Summary: We go about trying to live religious lives, but do we miss connecting with God in the process? Christianity is about relationship, not religion. And Jesus makes such a relationship possible.
When Religion Blocks Relationship
It was a day I will never forget. Our village had gathered at the local Synagogue to hear the word and receive teaching, to pray together, and to worship Yahweh, the one true God. On this day there was an unusual excitement in the crowd because we had a guest rabbi, the traveling one everyone was talking about. Yeshua was his name. I think you might pronounce it in your language as Joshua or Jesus. Everybody was talking about him. Rumors were flying about healings and miracles he had done. And that, when he taught, he didn’t teach like the rest of the rabbis, quoting other famous rabbis to make their points, but he taught as one speaking right for God. Crowds followed him everywhere, so it was no surprise to me to find our little Synagogue packed on this particular Sabbath.
Yeshua had just begun his teaching, drawing us into his words immediately, when all of a sudden he focused in on one of the women present. I remember her well, because everywhere she walked, she was always hunched over. For 18 years her spine had been so stiff that she could never stand up straight. Today you might label it as some kind of inflammation of joints in her spine. But we only understood it to be an evil spirit, since all diseases come ultimately from the evil one. It was terribly painful for her, but I always admired her, because she never let it stop her from her love for Yahweh and his people.
As Yeshua noticed her, the whole crowd became silent. What was going to happen? Was he upset with her? Maybe he didn’t want one with deformities in his presence? Then he motioned her forward, and she meekly came. I was standing just a few feet away, so I saw it all happen so clearly. Yeshua looked at her with eyes of love and compassion, and he said, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he reached out and put both hands on her slumped shoulders, and immediately she straightened her back and began to cry out praises to Yahweh! After a moment of shock, everyone else did, too. It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen in my life! 18 years of suffering and misery gone in an instant! The crowd was enthralled with Yeshua. Could he indeed be our long-awaited Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One sent from heaven above?
But before we could celebrate for more than a second, our Synagogue leader demanded that everyone settle down. I could see from his countenance that he was not a happy camper. Once the crowed quieted, he calmly reminded us of the importance of keeping Sabbath, our day of rest, just as Yahweh had kept the first Sabbath on the seventh day following the six days of creation. Our leader asked us, in the future, to come on any other day of the week for healing, but to please refrain from doing so on the Sabbath, so we could keep it holy.
Before I could even think about this, I heard our guest rabbi speak up again. He looked right at our leader and said loud enough for everyone to hear, “You hypocrites! Don’t you all have farm animals that you set free from their tethers to feed and water on the Sabbath just like any other day? If you can set them free—mere animals—how much more should one of God’s people, a lady who’s been bound by Satan for 18 years of illness, be set free from her affliction?”
It was one of those moments where you could just see the truth cut like a knife. Our Synagogue leader, along with the Pharisees there, were silenced because they knew Yeshua’s argument was impeccable. Everyone knew that people matter to God. And here our leaders were putting their petty little regulations ahead of people’s lives.
The crowd was ecstatic. We sensed a freedom in Yeshua’s teachings, a way to know and be known by the God of Israel, to truly be his people and walk in his ways, not because we had to, but because we wanted to, out of love and devotion. May Yahweh be praised! And may the evidence of his great healing works let everyone know he is the one true God!
Thanks to our eyewitness for that firsthand account. It must have been truly an amazing moment. This wasn’t the first time nor the last that Jesus would argue with the religious leaders, and it wasn’t the first time nor the last that the subject would be his healing on the Sabbath. In fact, (a little Bible trivia here) an argument about the Sabbath recorded in Mark chapter 3 (Mark 3:1-6) is the only place in the Bible where Jesus is said to have been angry. As he looked at the Pharisees, he felt such an anger for their love for rules and regulations over people.