Life brings opportunity after opportunity to respond to what is before us, rather than what is already past. A built-in response, even from such a revered place as doctrine, seems to continually miss the mark. If we substitute any systemic response for that of paying attention to what is needed now, we eventually run afoul of the hypocrisy demon.
To know a rule without the ability to recognize when to use it and when to ignore it begins to put us in a box that will eventually, in turn, be used to put everyone else in a box and relate to them as less than human (otherwise they wouldn’t be in a box).
So it is that Jesus [read, “you”] is able to see a woman in need of an encouraging word (a first step toward a healing word - a healing word that would allow a scan of a larger horizon than the dirt at her feet).
Jesus could have joined others in the hypocrisy box, simply by having his eye on G*D’s judgment and rule from yesterday that would constrain us today. Instead, Jesus actually saw a woman first, rather than a set of rules that would dim her in his eye (each layer of rule further obscuring her presence and reality) and perhaps make her invisible. Instead, Jesus was looking around him with an eye to G*D’s mercy. Instead of dimming the woman, she began to become brighter and clearer. Jesus was able to see the straightness in her bent form and to call it forth.
It is noteworthy that the issue of hypocrisy is connected with shame. The approach to rules first, rather than mercy, is meant as an insulation from engaging life. The rules simplify our life and we all participate in them to some extent (they do keep traffic moving). And to be caught out, when we thought we had our protection up, failing in basic care for one another, we are ashamed - partly for the good we could have done, but didn’t, but mostly for having trusted our rules and finding that they didn’t keep us from getting called out - the Living G*D we thought we had under control is moving on leaving the husks of rules behind.
It seems our lives are complex enough that there is hypocrisy in every life. At stake is the amount and the arena of our hypocrisy. A part of our task is simply to be aware of the many avenues through which we are hypocritical and to begin lessening how much we have in a particular arena and to reduce the fields in which we are active. This is both individual and communal work.
In this story shame will lead to revenge for having been shown to be out of touch. An important question for every day is how we gauge our hypocrisy level. Can we even see that we have one? Is it high enough to keep us blind to the needs of people as we “should” all over them? Is is low enough that we can better see folks and move toward them with mercy? May you be blessed with a bit less tolerance for rules for the sake of power than yesterday and a bit more mercy toward all than you thought you had - and the same tomorrow.