It was the Sabbath day in a synagogue in Galilee. The crowd had gathered for worship as usual. Some Pharisees were there…they had been keeping tabs on Jesus for some time. Ever since Jesus had spoken “blasphemies” in forgiving a paralytic, they had been counting up their charges against Jesus. A few Sabbaths back they had caught Jesus and his disciples plucking and eating grain on the Sabbath. When confronted on this, Jesus said something that offended them even further, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28).
It wasn’t looking good for Jesus’ future…blasphemers and Sabbath-breakers didn’t have long lifespans in Israel.
Just as they had hoped, Jesus walks in the synagogue. Noticing a man with a shriveled hand Jesus said to him, “Stand up in front of everyone.” He continued, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” Not a word was said in reply.
Jesus told the man to stretch out his hand and as he did, he was healed.
Jesus’ two questions get to the heart of two things: the Law itself and the traditions that had been created to buffer the law. The intention of Sabbath in the Law itself was not only to save life but to to good for mankind. The traditions of the elders made provision for saving life but not for doing good for others…that could wait until Sunday.
Jesus heals the man in compliance with the Sabbath regulations in the Law of Moses but out of line with the traditions. Then, irony of ironies, we get this, “Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.”
They plot to kill Jesus on the Sabbath! They are violating not only the Law but the traditions they accuse Jesus of violating!
It seems to me that the Pharisees lived lives that had a lot to do with control…control of self and control of others. If you know much about control it is often fear-based. Maybe they feared losing influence. Maybe they feared being seen as insignificant in the eyes of the people. Maybe they feared their Pharisaical mission of ushering in the Messianic age via ritual purity to be at risk. That’s just it…when you view the world from a risk avoidance perspective you are viewing the world from the perspective of fear, control and reactivity.
What they failed to understand was that God and Jesus didn’t live from a perspective of scarcity and self-preservation or risk avoidance. They live and exist from a perspective of abundance (God can always make more). If one understood the Sabbath in its original context, one would not struggle to understand this nor would they create traditions (that later calcified into informal little “l” laws) that undermine the very laws they set out to protect, which was a smokescreen for self-preservation, preserving one’s own little kingdom.
We see this in some circles today. We see a theology (how we view God) and ecclesiology (how we view church) that operates out of fear of losing control of one’s small corner of the theological discussion. Because it is fear based rather than Spirit based…tradition based rather than scripture based…we find mean-spirited, reactive, vindictive approaches being used because that is the weapon of the fear-based army. We find those who do harm rather than good…who kill in their hearts rather than work to bring life to others. Those of this perspective don’t know anything else. They don’t operate out of an ecumenical abundance…that God is doing something with “them” as much or more than he is doing with “us” because they cannot conceive of anyone else being in the inner circle with God other than themselves and so you fear anyone else “making it” because you can only see them in relation with yourself rather than seeing them in relation with God.
In Christ you don’t have to live in fear. You don’t have to live a reactive life. You don’t have to “win” the conversation as if “losing” it will cost you some of your hard fought territory in the Christian conversation. God has a handle on things well enough without our help.
So let us let go of our pathological need to control. Let us stop being reactionary and embrace a life of patience and intentional love for all. Let us speak the truth, yes, but not in ways that counteract the message of the very truth we speak. Most important – let us not live in fear and scarcity but in shalom and abundance. When you do, you will experience Sabbath every day.