On another Sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure on the Sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him. Even though he knew what they were thinking, he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” He got up and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?” After looking around at all of them, he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was restored. But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.
Can you feel the tension? It’s comes in the second line, when we learn that the scribes and Pharisees were watching to see what Jesus would do. They are waiting to see if Jesus will break the rules. His disciples have, and he’s defended them. Now they wait to see if he will as well.
So we’re back to the issue of rules. And there seem to be two central questions. Are rules intended to create order and stability? Yes. Are they intended to promote the life of the community? Yes.
And there’s the rub. Rules do both of these things. So what happens when they conflict, which feels like the issue beneath the issue? There were rules about the Sabbath that helped to order the lives and worship of the people and establish them in their identity. At the same time, there is a man who is suffering and who could be healed.
And so Jesus privileges the concern for life over the concern for stability and order. Is it confusing, even threatening? No doubt, but it gets to the core of Jesus’ mission and the character of God to bring life, to support life, to create new life.
And when it’s life at stake, then suddenly it’s not about the rules anymore.
Prayer: Dear God, grant us the humility to recognize our need for rules, the wisdom to know when life calls us to move beyond the ordinary rules, and the courage to break them when such occasions arise. In Jesus name, Amen.