Standing Tall: A Story by a Guilty Participant
August 21, 2016
I was so mad. They had warned us about him. And there he was. Right in the synagogue for services. I told the others to not let him say anything. But they were curious. They thought it would be interesting to see if anything happened. We were watching him. He knew it, but he didn’t care. It was like he was looking for a fight. And it didn’t take long.
He looked over into the women’s section and called her right into the middle of the room. Can you imagine such a thing? A woman right there in the midst of all the men in the synagogue. Shameless.
If people were looking for a show, they didn’t get it. No magic incantation. Not even a prayer. He just looked at her and said something like, “Woman, you are set free.” He laid her hands on her and immediately that shriveled, bent-over woman stood up straight as could be. If we all hadn’t known her, we would have thought it was some kind of trick. But she had been that way for years. I don’t think I ever looked at her in the eyes until then. And that was a mistake.
Well, let me tell you. I was not going to let him get away with that. I was the leader of the synagogue. Somebody had to say something. And since nobody else was, it was up to me. That was the second mistake. I had heard the stories. But he’s good. You would think having the truth on your side would count for something.
Nobody was arguing that it was wrong for this poor woman to be “set free,” as he said it. But just not on the Sabbath. I mean the Sabbath is key to the whole thing. And once you loosen up the Sabbath regulations, there’s no telling what would be next. Look, he let that woman come into the men’s section. And she came. And even if he was so willing to flaunt the laws of God, she should have known better.
The leader of the synagogue should have the last word, but he took it. Surprise, huh? And he said that we, and he meant me and the other leaders, care more about our animals than that woman. That was it. I just left.
I wish, now, I hadn’t gone right home. I was not at my best. I said some things to my wife and daughters that I shouldn’t have said. And things my sons should not have heard either. But I wanted them to hear. I was standing up for the ways I had always been told were supposed to be. It was more than the Sabbath. It was challenging everything and I didn’t want the women in my family to get wrong ideas from the Nazarene.
I was still mad when I went to bed. But it wasn’t him I was thinking about when I woke up. It was the woman. We said terrible things about her as we were leaving. Things that weren’t true, but we wanted to believe them, anyway. But it was her eyes. So stooped over for all those years. Never really looking at anybody. But now she could look at us. I saw her, she saw me. We were eye to eye. I didn’t want to make that connection. But I can’t unmake it now. That brief glance and everything has changed.
He called her a daughter of Abraham. I was shocked when he said it. I had never heard anybody say such a thing. Sons of Abraham, sure. But who cares about daughters of Abraham? He said God did. And I looked at her in the eyes. He was right, after all. She was a daughter of Abraham. She counted as much as anyone else in that room.
I couldn’t believe it when so many in the congregation cheered for him at the end. I heard that back in his hometown they tried to throw him over a cliff after he preached in the synagogue there. No such luck that morning. But now I realize that lots of folk were standing up a bit straighter that morning. It wasn’t just about the woman. How could I have been so out of touch? How did we get to this? Wasn’t our religion always supposed to be about ‘setting free’ and not binding up? Isn’t it about helping others to stand tall and really see them, let them really see you? He seemed to think so.
That turned out to be just my first time with him. The next time he was nearby, I went to see what was going on. And then again. And again. And again. Things got pretty ugly. It’s no wonder they killed him. That woman. And all the other bent over ones. He called them to the center. And all of those already there didn’t like it. They only knew one way to do things. They had to make sure we didn’t start seeing each other.
Killing him didn’t work, though. He came back to life. But now that’s not so surprising to me. After all, he took something dead in me and brought it back to life. And all because of that woman.
We’re all new at this thing that some of us are starting to call The Way. Now I see her all the time, and she seems even taller. She is even kind to me. We’re in this thing together.
It turns out it was not just about her and other people in the synagogue. It’s about everybody. That’s been hard for some of us to grab hold of. But we’ll get there. Once you really start turning your eyes toward one another rather than away, you can’t stay with things the way they are. That’s why we have to understand that we are all a bit bent over, but we can be set free.
I don’t know where this thing is going. Some in the group keep saying that Jesus is coming back soon. But I’m not so sure. If the whole point is for him to make things like they are supposed to be, why didn’t he do it then? It seems like a lot has been invested in us and it’s for the long haul. I don’t think he came to change everything on his own, but to change us so we could change everything with him.
I think the real danger is success. If we keep going, and it’s starting to look like we will, it’s going to be really easy to eventually become what we used to be. We are so used to us vs. them rather than it’s all us. Will we draw our own boundaries, come up with our own rules and regulations, have our own insiders and outsiders, cling to power at the expense of the powerless? Our religion should make us tall, but it makes so many of us small. We should be open to others, walking across bridges instead of building walls. But can we?
That morning. I think he and I really did share a similar concern. We wanted to make sure faith was lived out with integrity and truth. It was important to both of us that God really be honored. But the religion and all the trappings and privilege it afforded me became more important than the people, more important than a bent over woman standing right in front of me, who I had never looked in the eye before. I had never reached out a hand to her to help her straighten up. That’s the honor he said we should be showing God.
It wasn’t really that long ago. Just a few years. But it seems like a lifetime. I am so different now than I was then, and hope I will be much different than I am now in a few more years. I think the way that can happen is that I keep on this road. The more of us bent over ones that travel together the better. We can speak the same word of freedom to each other. We can lift up our own heads and look at others right in the eye. We can see each other.
I was so afraid he might show up in synagogue one day. And he did. But I didn’t realize it was the woman I was really scared of. And I’m still scared, a bit anyway. Who are the other bent over ones he wants me to see? How bent over am I? But I am still glad he showed up and that morning. And it was just as important that she was there, too.