Tag Archives: Luke 6

Let Good Rule

Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”
Luke 6:9 (NIV)

Religion loves rules.

When I was a young man I, for a short time, found myself living among a conservative, legalistic, religious Christians. I stop short of calling them Jesus’ followers because I eventually came to realize that they were the spiritual descendants of the religious leaders who, for two chapters now, have been keeping their critical, judgemental, condemning eyes on Jesus. Their motivation is to catch Jesus doing something wrong so that they can dismiss Him, judge Him, and condemn Him. In doing so, they can feel righteous about ignoring Jesus’ teaching and proud of leading others to do the same.

Religion loves rules.

In Jesus’ day, there was no better example of religious rule-keeping than the Sabbath. The Sabbath was established at the very beginning, right after creation:

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

Genesis 2:2 (NIV)

This was a long time before God gave the Top Ten through Moses (Sabbath made it to #4 on the Top Ten commandments list).

Sabbath simply means a prescribed time of rest. It’s a day-off, a time-out, a quiet time, and it’s all about R&R, recharging, and being refreshed. Sabbath began as a spiritual principle God exemplified for all of humanity. After six days of work, everyone could use a little break from the daily grind, even God. It’s good for your body, mind, and spirit.

The problem with humanity, of course, is that we struggle with principles. They are so, well, gray…

“What does ‘rest’ mean exactly? I need that defined. And ‘work’ too. Is feeding my cat work? What about taking out the trash with my baby’s stinky diaper? And, speaking of stinky, what about having to watch the stinkin’ Packers game with my in-laws (that always feels like a lot of work)?”

“We’re supposed to labor for six days and rest on the seventh? What if I work weekends?”

“By ‘work,’ are we talking gainful employment here? What if I’m currently unemployed?”

“You tell me how in the world I’m supposed to rest from being a mother. There is no rest from these rug rats and their incessant demands!”

Along life’s journey, I’ve come to observe that humanity is given to rule-making in almost every area of life. Government institutions become bureaucracies with libraries dedicated to tracking all of the laws, codes, rules, and regulations. In fact, according to LegalZoom, if you’re driving through certain rural parts of Pennsylvania you are legally required to stop every mile and shoot off a flare to mark your position. In North Dakota, it’s unlawful to buy beer and pretzels at the same time. Women in Florida are forbidden by law to fall asleep under a hair-dryer.

Another example is how the notion of taxing citizens to pay for Government services has resulted in the 74,608 page U.S. Tax Code.

When it comes to religion, we humans do the same things. Well-intentioned religious institutions start with a spiritual principle about getting some much-needed rest and end up with an endless list of rules which, eventually, require a lot of work to keep straight and follow. This is where things stood in the days when Jesus was teaching in today’s chapter. Breaking the “sabbath” rules was something that Jesus and His followers were accused of doing repeatedly.

In today’s chapter, the Sabbath police were following Jesus around just waiting for Him to break one of the rules. That’s the other thing about religious and social rule-keeping, it typically ends up with some kind of group who police the masses. Of course, Jesus knew they were there.

Jesus asks, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” The answer, of course, goes back to the principle of rest that was the heart of Sabbath in the beginning. The tome of sabbath rules, sub-rules, and clarifications had both perverted the principle intent (keeping the Sabbath became work) and allowed the perpetuation of evil (people refused to help out a neighbor in an emergency in order not to be caught by the Sabbath police).

So, Jesus healed a man’s paralyzed hand in front of the crowd on the Sabbath.

Let good rule!

The religious rule-keepers immediately went into judge, jury, and executioner mode.

There’s something grossly wrong with this picture, and that was what Jesus was trying to get people to see and understand for themselves.

My time among the legalistic Christians didn’t last very long. All of the silly rules about clothes, hair, shoes, music, and fraternization were more than I could take. I did, however, make a number of worthwhile observations and I learned a lot of very valuable lessons. I came to understand that legalism keeps people imprisoned to rules, codes, and regulations while keeping them from developing the spiritual maturity and self-discipline necessary to develop Godly wisdom.

This morning I find myself reminded that doing a good thing for someone else should never be against the rules.

Have you missed the previous chapter-a-day posts from this journey through the Gospel of Luke? Click on this image and it will take you to a quick index of the other posts!

Urban Legend in a Small Town

source: simpleinsomnia via Flickr
source: simpleinsomnia via Flickr

Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”

He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was completely restored. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.

My town is a fascinating place. Founded by a charismatic Pastor from the Netherlands, his talented child bride, and hundreds of his staunch Dutch Calvinist followers, I am continually amazed at how its founders continue to mold and influence our present. If you move to Pella you will likely be warned by someone not to mow your lawn on Sunday or to be prepared to face the social and religious wrath of your neighbors. I’m not sure if you can all it an urban legend in a town our size. Legends are often rooted in some truth, and at one time I know that mowing on Sunday would incur a neighbors wrath – though I’ve not found that to be the case today.

For good, or for ill, you’ll find religious conviction still plays a huge role in our community. As President of our local community theatre I get to read and respond to the letters our merry stage troupe receives each time we offend one of religion’s perturbed minions. A few years ago Wendy and I were in a play about a radio station in northern Minnesota that was run out of a corner of the local tap, called Carl & Lena’s Place for Beer. The commercials for this small station were jingles sung live on the air and, in our production, the jingles were all sung to the tune of old hymns. Apparently, some of our religious audience members were offended in “hard liquor” being served on stage and the sacrilege of the “great hymns of the faith” being parodied to sell Ole’s ice hole augers.

