In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?’
The pharisees would not answer. They were big on complaints, on pointing out the errors of others: they were short on answers. They were cowards. They were afraid of doctrinal review, afraid to take a risk, afraid to speak when it mattered.
Ask them who they favored for the pennant, what they think of Paris Hilton or Sushi or Lynard Skynard, and they’d have an answer. They’d be fully articulate and nuanced. But when confronted with a Law question, which are always real questions, with what mattered, they were afraid to answer. “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?’ The law says: no labor on the Sabbath. They were all experts of getting around that. They’d practiced their self-deceits at home, their little instances of convenient forgetfulness. They’d all mastered the excuse. But they were afraid to do it in the light of day where it might bring shame in front of the One who speaks with authority, or worse, shame in front of their critical brothers.
They could say that it is not lawful to heal on the Sabbath. But they were also afraid of that. They did not want to be exposed as hypocrites or frauds or of being unmerciful. They can’t take the hard line and they can’t take the soft. They know their excuses are weak. God says no work and they all cheat. So what can they do? How can they avoid the shame of being wrong? They are silent.
The Law renders us impotent. It always accuses. We have never lived up to it.
“Love your neighbor as yourself.’ How are you going to do that? Must you give the homeless man your coat? Empty your 401K for the poor? You would do it for yourself. You would not go hungry when you had money in the bank, but you let them go hungry while you have money in the bank or even in your pocket. You do not love them as yourself. You don’t even know how to love them as yourself.
Let’s try another. “Help your neighbor to improve and protect his property and income.’ How do you do that when it comes time to buy a used car? The salesman lives on commission. Should you put the best construction on everything he says, believe him about it all, tell him everything you know, what other deals you have out there, what all your resources are? Will you tell him, right off the bat, how much you can really afford or what you really want? Or will you overpay him in order to improve his income?
What the Law demands doesn’t even make sense. We are so jaundiced, so hardened in our ways, that we can’t imagine keeping the Law. It is foolish. So what does “love your neighbor’ mean? Is it lawful to walk by a homeless man without giving him something or not? Is it right to buy an antique at a garage sale, way under its value, from its unknowing owner, with the intention of selling it for a huge profit on E-bay?
It is not hard to see why the pharisees were silent. The Law is good, and we are not, and therefore the Law crushes us. It oppresses us, exposes us. And we are left impotent and dying. We cannot bring ourselves to say that we must empty our bank accounts for the poor, but what else does “Love your neighbor’ mean? Repent. It means you have failed.
Here is the funny thing. The pharisees assumed Jesus was talking about them, what they should do. As though He were saying, “Is it lawful for you to heal on the Sabbath or not?’ But they didn’t have the power to help the man with dropsy anyway. He was not asking them if it was lawful for them to heal on the Sabbath, but if it was lawful for Him to do so. He heals the man, then He says, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well, will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?’ The implication is clear: the man with dropsy is Jesus’ son. All men belong to Him and He is here to help them and He will not be stopped by the Law. He is not afraid to be ashamed. He will suffer it to rescue the lost.
Has He broke the Sabbath? In a sense He has. It is not that He violated the Sabbath or sinned. But He has broken it, stopped it, put it to an end. Not because it was not good, but because it is no longer needed. This is not a matter of mercy being more important than justice or the the Law. It is that His submission to death on the cross has made satisfaction of the Law. He fills the Law by going as a Lamb to the slaughter. The Law has nothing more to ask, nothing more to say. It is done. It is finished. He has endured Hell for all men.
Another telling question is whether or not it is lawful for Jesus to forgive sinners. The Law condemns sinners. Jesus forgives them. Is this lawful?
No. The Law condemns. Jesus forgives. It is not full of the Law. It is full of mercy. He has destroyed the Law’s accusations, removed death’s sting. He has answered for all the sins of men and the Law is now impotent. Jesus removes guilt and punishment. He opens Hell’s prison. He lets men out for free. It is not lawful. It is merciful. It is good and it is His will.
He has not violated the Law in the sense of sin. But even as the Law is beyond us and leaves us silent, so also His compassion is beyond us. What kind of a god sends His Son to die for rebels? Our God does. So even as He established the Law in goodness, so He ends the Law in goodness, by His resurrection from the dead and He put all its accusations to rest. He has met His own demands, paid for the life of the world with His holy Blood. He will not leave his sons in the well. He will not leave men in Hell. He has compassion. He heals, cleanses, feeds, and forgives. This leaves us not impotent but full of power, full of the Holy Spirit. And we are not silent but we are filled with praise.
So what does “Love your neighbor’ mean? It is much like “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’ You must turn it around. Jesus fulfills the Law. He loves you as Himself, as He loves the Father. He does not leave you hungry while He has money in the bank. He gives you everything. What must you do? Nothing. Be loved. Be healed. Be free.
For He says to those who had no right to even come in to the banquet, “Friend, go up higher. I have taken care of everything. You are more than a friend, you are my own dear Bride. Come, sit beside Me in the place of honor. I was humbled and exalted, now in my grace I exalt you for the sake of love.’
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.