Again in this text we see Jesus reaching out in his authority to demonstrate God's love to a surprising person -- a person who would have been considered a throwaway by her society. This woman has been bound for eighteen years, and no doubt her disability had reduced her tangible value to the people around her. Oh, her? She can't do much. She's so bent over and crippled up. Poor woman. Their pity masks the fact that they have thoroughly devalued her. Jesus sees her not as a poor crippled woman deserving of pity, but as a daughter of Abraham afflicted unjustly by Satan these past eighteen years. Because it seems so far outside their abilities to heal her, they have written her off. Jesus, on the other hand, frees her and restores her place and her dignity.
I preached once on this text in a tiny Presbyterian church in Jordan, Montana, among people who knew horses. I borrowed an old set of hobbles from a rancher and used them to illustrate what Jesus is talking about in this text. What do hobbles do? They bind a horse, limit its movement, impede its freedom. God created horses for speed and grace and strength, and hobbles limit all of that.
What are your hobbles? What are the factors that keep you from being all God created you to be? This is a hard question, and often uncomfortable to explore. Maybe they are obvious, like this woman's physical disability. Maybe they are more subtle, more hidden like a secret addiction or a struggle with depression. Maybe your hobbles masquerade as a good thing -- a servant heart, an overabundance of empathy or kindness.
I've been wrestling lately with something a counselor told me a year and a half ago. He said, "You're so focused on being nice. You get a lot of your identity from being a nice person. Don't get me wrong, kindness to others and compassion for others' failings are good qualities. But you're so nice that you're not really nice. You don't set up any boundaries and people just run right over you." Au contraire, I thought, you should see the boundaries I have set up ... and quickly I ran through a bunch of examples in my head. But as we talked further, I realized there were a couple relationships close to my heart where I had allowed others to set my agenda, my limits. Jeff, you can never shut down a conversation. You can never hang up the phone no matter how angry I'm making you. You can never refuse to talk about hard things, or even postpone those conversations. You can never point out my faults.
I was hobbled. Because I was raised to be a nice Minnesota boy who was kind and caring and avoided conflict, I allowed my boundaries to be stolen. I had promised myself that I would never walk away from hard things, and somehow that got twisted in my heart to mean I could never say, "Enough," no matter how badly I wanted to, no matter how right it would have been to do so.
I've been processing those hobbles lately. I have a lot of time to ponder relationships and boundaries and what kindness actually looks like in practice. I'm letting Jesus bring those things to light. It's a subtle, time-consuming process. Jesus says that God's rule in our lives is like that sometimes -- like a tiny mustard seed that seems like nothing. Like a throwaway, until it sprouts and grows. Like yeast, that seems like useless powder until you see what it does to a lump of bread dough. The subtle, seemingly negligible rule of God sets all other powers on their heels. It destroys the hobbles that bind us -- not always in a flash of freedom, but often in a long, challenging season of reflection, growth and change. It allows us, like a running horse, to bring our strength and grace into God's service.
What are your hobbles?