Deuteronomy 5:12-15 Psalm 81 2 Corinthians 4:5-12 Mark 2:23-3:6
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
You know, we can knock the Old Testament for saying stuff we don’t accept anymore; cultural things that don’t fit into twenty-first century life; but surely keeping the Sabbath is not one of them. We could work seven days a week and might be driven to because of the necessities of life that we have to pay for – food, rent, transportation, taxes for mutual security and common services and of course our tithe to the Church – but we have frail bodies even the Charles Atlases and Arnold Schwarzeneggers of this world succumb to the rigours of life. God did His work and then rested, so should we. We were meant to have time to relax because given the pressures of life we wouldn’t rest unless forced to. You’ve heard that commercial for a truck “Just one more load” that’s us.
Then true to form some people, the Pharisees in this case, took God’s good idea about beneficial rest and twisted it out of recognition into an oppressive rule. There is always someone who loves to spoil things by making regulations to force their will on others. It used to be so that sports were never played on Sunday and stores never opened Sunday because society said so. That’s a cultural norm that has been changed the way the New Testament changed the Old about eating and wearing certain things or not.
Jesus faced an even more rigourous regime than the Lord’s Day Act of our time, He had to deal with the Pharisees. An example: you couldn’t walk more than three thousand paces on the Sabbath (I guess they had to check their Fit Bits all the time to make sure they wouldn’t transgress). Even worse the latrines that the Essenes at Qumran used were three thousand five hundred paces from town. The solution to avoiding the rules and still to void on the Sabbath was to walk halfway the afternoon before ! Deviousness does not mean compliance nor lead to holiness. Holiness has to be genuine or it just ain’t holy.
One Sabbath Jesus was walking through the fields and the disciples picked a few heads of grain and rubbed them between their fingers. The Pharisees called that work ! How ridiculous ! And Jesus took them to task for their nit picking. Elsewhere Jesus slammed them for their misguided desire to please God, in the Gospel of Matthew He says “You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (23:24). Which of us has not picked out a little bug from a sweet cool glass of lemonade on a hot Summer afternoon only to swallow the lemonade’s unhealthy load of sugar in a single gulp ? Same thing ! Jesus takes it further He goes to the synagogue and horror upon horror He heals a man of a life-limiting condition. How dare He, you can do good things the rest of the week, why spoil Sunday ? Why spoil Sunday with good works, using God-given powers ? The shame of it ! And of course Jesus shows the Pharisees up for the hypocrites they are.
One thing we shouldn’t do Sunday or any other day is force other people to comply with our personal preferences. Jesus loves it when we buy-in to God’s Law, but forcing others to our way is sinful. Making other cultures comply to WASPishness is not Christian but demonstrating what being a true Christian is – is pure gold.
If you don’t believe sports should be played Sundays, don’t watch. If you don’t want to shop on Sundays don’t, but when you run out of milk one Sunday and the store is just across the street, ask yourself, can you do without or should you break your rule just this once ? Don’t be an hypocrite ! That’s a trivial example I know but if getting the milk because a child needs it, is a good work – wouldn’t you get a carton or bag ? And if the child needed an aspirin or Vicks Formula 44 wouldn’t you get it ? Of course you would ! That’s exactly what Jesus did.
God knows life is not perfect, we are not perfect and we are going to mess up. Thank God there is forgiveness. Adherence to the Law is right but so is setting it aside on occasion. An extreme example is “thou shalt not kill” but we do in wartime in the name of self-preservation. For some people it is impossible to “honour thy parents” because of the way they were mistreated as children, although forgiveness should be the next order of the day. “Thou shalt not steal’ but if what is owned endangers life (taking a gun away from a maniac) or might save a life (taking another’s car to follow a hostage taker) surely that is ok. The two Laws that should never be broken though are, not worshipping other gods and misusing God’s name to justify personal opinion. Emergencies can justify almost everything but blaspheming God (Matthew 12:32) cannot be forgiven.
God knows life is not perfect, throughout life there are inequities – the Da Silvas seemingly just got away with fraud on a technicality, they took advantage of rules and probably dodged the course of justice, but as with the Pharisees God will correct the problem. Trust in God not the rules of mankind. And of course conscience has so much to do with all this especially as the conscience is guided by the Holy Spirit working in us.
So where do we go with all the laws and rules ? Easy there are only two commandments we really need to keep, love God, love your neighbour. If you follow those two simple laws and are guided by the Holy Spirit within you to judge whether you should get the milk or the needed medication or go to a game on a Sunday you cannot go wrong. Amen.