Scripture: John 5:9b-18
Now that day was a sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, “It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” But he answered them, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk. ’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take it up and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is still working, and I also am working.” For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.
Today, we read part two of the story in which Jesus healed a sick man on the Sabbath. Last time, we looked at the healing, itself, and learned that like the sick man, each of us can need a hand up from time to time. In these verses from the second half of the story, we get to see the response of the Jewish leaders to this miracle.
I don’t know about you, but I really don’t think my first reaction to witnessing such a miracle would be to offer criticism. However, that’s exactly what happens. First, the Jewish leaders become angry with the healed man for carrying his mat. Once they realize he’s doing it because someone had healed him and instructed him to do so, they are furious. Upon finding out it is Jesus who broke the Sabbath law – even though he did it for the purpose of healing someone – they begin to persecute him. The response of these Jewish leaders seems completely ridiculous. They should be celebrating an act of God, but instead they’re too caught up in holding tight to their interpretation of the law.
The difficulty of this passage, I think, is that these Jewish leaders are doing what they think is right. They’re trying to honor God in keeping the law of the Old Testament. From Exodus 20:8 we hear, “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.” For these Jewish leaders, this meant don’t work at all. Well, Jesus quite obviously broke that interpretation when he decided to heal that sick man. So while we might consider their criticisms completely off base, to them keeping the Sabbath holy was a command from God’s own voice. Their first priority was to that, and anything else they deemed less important.
What Jesus’ actions teach us, though, is that human beings are always more important than our interpretations of scripture and doctrine. We have to be humble enough to realize that they are in fact just that… interpretations. Jesus’ challenge is this: when our interpretations limit God’s work of healing and restoration in the world, when they overlook the flesh and blood of real people for the sake of ideology, then our interpretations are wrong and need to change. The interpretation that Jesus gives of the law is pretty simple. He says to love God and to love people. And the way we love God is by loving people. So, I say we try to do that a little more this day and every day.
God of love, free me from my own desire to protect your law. You don’t need me to do that. Instead, unburden me from my own interpretations that I may follow yours – that I may love. Amen.
Thought for the Day:
People are always more important than ideas.