October 22, 2007

To do Good on the Sabbath

This past Sunday, I read Mark 3.1-6 during my morning devotion. It is the story of the Pharisees, as usual, trying to catch Jesus in one of their carefully laid booby traps. One Saturday morning, everyone is filing into the synagogue for service. And the Pharisees notice that a man with a shriveled hand wanders in beside them. They sit next to him in the pew, wanting to keep a close eye on him—not because they have any use for him themselves, but to see if Jesus notices him; and more importantly, to see if Jesus will ‘break the law’ (actually, their manmade additions to God’s law) and heal him on the Sabbath. You know the rest of the story. Jesus does heal the man…and asks this scathing question of the Pharisee spies (v.4): “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?”

Of course, the Pharisees were silent. They knew the right answer; but their religion wouldn’t allow them to even speak it, much less act on it.

And it occurred to me as I read that some of us may actually be sitting in the same pew as the Pharisees. Now there may be a few of us who understand that there is abiding significance to the Sabbath command, and who fall into the exact same legalistic trap as the Pharisees…unable to show compassion on the Lord’s Day because our religion—our misapplication of the fourth commandment—prevents it. But far larger, I think, is a group of folks who shrug the same heartless cold shoulders at the crippled man, if for only slightly different reasons.

How many of us come to church and always sit in the same old pew with the same old people? How many of us are so focused on our responsibilities, that we rarely take the time to notice the newcomer, the stranger, or the hurting? How many of us allow an ‘introverted personality’ to prevent us from seeking out and blessing the man with the shriveled hand? Not all of us, I am happy to say! But still too many.

Isn’t it easy to be so self-focused, so busy, so insensitive on Sunday mornings that we never notice the man with the shriveled hand; or the new couple sitting on the back pew; or the young man whose eyes are glazed with held back tears; or the mentally perplexed fellow who slips silently in and out; or the international who is lonely and confused in a strange land? Or maybe it is that we do notice, but our way of doing Sunday mornings just doesn’t allow us the time or energy to go too far out of the way to “do good on the Sabbath”—to feed them a meal, to offer to pray, to open the Scriptures to them, to do much more than shake their hand and say hello.

One has to wonder how many services the man with the shriveled hand sat through before Jesus showed up and cared for him. And we also have to ask ourselves how many Sundays we must spend, with the Pharisees, in the cushy pew of inactivity before we are willing to spend the energy to “do good on the Sabbath.”

Think about it. Have you been sitting, with the Pharisees, in the seat of unwelcoming inactivity? Will you begin come to church on the lookout for the man with the shriveled hand? And will you stop waiting to see if Jesus does good to him…and actually take your place as the hands and feet of Jesus and “do good on the Sabbath” yourself?

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