Friday in the Fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 12:9-14; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:6-11

The Purpose of the Sabbath, Part 2

We have here another place where Jesus gets in trouble over Sabbath observance; indeed, it is presented in the gospels as the pivotal event as all three report that afterwards the Pharisees were determined to kill him.

In this passage, the Pharisees watch to see if Jesus will heal a man with a “withered hand,” that they might “accuse him.”  In Matthew’s gospel, they ask him if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath day, to set him up; in Mark and Luke, Jesus knows their thoughts already.  In Matthew’s account, Jesus exposes their hypocrisy asking which of them would refrain from pulling their sheep out of a pit on the Sabbath.  Jesus then teaches something we need to hear in our day: people are of more value than sheep or any other animal, as the only creature God made in His image (Genesis 1:26-27).  In Mark and Luke, Jesus asks the question whether it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath day, to take life or destroy it.  Mark adds that Jesus looked at them in anger because of their hardness of heart, and then healed the man.

So what is the problem here?  Some people may be surprised at what I am about to say but the Pharisees were a good thing that went bad (like so many other things in this world).  They arose during the “400 Silent Years” before our Lord’s birth when the Jews spent most of their time in captivity as a conquered nation.  They knew that God had punished them for disobeying His laws, as the prophets told them time and again.  So during those years of reflection, the Pharisees formed as a lay group determined that this should never happen again.  Well, that sounds reasonable.  The trouble came in what I called “fencing the law” the other day.  By this I mean that to make doubly sure no one broke the law and thereby incurred God’s wrath on the nation, the Pharisees (and others) added interpretations to answer questions and situations that might arise.  For instance, the Law says not to work on the Sabbath day.  Alright then, what constitutes work?  How far can I walk?  Can I get my sheep out of a pit?  Can I heal a man?  But there were other places where hypocrisy was obvious as when a man was allowed to give his money to God (the temple) rather than support his aging parents (Mark 7:9-13).  The lesson is that Bible interpretation is serious business.  God does not need us to protect his word; it is perfect as it is.  It is actually quite readable and understandable.  What God wants from us is to understand it as it is written, neither adding to nor taking away from, but to allow it to prune us and build us up after godliness.  Remember, it is not we who read the Bible as much as it is the Bible that reads us.

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