Archive for July 2010

Outlaws, Cripples and Churchmen

July 5, 2010

We have been reading the Book of Mark in my Saturday morning Bible study. The readings over the last several weeks have made quite an impression on me in the following way. I have been struck with how out-of-the-ordinary Jesus was for the people in his culture. He said and did things that were startling. I am not sure if I can fully grasp how radical Jesus was. I have grown up hearing stories about Jesus and have also learned a little about the culture and the religion of the people he came to. However, many of the stories and images I have don’t fully communicate how controversial his teachings were, how counter-cultural his actions were and how challenging his life was for the educated, the religious people and the cultural leaders of his day.

This past Saturday we read Mark chapter three. One section of this chapter is a story of Jesus healing a man’s hand on the Sabbath. Here is the account in the Message version:

• 1-3 Then he went back in the meeting place where he found a man with a crippled hand. The Pharisees had their eyes on Jesus to see if he would heal him, hoping to catch him in a Sabbath infraction. He said to the man with the crippled hand, “Stand here where we can see you.”
• 4Then he spoke to the people: “What kind of action suits the Sabbath best? Doing good or doing evil? Helping people or leaving them helpless?” No one said a word.
• 5-6He looked them in the eye, one after another, angry now, furious at their hard-nosed religion. He said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” He held it out—it was as good as new! The Pharisees got out as fast as they could, sputtering about how they would join forces with Herod’s followers and ruin him.

The thought from this passage that caused me to stop and reflect on was that a group of religious people were not willing to allow a healing to take place because it was a violation of their law. Think about it. The law was developed in response to the original commandments given to Moses by GOD on Mount Sinai. Over the course of hundreds of years; sincere, intelligent, and devout men worked at analyzing, interpreting and enacting law which they believed came from GOD. By the time of Jesus, law regarding the Sabbath had been expanded and solidified so that there was a strict set of activities that could and could not be done so that people would be in compliance. Performing work of almost any type was prohibited including most daily domestic chores. It is clear from this passage that the healing of a crippled man was considered work and therefore forbidden.

It is easy for us today to dismiss this Sabbath law as foolishness or anachronistic and in doing so we miss the impact of Jesus’ actions and the response of the Pharisees. Indeed, the law made perfect sense, it was widely followed and infractions were punished. One aspect of the law that is important to remember is that in the mindset of the religious people of Jesus’, God’s work could not be done outside of the law. And so, even “good works” such as healing a sick or crippled person could not be of God or God-honoring since breaking the Sabbath was opposed to God and God’s law. We may think that violating the Sabbath was a minor infraction; I think that it was a greater crime than we realize.

Jesus chose to do good while breaking the law instead of not breaking the law and leaving the crippled man broken. What are the implications for me today? How am I to know what good I should be about, even at the cost of breaking the law, violating convention or upsetting people?