Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath

One sabbath he was going through the cornfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?’ And he said to them, ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.’ Then he said to them, ‘The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.’

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come forward.’ Then he said to them, ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

- Mark 2:23-3:6

I had a dream last night that troubled me. In this dream, I met a pastor and his family. We ate dinner together with many other people in his house. The pastor had cooked the meal. Later that evening, we received a telephone call that one person became deathly ill from one of the dishes cooked by the pastor. I was very worried about the rest of the people who had eaten of that dish. But then, a service was starting. I wanted to tell people and announce the news so that they'd get medical help or be aware of signs of illness. But because the service was starting, everybody had to get in their places. It was a very "modern" service; some of the young people who attended were in casual beach clothes - shorts and flipflops. I felt I wasn't allowed to speak even though the news could make the difference between life and death. But everybody there was so excited about the service the pastor was holding; his daughter's behavior indicated to me that the performance was what they thought important.

I didn't know that today's passage was this one until this morning. But my dream indicated very well, it seems to me, a sort of example of what the passage illustrates. Church really should be about healing, in every dimension. If we celebrate God, and the resurrection, then we must also celebrate and keep in mind just exactly what Jesus' ministry was about. In all ways, whether bringing the kingdom in order to restore sinners, preaching love and mercy, or practicing healing, or performing exorcisms, Jesus' ministry is exemplified by healing: the restoration of people to full selfhood, life in abundance. We do whatever it takes to remember that and hopefully to practice and assist that action.

I read in my study bible that rabbinical literature already had a saying: "The sabbath has been given unto you; you have not been given unto the Sabbath." But Jesus as Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath; he interprets the law with ultimate authority and puts his teachings into practice. The Pharisees are enemies of the Herodians, but to defend their practice of the law they will collaborate to rid themselves of Jesus. The two perspectives, one that adheres to strict rules of outward performance over doing good on the sabbath, and the one that says that doing good is more important, are incompatible.

I don't believe that I'd have had this dream if it were not a way of coming to terms with the fact that this understanding is as important today as it ever was. It doesn't matter what church or denomination one attends, either; the danger of idolatry of the outward form is always there, as my dream would indicate. We have to remember the point of the worship of God. To glorify God is to practice love and mercy - and especially to remember that it is the healing and the restoration of people that is the point of our worship and our desire for union with God. To do good comes in many forms; to act from love, mercy and compassion is more than form and requires a different understanding of what it is to heal. Human beings have needs, and those needs must be attended to - otherwise practice does not bring people to God anyway.

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