

Challenged to Care for All of It

Personally, I prefer to help people who desire help; who eagerly want to fix the bent parts. My dad wasn't one of those people. Nor was the synagogue ruler. Yet Jesus mercifully (and brilliantly) healed the Willing in order to address the unWilling.

It takes courage to stir the pot like this. It takes keen observation and tact to address bentness in coworkers and neighbors. It requires risk and, subsequently, long-haul vision to call your boss or parent or company to task. It also takes finesse.

The synagogue ruler didn't straighten up and praise God. His bentness resisted. But Jesus stood his ground and helped a person who needed help. As you work and worship and go about your daily life this week, ask that you might do the same. I suspect it will be challenging and may even cause some trouble with the establishment. Help people anyway. You won't regret it.

Questions for personal reflection, online discussion, or small groups:

  • Have you ever ignored the bentness of an opponent?
  • Have others addressed your bentness? Was frustration involved? Was name-calling involved? How did their concern ultimately help?
  • Why did Luke position this story between the parable of the fig tree (13:6-9) and the parable of the mustard seed (13:18-19)?
  • Whose bentness was more important to address in this story—the woman's or the man's?
  • It is possible that Jesus angered the synagogue ruler, not out of concern, but strategically to further his mission by turning more religious leaders against him. How would this alternative scenario still be an act of mercy?
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