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.
It’s incredibly hard for most of us to understand why anyone would get so upset by the possibility of healing someone on the Sabbath. But maybe that’s because it’s not really about healing on the Sabbath.
No, it’s about something much bigger.
We talked yesterday about the way in which God gives laws to help us get more out of life by directing us to help our neighbor (and directing our neighbor, in turn, to help us). Law creates order, we observed, and order is good, so long as it is directed to help our neighbor.
But the order the law creates can be seductive. We can begin to imagine that the actual ordering of things is what matters, not whether or not that order actually helps people. Moreover, we can begin to imagine that law grants not just order but control, in which case it becomes important to be the ones enforcing the rules. Before long we don’t care much about the law helping others or even the order it creates but rather the fact that we are in charge.
This is what is playing out here. Law has been corrupted into mere control, and Jesus therefore “breaks the law” in order reclaim the core of what the law represents: God’s love and compassion. We sometimes call this following “the spirit” rather than “the letter” of the law. But in doing so Jesus threatens those who have become accustomed to interpreting and using the law not just to maintain life-giving order but also control. Little wonder they begin to plot his death – by proclaiming and representing God’s in-breaking kingdom and boundless love – Jesus threatens their sense of order and control.
As always, it’s so terribly easy in these stories to identity with Jesus, but on any given day God’s love may surprise us and we may be called to question whether the rules and laws we’ve known and trusted – maybe our whole lives – really represent God’s love here and now. When that happens, don’t be surprised if your thoughts also turn first to murder, as it’s incredibly hard to give up our cherished notions of what is right, even when it’s in service to love.
Prayer: Dear God, awaken us to your desire to draw all your children into an embrace of love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.