ENCOUNTERS WITH JESUS

THE PHARISEES

Questions. The people who opposed Jesus Christ were always asking questions: 'Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?' 'Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and 'sinners'?'

Now we hear yet another question, a critical, condemnatory question: 'Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?'

It was a simple thing Jesus' disciples were doing,  just picking and eating a handful of grain as they walked through a field; but it was against the Sabbath law as the Pharisees understood it. In his answer Jesus affirmed his own authority over the Sabbath law, and his authority to interpret it correctly.

On another Sabbath day, knowing that the Pharisees were watching him closely and waiting for an opportunity to accuse him, Jesus, asked them a question.

In the synagogue there was a man with a withered hand. Jesus told him to stand up in front of everybody. Then he turned to the Pharisees and asked: 'Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?' Not waiting for their answer he turned to the man and said 'Stretch our your hand!' Immediately the hand was completely healed.

The Sabbath was supposed to be a day dedicated to God, an acknowledgment and reminder that a right relationship with God was the result of God's action, not man's goodness. The Pharisees had turned it into a day by which they affirmed their own righteousness, a righteousness by which they assumed they merited God's favour.

Jesus, by his question, spotlighted their self-centred error: in their efforts to affirm and maintain their own 'righteousness' they were actually exhibiting the opposite of true godliness: doing evil by refusing to do good, destroying life by refusing to save it. By using the Sabbath as a meritorious human means of gaining and maintaining God's acceptance, they were completely misreading the deep significance of the Sabbath: that we humans cannot  merit God's acceptance, or make ourselves his people, but are his people by sheer grace - by his will and his choice and his action, not ours; that this physical Sabbath rest is a symbolic shadow of the permanent, perpetual, spiritual rest we find in Jesus Christ, by whose merit alone we are accepted with God.

He, Jesus, rather than affirm the Pharisees' error by bowing to their perception of what was right, exposed their error by doing what actually was right. At the same time he became the target of their furious antagonism and murderous intent.

Scriptures: Luke 5:21, 30; 6:1-11; Exodus 20:8-10; 31:13; Ezekiel 20:12; Matthew 11:28-30; Colossians 2:16-17; Hebrews 3:7-4:11; Romans 5:1.

Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2004,2008