Engaging with the rules
Luke 13: 10-17 (MSG)
10-13 He was teaching in one of the meeting places on the Sabbath. There was a woman present, so twisted and bent over with arthritis that she couldn’t even look up. She had been afflicted with this for eighteen years. When Jesus saw her, he called her over. “Woman, you’re free!” He laid hands on her and suddenly she was standing straight and tall, giving glory to God.
14 The meeting-place president, furious because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the congregation, “Six days have been defined as work days. Come on one of the six if you want to be healed, but not on the seventh, the Sabbath.”
15-16 But Jesus shot back, “You frauds! Each Sabbath every one of you regularly unties your cow or donkey from its stall, leads it out for water, and thinks nothing of it. So why isn’t it all right for me to untie this daughter of Abraham and lead her from the stall where Satan has had her tied these eighteen years?”
17 When he put it that way, his critics were left looking quite silly and red-faced. The congregation was delighted and cheered him on.
Rules serve a higher purpose, but being too keen to keep the rules can rob their purpose. Some referees (refs) are far too pernickety and whistle-blow for the slightest thing. In contrast other refs allow play to continue for a potential greater advantage for the offended. We much prefer refs with a sense of humour as well as a serious grasp of the rules, a rule-keeper confident and relaxed enough to overlook sin and transgression for possible greater good. Wisdom, grown from experience and clear vision of game’s purpose, becomes more important than strict adherence to the law.
Some complicated pastoral situations, where discipline may be justified, require similar wisdom from refs able to relax the rules like Jesus in our reading. Confronted with the chance to blow the whistle and call someone out for sin committed, helpful questions are: “What’s the best-case scenario for all concerned, and how to achieve it?” Jesus overlooks the fine print of sabbath law to realise the true purpose of what sabbath is designed for. Jesus disregards strict rules, and his reputation in church and society, to heal a physically tortured woman and bring God glory. Anyway, is sabbath not all about ‘holiness, health, wholeness, wellbeing and God’s Glory’?
But, be careful, ‘Keep the sabbath day holy’ is probably the commandment Revs and modern day Christians break most often, and not necessarily for good reason. Keeping one day in seven special, to protect gifts of health, holiness, and God’s praise is vital to individual and societal wellbeing. It’s still a commandment for our good, not a suggestion.
Wise and wonderful author of life-giving rules,
forgive me when I justify myself by my constant activity
and pretend to be God in charge.
What a relief to be told straight to “Stop!”
Help me to obey,
to cease from flurry, worry and scurry,
to re-centre upon You
and to marinate in your ‘shalom’ peace.
Forgive my short-sightedness when I jump to judge
and pull people up rather than discern the best for all.
may Grace and Truth meet in my response to people’s sins
(and my own sins)
and in any discipline I’m responsible for.
Praise you for your higher purpose, ability
and willingness to inhale our judgement;
breathe your love and forgiveness in and through me,