Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath,…” (Luke 13:10-14a, NRSV)
A few weeks ago, I had the most peculiar of experiences. I needed to go to a local credit union to cash a check. It was near closing time and the location I ended up having to get to was a new branch. Upon pulling up and rushing in, I expected long lines and the loud hustle and bustle of tellers and customers at the end of the day. Instead, I got eerie silence and quiet whispers. Surrounding the lobby were the normal offices and the people in them were busy carrying out their work. There was the usual kiosk for information, deposit slips and other relevant banking materials. The most peculiar thing was that I could not find the tellers. There was a peculiar looking wall at one end of the lobby. Where the tellers should have been these telephone-booth like devices were mounted in their place. Seeing no other place to go, I walked to the telephone.
It was at the telephone that a screen popped on and the teller greeted me. I conducted my transaction through a telephone, television screen and tubular air capsule without ever touching the person or even being in the same personal space as the teller. It was really eerie and smacked of a warped futuristic sci-fi film. I understand all of the reasons why technology is employed in this way, but it doesn’t change the unnerving quality of this social experience.
Continuing in this vein, I am reminded of a recent trip onboard a plane. In preparation for takeoff, we were asked to turn off ALL electronic devices. (You know the drill and routine and all the trouble Alec Baldwin got into last year!) The amount of people who waited until the second or third time that the cabin stewards came and asked them personally was astonishing. It was as if they physically could not part with their devices for the 5-10 minutes that is requested according to FAA regulations. They could not stand to speak to the person next to them or engage them in any dialogue. Are we that dependent on technology to insulate us from having to speak to one another?
I look at these two events (and a myriad of others that define our life together), and I see a larger theme of dependence over technological convenience. There is a genuine sense of escapism in our interactions with one another. We don’t want to talk with each other. There is an attempt to intentionally avoid contact with one another. Our technological devices and mechanism gives us ‘permission’ to opt out of tactile social engagement. Social media, online resourcing of goods and services, and the readily accessible use of mobile devices all contribute to a narrowing of our tangible social engagement with the others in our physical surroundings. In other words, we take opportunities to be closer to the people who are often physically distant from us, while at the same time not knowing the people who we live with, in our own homes.
Families so often eat dinner with phones at the ready, texting, emailing, Tweeting, Instagramming, or “checking in”, with the entire world about that they are doing while not engaging the physicality of the room in which they presently occupy! On the surface it is so absurd that it is laughable to see in restaurants. My family and I are guilty of it as well. My wife and I can be in the same room at the same time (a commodity that is precious given both of our hectic schedules) and not have a conversation. Despite the preciousness of the moment, we will both surf the internet, Facebook (its verbal expression), or simply looking at pictures on some mobile device while not speaking to the other about the basics of life together. I am not shunning or condemning the use of technology, I am challenging how it is changing our social interactions with one another. I do not think we have fully explored the ramifications of what it means to sacrifice tactile communication with JUST technology.
From the sacred writ, the story of this healing in a synagogue takes place with a woman who is crippled with an ailment for eighteen years. The text says she appears in the crowd when Jesus begins to teach. However, the cultural context of the day would mean that this most likely would not have been her first appearance. The theology of the New Testament includes this idea that ailments, maladies and disabilities all come from God. They serve as punishments and/or curses against the person for some sin to which many times the person was not even aware. (Thus you get the question later in the text about a crippled man, which one sinned, he or his father). Since the cultural context would have dictated to this woman her value and self-worth in God, she would have understood her ailment to be a punishment. Her only remedy then would have been to visit the place of God continually until she received favor from God to be released from this ‘curse’. While this theology is troubling for us in today’s culture, it does still exist. But that’s not the point here.
Given what I have just said, the amazing part in the text is that no one seems to take care or notice that this woman is in the ‘house of God’. She is part of the landscape and is essentially ignored in God’s house. The people of religious ilk have no desire to see her in her condition and simply go about their daily schedules and functions. They stare at the devices of their own making and the busyness of their own lives. They take no part in the shared experience of living with and next to this woman’s suffering. Until Jesus comes to the synagogue (insert church here)…
Jesus stops his busy schedule of teaching long enough to SEE the woman in her condition. In fact, isn’t that the hallmark of Jesus’ ministry: to see those in their life condition and experience and speak to them where they are? No need for the telephone, television hookup or the sit-in-a-room-texting syndrome. Face-to-face and eyeball-to-eyeball, he speaks to a woman who probably hasn’t been spoken to in 18 years. He sees her and heals her. For her, the attention of the Lord is more than enough to take away the years absence and neglect from her fellow congregants.
I hope that we take heed from the very simple lesson in the pericope (story) in the text. Keep your head up, your eyes open and mind sharp. The value in technology is its ability to aid our lives and not supplant our living. We still need and must have face-to-face dialogue and interaction. There is value in human touch and intimate knowledge and sharing. If that weren’t the case, then we wouldn’t be obliged to hold and kiss and love on babies like we do. Instead, something as simple as going to the bank is now devoid of any tactile human interaction. The ability to choose our information at the tips of our figures has already done enough to undermine social cohesion and the basic ability to disagree with our neighbor. More relevantly, the text tells us that God has something or someone who needs you to notice them, for you might provide the healing they have longed to receive.
Technology should not be an excuse to escape basic social interaction all the time. LOOK UP! There is a vision of truth in store for you…