Breaking The Sabbath
After having a little snack as they walked through the wheat fields on the Sabbath that seemed to fire up a group of Pharisees, Jesus takes his disciples to the Synagogue. There they encounter a man with a shriveled hand. These Pharisees, after not faring so well in their last encounter decide to take Jesus on again about the importance of the Sabbath command.
To the Pharisees, the Sabbath was extremely important. God had commanded that it be kept and that no work should be done. And they were trying to be obedient. Yet often times situations would arise when there were two commands and you weren’t able to keep both. The rabbis would debate when these situations would arise, and determine in their understanding which of the commandments were the greatest. We see Jesus participating in these discussions throughout the Gospels.
Ranking The Commandments
All the great teachers would agree that the greatest command was the Shema, loving God with all your heart, soul and strength. After that, it was up for interpretation. Some said Sabbath was the second greatest command. Others, thought cleanliness was the second most important (see the story of the Good Samaritan and the priests and Levites who didn’t want to come into contact with a dying man). Others, including Jesus, said loving your neighbor was the second greatest command.
Doing Good Trumps The Sabbath
In this case, this group of Pharisees clearly thought keeping Sabbath was the second greatest command. And so they approach Jesus to test him, to find out where he stands on the Sabbath. “Is healing permitted on the Sabbath?” they ask. He asks if they had a sheep that fell into a pit on the Sabbath would they would rescue it, knowing they would. Jesus then reminds them that this man is much more valuable than their sheep and heals him. Adding, “What is permitted on the Sabbath is to do good”.
Hiding Behind The Commandments
Occasionally we find ourselves in a situation where we are forced to choose between the rules (either commands in Scripture or the interpretations of those commands by our local congregations) and doing something hard to demonstrate our love for our neighbor. And though we would say that loving our neighbor is more important. And though we cheer when Jesus sticks it to those hypocritical Pharisees. Often we hide behind our religious piety to avoid gong places we don’t want to go and helping people we don’t want to associate with.