When you want a horse to stay put, but you don't want to tie it out, you may use hobbles. You can fashion hobbles from a piece of rope, or you can use a set (like the ones I borrowed from a rancher for the sake of visual illustration) that resemble a leather belt, or perhaps more, an oversize set of leather handcuffs. The idea is that you fasten these around the horse's front legs to prevent them from wandering off too far. They have freedom to wander a little, to graze, to move, but not much.
It struck me somewhere along the way that the woman Jesus healed in Luke 13 was hobbled. Jesus even alludes to something similar at the end of the story when he talks about leading out an ox or a donkey that's been tied. She was not unable to function, but she was unable to function fully. She was slowed, stooped, bent, and could not straighten herself. Jesus removes her physical hobbles and sets her free.
That's when the story gets interesting -- because the ruler of the synagogue (a man of considerable influence and power) rebukes her, and by extension Jesus, for being healed on the Sabbath. Jesus replies by labeling the man a hypocrite -- literally, someone who wears a mask. The term originally came from the Greek theater, where actors would don a mask to portray their character, and sometimes several characters. Jesus is telling the man -- and apparently others who were indignant that Jesus broke the Sabbath laws -- that he himself is hobbled, masked. He is not free. He's like a donkey or an ox that is tied up and can't get to water.
Think about the ways we hide, the masks we wear. There is the mask of "I'm fine" when really we're deep down wounded, afraid of being hurt again. There's the mask of mindlessness when we train ourselves not to think too deeply about things, not to dig in, just to remain on the self-indulgent surface of life. There's the mask of condemnation and judgmentalism -- we direct our gaze at those who fall short and point out their flaws. This is a mask we wear in order to prevent anyone from looking too closely at us. There are tons of masks, and each one is a hobble. They limit our movement, limit our freedom, keep us from enjoying all that God created us to enjoy.
If you look at the context, this chapter is about repentance. "Repent or you will likewise perish" is Jesus' cheery advice to those concerned about the misfortunes of others. Jesus tells a story about a tree on the verge of being cut down if it doesn't produce fruit, and the gardener begs one more year in hopes there's still time for the tree to change. There's an urgency to this story, a desperate need for repentance.
Notice that both Jesus and the woman show up. They show up for worship on the Sabbath day, even though they both had other things they could be doing. Jesus shows up to teach; the woman shows up to put herself in a place where God can work if he chooses. How often do we fail even to show up? The woman does, and today is the day Jesus is there to take her hobbles off.
Repentance means, at least in part, that we come to Jesus authentically, honest about who we are and the masks we wear. He already knows our core, but this is the opportunity for us to be honest with him about what's going on. It's a chance for him to bring life and healing into our deadly, burdened, hypocritical lives.
What hobbles you? What masks do you wear? What prevents you from being authentic with Jesus? Are you going to show up today, and ask Jesus to heal you?