In my graciously worded responses, I explained that no hard liquor is served on stage (it’s usually ice tea or apple juice). I also tried to provide a history lesson. The truth is that many “great hymns of the faith” started out as bar songs which the hymn writers stole because they were catchy tunes and the they wanted to appeal to guys like Sven sitting down at Carl & Lena’s Place for Beer. In a way, we were simply paying homage to the original source of some of those hymns and besides, I did not add, it was really funny!

I’m quite sure my letter was unappreciated, and my history lesson fell to blind eyes.

Jesus was dealing with the same kind of staunch religiosity back in his day. Religion has a way of obfuscating the simple, productive intent of God’s prescriptions for life and churning them into a weighty, prohibitive volume of institutional regulations. The religious rule keepers of Jesus day were more concerned with his “working” to heal someone on the Sabbath day than they were with the fact that a paralyzed man was healed.

The truth is, I don’t mow my lawn on Sunday unless there’s some extenuating circumstance. This is not because I’m afraid of the religious wrath of my neighbors, but because I’ve come to really appreciate the quiet on Sundays. I like taking naps during the Cubs game and it’s nice not having the din of a hundred mowers disturbing me. Jesus also said in today’s chapter, “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.” I try to respect the Sunday naps of my neighbors.

 

Chapter-a-Day Luke 7

St. Mary Magdalene in the House of Simon the P...
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One of the Pharisees asked him over for a meal. He went to the Pharisee’s house and sat down at the dinner table. Just then a woman of the village, the town harlot, having learned that Jesus was a guest in the home of the Pharisee, came with a bottle of very expensive perfume…. Luke 7:36-37 (MSG)

Having lived in a few different towns of different sizes and I’ve discovered that there are community archetypes. Within any community I find the respected local politician, the business leader/power broker, the local pastor or priest who is the community religious leader, the high school star athlete who never quite got beyond his glory days, the person with special needs for whom the entire community looks out, and etc.

Years ago I had the opportunity to walk through the ruins of some of the villages along the northern shore of Galilee where Jesus carried out his ministry. They were small fishing villages not unlike the small farming towns in which I’ve lived. Through today’s chapter I get a sense of similar small town archetypes to the familiar ones I know: the Roman captain who represented the occupational civic authority, the town’s poor widow for whom life has been an on-going tragedy, the proud and pious religious leader, and the town whore.

I can’t think of a more dramatic small town scene. A regional celebrity comes for a visit. The entire town is buzzing with news and gossip. The local coffee shop is churning with stories about this Jesus and what they’d heard about him. Jesus is scheduled to go to the house of Simon for dinner. Of course he is. Simon is the town’s religious V.I.P. He is wealthy, he is powerful, and when it comes to spiritual matters in the town he calls the shots. Simon is the final word; God’s local judge, jury and executioner. Of course Jesus would go to Simon’s house.

Then she walks in. They all know about her. In fact, truth be told, some of the pious men in attendance at this private dinner party know her, in the Biblical sense, if you catch my drift. Publicly despised, privately used, and generally dismissed as dirt, she is known by all the town as a simple whore. Then, in a bold move guaranteed to turn heads, the sullied slut walks right into the religiously scrubbed crib of the local holy man. Imagine the snickers, the glares, the gossip ready to drip off the small town lips of the onlookers.

She carries expensive perfume purchased with lust money (we all knew where she got the money for that), and she falls at Jesus’ feet. Her river of tears pour across her cheeks and drip onto Jesus’ feet. They mix with the perfume she humbly, and gently spreads with her hands across his toes.

For each person in that moment, and for each archetype, Jesus is present. For each there is a lesson. For each there is a blessing. For each there is a crossroads and a transformational opportunity. That’s the way Jesus is. No matter who we are or where we find ourselves on life’s road, Jesus dramatically meets us right where we are, turns us away from where we’ve been, and points us where we need to go.

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Chapter-a-Day Luke 6

FAIL stamp
Image by hans.gerwitz via Flickr

The religion scholars and Pharisees had their eye on Jesus to see if he would heal the man, hoping to catch him in a Sabbath infraction. Luke 6:7 (MSG)

A professor of mine once showed our class a videotape of a locally televised theological debate between himself and another scholar. Both men were from mainstream Christian denominations, but held different views on particular doctrines. The debate became an argument as my professor smugly baited the other scholar, then went on the attack which was subtly personal. The other scholar was shocked, then angry, then became increasingly unglued. After clicking the stop button, my professor chided his opponent for losing his cool and defended his own arrogant attacks on the other scholar. He dismissed his opponent, explaining that the other scholar’s differing theological views made the man’s faith and salvation questionable. My professor’s actions told me that he believed the other scholar was undeserving of his love and respect.

Twenty-five years later I can still remember that class vividly, but I don’t think the lesson I learned was what my professor intended. My professor had a test, a theological checklist, by which he judged others. If you didn’t agree with every minor theological item on his checklist you failed the test, and he felt justified in quickly dismissing you. It seems to parallel the religious scholars who watched for Jesus to fail their own test of appropriate theological behavior. If Jesus failed their test, they could dismiss him and did not feel any obligation to love or respect him.

I’d like to think that I don’t have a test (or tests) of my own. This morning I find myself searching my heart. Jesus didn’t tell me to love only those who pass my test for political correctness, theological correctness or behavioral appropriateness. He makes it pretty clear that those who fail whatever test I might have are to be on the top of my “to love” priority list.

Today, I’m asking God to love everyone well – especially those I might easily dismiss. 

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