“Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely.” ~Mark 3:2
“(They) were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely.” ~Luke 6:7
“…looking for a reason to accuse Jesus…” ~Matthew 12:10
“…he was being carefully watched.” ~Luke 14:1
The Pharisees and Teachers of the Law, these self-appointed Sheriffs of the Synagogue, were watching Jesus closely so they could pounce on him the second he broke one of their rules. In Luke 13, Jesus heals the woman who’d been crippled for 18 years. In the synagogue. On the Sabbath. In Mark 3, it’s this man with the withered hand. In the synagogue. On the Sabbath. And the Sheriffs didn’t like it. They were indignant. They plotted to kill him.
And Jesus challenges these religious leaders with his question in Mark 3:4 > “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”
Jesus presents to the synagogue rulers—and to you and me—two ways of doing the religious rules and regulations. He doesn’t throw them away. He says there are two ways of keeping them. One way is good and one way is bad. One way gives life to people and one way takes life away from people. One way frees people from burdens and one way places more burdens on people. One way liberates people from their chains and one way locks people up in prisons.
Jesus gives us two ways of doing religion. Two incompatible outlooks. Two opposite and conflicting views about our God and his Law and his intentions for his Law. And he presents it as a choice between the two. You have to choose. You can’t have it both ways.
“Which is lawful?” he says. For hungry people to eat or for them to remain hungry in order to protect your rules? (Mark 2:23-27) Which is lawful? For this man with the debilitating injury that singles him out as less than whole to be healed and to made whole or to remain withered and less than what he’s meant to be in order to keep your traditions? (Mark 3:1-6) Which is lawful? For this woman who’s been bent over for as long as she can remember, burdened by the weight of the world and her own sins, to be delivered from these burdens and made to walk again or to remain stooped over and burdened even more in order to keep your order? (Luke 13:10-17) Which is lawful?
God’s Law is not about the rules. It’s about people.
God’s Church is not about the institution. It’s about people.
And if we’re partnering with God and with his plan to redeem the world, we take care of people, not rules. So why, sometimes, do we act like Sheriffs of the Synagogue? I’m afraid, sometimes, we get together with God’s people on God’s holy day, the day set aside for us to celebrate salvation from God in the resurrection and reign of Christ, and we’re watching closely. Looking for a reason to accuse.
“Did you see what he’s wearing? Did you hear what she said? He’s raising his hands. She’s closing her eyes. He’s clapping. She’s kneeling. He won’t stand. She won’t sing.
And Jesus asks, “Which is lawful?” To do good or evil? To watch for those who might stray from my tradition and call them on it? Or to praise God with them in the understanding that we’re both redeemed by the blood of the Lamb? Which is lawful? To save life or to kill? To watch closely for someone who might violate my regulation and talk to them about it? Or to encourage them and be thankful that you both share salvation from God in Christ? Which is lawful? To remove the barriers and burdens and hurdles from my brothers and sisters or to weigh them down with my rules and regulations that act as chains and prison bars to those we’ve told have been set free?
Jesus says there are two ways. One way cares about people. One way doesn’t. The synagogue ruler in Luke 13 actually addresses the people after Jesus heals the crippled woman. “Hey! he says. “If you’re looking for freedom, if you’re looking for healing, if you’re looking for relief and rescue, if you’re looking to be delivered from the things that are weighing you down, come back some other day. You’ve got six other days to do stuff like that. Come back tomorrow. We have our rules, you know.”
Nobody—and I don’t care if they’ve been members of the congregation for 45 years or if they’re completely unknown strangers off the street—nobody should ever come into our church buildings to sit with us, worship with us, sing and pray with us, and study the Scriptures with us and feel like somebody’s watching him closely. Or looking for a reason to accuse.
That situation says a whole lot more about the watcher than it does the watch-ee or the rules. Jesus called it hardness of heart.
Aren’t we glad we serve a King who’s much more about mercy than ritual?
Aren’t we glad our God deals with us compassionately with patience and grace instead of Law?
As God’s children and subjects of the King, aren’t we compelled to treat others the same way?