Jakob fidgeted in his seat. It irritated him that people could not learn to quiet themselves as they entered the synagogue. When he was elected the president of the synagogue, he had told the rabbis that he would focus on improving the atmosphere of worship. He so yearned for the day that this synagogue would show all Israel how the Sabbath should be observed. He had talked with every family during the past few months, reminding them how important it was to keep God’s law and to reverence God as His law directed. Why couldn’t they do the simplest thing and enter this place of worship and learning quietly and respectfully?
A man paused at the doorway and looked around the room. His face was not familiar. He wore a proper prayer shawl, his head was covered respectfully. He made his way to a place among the men. He said nothing to anyone, simply bowing his head. Three other strangers followed him and sat nearby.
There was a twitter of feminine voices at the doorway. A little girl giggled, and Jakob heard a quick motherly “shhh.” Izak’s family entered; Izak sat behind the stranger, and his wife and daughters found places among the women.
Jakob looked back to the door. Deborah was struggling in. He almost wished that she would quit coming. Eighteen years ago, only a few weeks after her wedding, she had awakened with severe pain in her back. From that day to this, she had been unable to straighten up and stand normally. The woman who had once been the village’s most gracious hostess could hardly prepare a meal for herself, let alone for anyone else. Mikal, her husband, had never formally divorced her, but he never formally went home any more, either. Wizened lips told a story that Deborah had stolen the heart of some unnamed man, who subsequently invoked a wicked spirit to punish her for her marriage to Mikal.
Deborah settled awkwardly into a seat along the wall. Women on either side scooted away from her. Nobody wanted to be too close to someone possessed.
Jakob left his seat and approached the stranger.
“Good morning, praise God,” Jakob said
“Good morning,” the man replied.
“We welcome you to our humble house of worship,” said Jakob. “I am Jakob. And you are ?”
“I am Jesus, of Nazareth,” said the man.
“Are you the rabbi we have heard so much about?” Jakob asked.
“I am a teacher,” Jesus replied.
Jakob was not sure if he wanted to invite Jesus to read, since it would cause a big stir in the community. Maybe it would be better to let him sit quietly and worship like everyone else.
When the rabbi took the scroll and began to promenade around the room, everyone stood to greet the Law. Deborah struggled to her feet, but remained bent almost double. Her difficulties always made people turn to look at her when she tried to stand or to sit; Jakob really wished her condition weren’t so distracting. Even Jesus was looking at her.
The scroll was returned to its place in the ark at the front of the room. Everyone sat down except Jesus and Deborah. Deborah was obviously trying to find some graceful way to sit down when Jesus spoke.
“Deborah, Deborah, you do not need to struggle so,” he said.
Deborah stopped moving and raised her head as far as it would go.
“I have no choice, sir,” she said. “I am sorry to interfere with worship.”
“Woman, you are free from your infirmity,” Jesus said.
“What?” Deborah replied.
“Stand up,” Jesus said.
Jakob started to reprimand Jesus for interrupting worship, but he stopped in his tracks as he saw Deborah slowly unwind her crippled body from the curves and twists of the past eighteen years. She stood tall and straight, her eyes opening large. “Oh! Oh!” she cried out.
Everyone in the room stood up and rushed forward. Women chattered and began to hug Deborah. Tears streamed down the faces of the women, and little girls laughed and skipped around the tall woman who could not stop crying and laughing all at once. Men took Jesus by the arm and began to question him intently. The room buzzed with unworshipful conversation. Jakob was distraught.
“Quiet! Quiet!” he shouted. People were slow to respond, but eventually all heads turned toward the synagogue president. “Have you forgotten that this is Sabbath? Do you so quickly abandon worship and give your attention to this magic show?”
Deborah suddenly found her voice. “Jakob!” she said, “This is not magic. It is a miracle of God.”
“Miracle, indeed,” Jakob replied. “Aren’t there six days for work to be done and only one set aside for worship and rest? After eighteen years, couldn’t you be healed on some other day and not disrupt our worship? And you,” he said, turning to Jesus, “if you are a real teacher, couldn’t you speak up for our obligation to keep the Sabbath holy? Was it really necessary to stage your performance here? On the Sabbath? Do you really need attention so much that you try to upstage God? Don’t you even care about obedience to God’s Law?” He clenched his fists, and the rabbi took hold of his elbow as if to prevent actual violence against Jesus.
The crowd backed away from Jesus. The clamor subsided to a sullen buzz.
“You hypocrite!” Jesus said to Jakob. There was an audible gasp from the crowd.
Jesus turned to face the people. “Hypocrites! All of you. Do you leave your livestock to suffer thirst on the Sabbath? Is it against God’s law to give a donkey a drink on the Sabbath? Is the misery of a thirsty ox more critical in your eyes than the misery of this daughter of Abraham whom Satan has bound for eighteen years?”
Jakob was furious. For months he had been working with this assembly in the hope of achieving perfect obedience to the Law, at least with regard to Sabbath observance. This circus was destroying everything he had worked for. He tried to speak, but the words would not come out.
Jesus spoke again. “If mercy to beasts of burden is lawful on the Sabbath, is it not lawful to free this woman from eighteen years of misery on the Sabbath?” Jesus looked deeply into Jakob’s eyes.
Jakob sat down. The rabbi sat down with him. The elders of the synagogue looked from one to another, but none of them spoke.
The congregation melted into a rabble of excitement as everyone, male and female gathered around Jesus and Deborah. They smiled and shouted and asked Jesus many questions. Jakob sat silent in his chair as the whole crowd gradually exited the synagogue. Sabbath worship was over.
© 2007 Katherine Harms
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