When we read of Jesus’ face-offs with religious authorities, our attitude toward the Pharisees can easily move from indignation to righteous indignation to self-righteous indignation. Let’s take a breath. Veneration of the sabbath was not some crazy, corrupt idea of the Temple elite. I mean, it’s in the Ten Commandments. I live in New York City and our United Methodist congregation runs a shelter for homeless women in partnership with a neighboring synagogue. When we have fellowship activities, I attend Friday evening services. I never cease to be impressed by Jewish observance of Shabbat, which doesn’t even begin to address its value in bringing holy balance to our lives. And since Jesus and his fellow Jews lived under occupation by a foreign, pagan empire, maintaining customs became even more important. We can stipulate that sabbath observance is and was good.
So let’s consider the man who, other than Jesus, is the primary character in this story. His hand is withered, useless. He’s caught up with this itinerant rabbi who’s famous as a healer. He believes Jesus can cure him. Sure, Jesus could delay until Havdalah (the end of Shabbat). But this man is afraid to wait. There’s no guarantee he’ll cross paths with Jesus again. He can’t miss his chance. If one of the Pharisees had spoken with this man, he might come to a different conclusion. I suspect Jesus’ anger stems more from their ignoring the man—their hardness of heart—than from their religious legalism.
When we meet each other one-on-one and swap our personal stories, our insights evolve, as many in the United States learned in the journey toward marriage equality. Institutional thinking wields power, except when compared with human relationship.
Lord of all people, may our eyes always be open to the need for human dignity and the ways we can work to ensure it. Amen.
The call of Samuel and the intimate language of the psalmist this week reflect God’s knowledge of and care for each individual. God sees each one of us, no matter where we are in life and no matter how far we might feel from God. Paul seeks to encourage the Corinthians with this same truth. Believers may be afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, beaten down, even killed; but they are never defeated. The power of a personal God flows through them, even if this is not evident to the eyes of the world. We likewise should be personally caring toward those around us. Jesus models this in Mark, demonstrating that showing mercy is more important than following even religious regulations, for mercy is the heart of God.
• Read 1 Samuel 3:1-20. When has a young person in your life or that of someone you know had to face the devastating consequences of a single bad decision? How did that affect your actions and behaviors?
• Read Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18. When have you experienced that life has no guarantees? How did you sense God’s presence in that time?
• Read 2 Corinthians 4:5-12. How do you attempt to be open to seeing Christ in everyone you meet?
• Read Mark 2:23–3:6. When do you, like Jesus, try to be proximate to persons in need? How has that changed your life?
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