The Struggle for Consistency
by Jacob Hudgins
The confrontation begins as Jesus teaches in a synagogue on the Sabbath day. “And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to hear, ‘Woman, you are freed from your disability’”(Luke 13:11-12). Jesus has compassion on this woman. She is a victim. He will not wait another day to do what he can for her (see Prov 3:27-28).
Yet the ruler of the synagogue is furious that he has healed on the Sabbath: “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and no on the Sabbath day!”(Luke 13:14). Jesus answers him by pointing out his inconsistency: “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?’(Luke 13:15-16). Jesus insists that this disability is the work of Satan and that it is always appropriate to undo Satan’s work. Yet he addresses the hypocrisy of allowing care for animals on the Sabbath while ignoring the care of people. What do we learn here?
Inconsistency can keep us from caring for others. There is a horrible irony in what Jesus rebukes. The synagogue leader (and those like him) demand that no one work on the Sabbath, even if a woman has suffered for 18 years. Yet if an ox or donkey needs water or rescuing (Luke 14:5), there is no concern about violating the Sabbath. Why would we conclude—from anything anywhere in Scripture—that animals are more important that people? Why would we think animals deserve a Sabbath exception in the interest of mercy while people do not? In our inconsistent application of God’s words, we often end up neglecting hurting people.
Inconsistency invalidates our judgments. Jesus highlights the man’s inconsistency because there is an implication behind it: if we are very strong about keeping God’s rules—but at other times very lenient about it—then it diminishes the force of our judgments. Who can take this synagogue ruler seriously when he chides Jesus about healing, then goes and works himself? Inconsistency also strongly implies that we are not accurately following God, since he is not the author of confusion (1 Cor 14:33).
Most importantly, inconsistency reveals priorities. Why do we think there are exceptions? What kinds of things are we inconsistent about? What do we let slide? The answers show what matters most to us. In the case of the synagogue ruler—and those who think like him—the priority is situations that affect him personally, like the needs of his cattle. But this odd instance, where an unimportant woman is receiving healing from an unorthodox, itinerant rabbi, is not worth such an exception. They are willing to break God’s rule for animals but not for Jesus. Their priorities are clear.
For Jesus, consistency should be about always doing what God wants done. “And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?”(Luke 13:16). This is about one of God’s people who has been bound by Satan. God wants her healed; she shouldn’t have to come back tomorrow. Jesus is consistent in always seeking to do precisely what God wants done—even when this opens him up to the charge of law-breaking.
Consistency is elusive and difficult. We must always be open to the possibility that we are inconsistent and blind to some weakness in ourselves. Yet we can also learn something about ourselves from such moments. May God bless us to consistently seek his will in all things.