Friday, May 20, 2016
Then Jesus went over to their synagogue, where he noticed a man with a deformed hand. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Does the law permit a person to work by healing on the Sabbath?” (They were hoping he would say yes, so they could bring charges against him.) And he answered, “If you had a sheep that fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you work to pull it out? Of course you would. And how much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Yes, the law permits a person to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored, just like the other one! Then the Pharisees called a meeting to plot how to kill Jesus. Matthew 12:9-14(NLT)
Sometimes the miracles of Jesus are so spectacularly overwhelming our poor minds are blown away, and we miss the larger miracle of why. Of course Jesus healed the man’s hand with a compassionate touch, and that amazing and fascinating; it is also huge as a teaching point to be tender and generous towards those in need.
But when you truly wrap your mind around the context of what was happening (Jesus was sparring with Pharisees over Sabbath law), you see a loftier point than just one man’s suffering relieved. Jesus was demonstrating that the law is our teacher, not our master. In the case of rescuing a lost sheep (whether it is an actual sheep, or the kind of sheep that sits next to you in the pew on Sunday), the law’s command to not do labor on the Sabbath must yield to doing good as a matter of honoring God.
General Conference (of the United Methodist Church) ends today. That body is the legislative branch of the church’s governance, and they grapple with Sabbath-breaking and such. This quadrennial gathering typically is a tug-of-war between the left and the right, much as we see played out in today’s political/cultural drama over which part of the tribe will be in power for the next four years. This meeting in Portland has been no different, and, in-fact, particularly contentious.
Back to Jesus and the Pharisees; when Jesus healed the man with the withered hand it authenticated his teaching. Unfortunately, but typically, it didn’t convince the Pharisees, it made them angry; in fact, angry enough to convene a closed-door, back-room plotting session to kill Jesus.
Back to Portland; I suspect there will be lots of smoke-filled back-room deals cut over the issues facing the United Methodist Church leadership until the General Conference meets again. My prayer is that, when the smoke clears, the more withered parts of the body will receive a compassionate touch, rather than being brushed-aside by the rising current of cultural storms.
And that is always the rub; squabbles over issues that are one person’s Sabbath-breaking, and another’s God-honoring, usually push people aside to the gutter while the big boys fight their fights.
Lord, have mercy!
If you tend to get tense about the rumblings of church splits, agenda-pushing over Sabbath-breaking, or political campaigns of any kind…here’s my two-cent bit of help for the day that can actually make a difference:
Go find a withered hand and be compassionate.