February 6, 2022
SCRIPTURE READING: Luke 6: 1-11
This morning Luke tells us that he has two Sabbath stories for us! Both happened on the Jewish Sabbath (which later turned into our Sunday!) It was a very important day for Jews. In the beginning, learning how to observe Sabbath was fairly simply explained:
- Deuteronomy 5: “Observe the Sabbath Day and keep it holy as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days shall you labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work – you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns….”
Very quickly, people wanted to know what that meant exactly and the scribes and Pharisees were happy to oblige.
By Jesus time, conservative Jews could not walk more than ⅔ mile total in a day, could not prepare food, could be put to death for carrying wood, couldn’t carry anything (like a purse), no writing, plowing, planting or harvesting. There were 39 categories of things prohibited.
All of these rules which make you tired just reading about them were for one reason: to give one day out of seven to God – to separate that day from all the others – to devote that day to worship God and serve and love others. When you put it that way, it sounds quite wonderful!
You could make an academic career around the business of studying the various rules for keeping Sabbath! The scribes were employed only to write and interpret them!
So…along comes Jesus who says: It’s time to take a fresh look at this rule-based way of living. People were becoming imprisoned by their own religion! Jesus came to proclaim, “release to the captives,” and to “let the oppressed go free!”
So on this particular Sabbath, Jesus and his 12 disciples were walking through a grainfield (possibly breaking the Sabbath by walking too far?) and his disciples “plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them.” The Pharisees jumped all over them! “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
On another Sabbath, he was in the synagogue with a man who had a withered right hand. And the Pharisees were hyper-alert! They were ready to have him arrested and taken to court! Then – a tricky thing he did:
He asked the man to “come and stand here.” (Jesus didn’t take any excess steps). Then he asked: “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?”
Then he asked the man to stretch out his hand. Once again, the only “work” being done was on the part of the handicapped man. As soon as he did it, his hand was restored. The Pharisees were furious.
I guess I can identify with the Pharisees. Basically, I’m the kind of guy who believes a rule is meant to be followed and under certain circumstances, I feel angry when they aren’t. For example, when the grocery stores had aisles where the limit was 10 items. I confess to counting the items in other people’s carts to see if they were breaking the rules. I don’t think I’m alone. On the other hand, I identify with the “Rule-breaker” Jesus! Adhering to a rule when disciples go hungry and a man has to endure a withered hand is ridiculous!
There is JUSTICE on the one side and MERCY on the other! I’m not always sure which should win out in this or that circumstance. I do believe that at the root of God’s justice is love. Love is patient and kind… It doesn’t insist on its own way… It does not rejoice in wrongdoing…bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. I Cor. 13.
So, I suppose you hoped I would come up with a perfect and concise formula as to when one should win out over the other. Not today! You have to struggle with it. That’s my wisdom for the day. And… you can’t decide for anyone but yourself. Deciding for yourself in the light of God is more than enough for any human to do.
We were watching a 50 year old episode of the Waltons the other day. A wet-behind-the-ears preacher came to Walton’s mountain. He was full of himself and green when it came to life’s sticky wickets.
He started to preach at the children for their wicked ways, the inner evil in their hearts, and the punishment of God that awaited them in Hell. Papa heard him and sternly warned him never to do that again. The young man was chastened, but not easily deterred. He was warming up for a sermon he was to preach before the whole community on Sunday under the revival tent.
On Saturday, he went to visit the Baldwin Sisters who offered him a taste of “the recipe.” He liked it and welcomed a refill, and then another until, as those things go, he ended up drunk. He didn’t need any chastising to feel totally unworthy of all he had professed and of what he thought had been his vocation.
He felt so low and sheepish that he refused to preach when the neighborhood gathered under the revival tent. But the people wouldn’t hear of it and they said: “You must! We are all here to listen!” So finally he did and the sermon was a humble confession of his total unworthiness to be even a servant of God. He sat down and the gathered community was silent until Grandpa Walton got up from his seat, walked down the dusty aisle, and began to sing:
Just as I am, and waiting not to rid my soul of one dark blot; to thee whose blood can cleanse each spot, O Lamb of God, I come, I come!
I guess that is at the core of the tension between justice and mercy! It’s that we all stand before God just the way we are (nothing more or less) and depend on mercy!
We have to figure out how to offer the same grace to one another.