Summary: A sermon about the God of grace and compassion.
“A New Way of Understanding Who God Is”
Last June, the city of Alemeda, California immediately changed its policies after its first responders stood by and watched a man drown in the San Francisco Bay.
The first responders didn’t venture out into the muddy waters of the bay, even as the man started treading water and then eventually went under.
According to the Fire Chief, two things prevented the authorities from taking action:
First, because it was a crime scene (the man was trying to commit suicide), the police “felt that going into the water initially might not be the best idea because they were unsure if this individual was armed.”
Second, the chief said, “There was a policy in place that pretty much stopped our people from entering the water.”
Local officials also noted that due to a lack of funding, firefighters had no one properly trained to go into the water.
The Alemeda Police Chief was also quoted to say, “It’s muddy out there. We don’t want [the police officers] sinking. We don’t want them in distress.”
In our Scripture Passage for this morning, Jesus has just returned to Capernaum after a very dramatic beginning to His ministry.
There’s been a whole bunch of healing miracles.
And the Pharisees, those strict adherents to policy and protocol are looking at Him closely, trying to catch Him breaking the law.
They aren’t keen on Jesus.
They are angered by His intimacy and friendship with tax collectors, prostitutes and other “sinners.”
They are enraged by Jesus’ seeming indifference to fasting.
And now comes the question of the Sabbath.
In Jesus’ day, it was against the Law to do any kind of work on the Sabbath.
And they based this on one of the Ten Commandments.
But they had added a whole bunch of rules and regulations to “what” constituted “work.”
For instance, it was against the law to use a rope to pull a bucket of water out of a well on the Sabbath.
Therefore, the folks would use pieces of clothing, tied together, to pull the bucket up instead…and that didn’t break any law.
It was against the law to “work” on the Sabbath.
So when the disciples are caught walking through the wheat fields, and plucking some grains to eat, the Pharisees claim that they are “reaping” or doing “farm work” on the Sabbath.
A bit ridiculous we might think, and apparently Jesus thought the same.
It seems that the Pharisees were so caught up in the ritual or legalistic aspects of the law that these things took precedence over love, compassion and basic common sense.
And, it seems, as we read the Gospels, Jesus broke just about every one of their laws!!!
Jesus did things that deemed Him “unclean” and unworthy to participate in Temple ceremonies.
According to the law, Jesus touched all the wrong people, He loved the castaways and forgave the wayward.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus healed a man who had been an invalid and had been laying on a mat for 38 years.
And when Jesus said, “Pick up your mat and walk,” and the man was able to do so, this poor guy was scolded by the Pharisees because it was the Sabbath.
They said to the former invalid, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”
Can you imagine?
They could care less that the guy had been miraculously healed.
All they cared about were rules, regulations, protocol.
The same thing happened in our Scripture Lesson for this morning when Jesus entered the synagogue.
A man with a “withered hand” was there.
A “withered hand” means that the guy’s hand was paralyzed.
Perhaps he had had a stroke or something.
In any case, we are told that the religious rulers were “watching Jesus closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath.”
And sure enough, Jesus said to the man, “Step up where people can see you.”
Then Jesus looked out at the crowd, He asked, “Is it legal on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”
And we are told that the people said nothing.
And at this point, we are told that Jesus got “angry.”
There are not a whole lot of times in the Gospels when Jesus gets “angry.”
But there are a few.
Jesus gets angry when human beings do not show compassion.
Jesus gets angry when people are more in love with rigid rules and regulations than they are with other human beings.
Jesus gets angry when folks don’t care about those who are lost, hurting, lonely, sick, hungry, outcast, marginalized.
Jesus gets angry when people judge one another.
Jesus gets angry when people use, abuse, and take advantage of other people.
We are told, in our Scripture Lesson for this morning that Jesus, “Looking around at [the people in the synagogue]” became angry, and “deeply grieved at their unyielding hearts.”