Sometimes rules help. Sometimes they hinder.
There have been times where I have created a rule to help me on a project. This is useful when I have either no idea what I’m going to do next or worse, I have no idea how to start. If I’ve fun out of ideas for what to make in my beaded creations I’ll grab two bins and make up a rule that I can only make jewelry from those bins. If I want to write a poem I’ll pick a poem form like a sestina and use it.
Sometimes having a structure or a framework at the beginning is just the start I need to get things rolling right along.
But then sometimes a rule gets in the way. Sometimes the rule worked at the beginning but then no longer serves its intended purpose.
The goal is more important than the rule. If the rule no longer moves you towards your goal then drop the rule and either use another one or figure it out as you go. It is just like driving and then encountering a traffic jam. You need to get to your destination. Do you stay on the freeway, stuck in the traffic jam, or do you get off at the nearest exit and take the side road? If the situation is dire enough, you may even have to abandon your car and walk.
This is exactly what Jesus did when he threw away a lot of the Jewish rules of purity and separation. The goal is live in love. The goal is to show that love to God and then likewise to everyone else. He realized that a lot of the rules were no longer working. They were being done out of habit or even out of fear. But they weren’t getting people towards the goal. In some ways they were drawing people away from the goal because performing the actions had become the goal.
Jesus healed a woman on the Sabbath. That was “work.” So he was breaking a rule.
10 One Sabbath day as Jesus was teaching in a synagogue, 11 he saw a woman who had been crippled by an evil spirit. She had been bent double for eighteen years and was unable to stand up straight.12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Dear woman, you are healed of your sickness!”13 Then he touched her, and instantly she could stand straight. How she praised God! 14 But the leader in charge of the synagogue was indignant that Jesus had healed her on the Sabbath day. “There are six days of the week for working,” he said to the crowd. “Come on those days to be healed, not on the Sabbath.”
Then Jesus immediately points out that there is another rule that allows for it.
15 But the Lord replied, “You hypocrites! Each of you works on the Sabbath day! Don’t you untie your ox or your donkey from its stall on the Sabbath and lead it out for water? 16 This dear woman, a daughter of Abraham, has been held in bondage by Satan for eighteen years. Isn’t it right that she be released, even on the Sabbath?” 17 This shamed his enemies, but all the people rejoiced at the wonderful things he did.
When Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath, he broke a rule.
Now He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a paralyzed hand. 2 In order to accuse Him, they were watching Him closely to see whether He would heal him on the Sabbath. 3 He told the man with the paralyzed hand, “Stand before us.” 4 Then He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do what is good or to do what is evil, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent.5 After looking around at them with anger and sorrow at the hardness of their hearts, He told the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 Immediately the Pharisees went out and started plotting with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him.
It was after this that the leaders started actively plotting to kill him. He hasn’t “worked.” He’s healed. They are missing the point of the rule. The rule of Sabbath is to heal us. This man was being healed on the Sabbath.
So the punishment for healing on the Sabbath is death? Seems a bit excessive.
The purpose of the Sabbath rules of refraining from work is to ensure that everyone rests. We all work too much. We all spend way too much time being human doings rather than human beings. If we don’t take a day off to rest we will wear ourselves out. The week is just like the day. If we don’t take time at the end of the day to sleep we get frazzled and frayed. If we don’t take time at the end of the week to rest we get unraveled entirely.
But the rules had gone too far. The rules were meant to keep the Jewish people mindful of their special covenant with God, and to make them mindful of their duty to God. Many times throughout their history they had collectively forgotten this goal and had suffered greatly for it. Throughout their wanderings in the desert large swaths of the Jewish people were destroyed by God for getting off track and out of line. Many of the Jewish rules for how to conduct your life were created to keep God’s wrath at a low simmer rather than from boiling over.
But Jesus came to point out that the rules were not only getting them towards the goal of loving God, but they were simply being used as a stopgap to keep God loving them. They didn’t get that if they showed love to God, then God would show love to them. They were acting out of fear rather than love.