Monday, June 4, 2018

Jesus Healing on the Sabbath: Non-Violent Civil Protest

Mark 2:23-3:6
June 3, 2018

The third commandment is:
Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy.
The interpretation of that is what we heard from
Deuteronomy today, that no work should be done
on the Sabbath day, outside of worship and rest.

Now in times like ours after Unions have done their work,
having one day’s rest or even two day’s doesn’t seem too unusual,
but to the Israelites coming out of slavery in Egypt –
where productivity was paramount over everything–
one mandatory day of rest for everyone, including
your children, and slaves, and animals, it was pretty radical
and a message to all those who were in power.

To be honest, it really put a hit on that bottom line.
Think of all the stuff you could get produced in one day.
Think of what wouldn’t get done on that Sabbath.
It really put things in perspective,
Even slaves and animals needed their rest.
It’s a good commandment and a merciful commandment.
Living things, and their well-being, counted more than the bottom line.

But, of course, time marches on and
in the hands of people, this good, merciful commandment
becomes a laborious chore rather than a gift.
People start getting in trouble for doing any type of work.
It starts to be an excuse to monitor people,
to catch them doing wrong.
Even Jesus and his disciples gets in trouble
for picking some grain to eat on the Sabbath day.
This causes the Pharisees to accuse him of
breaking the law and not being a good man of God.
When they do,
Jesus points out a story of King David which
we can find in 1 Samuel chapter 21.
In this story, David has been anointed by God,
but he’s not king yet, he is being chased by Saul
who is trying to kill him.

David goes to the priest in the town
and asks for some food to feed his soldiers,
but all the priest has is consecrated bread.
The priest decides that it was okay to give it to them.
As long as the men hadn’t “been with” any women.
David assured them that they hadn’t and he
lets him take it for them to eat.

Jesus uses scripture, the highly regarded
King David and a priest of old,
to say that certain demands of the law
were able to be put aside in favor of greater needs.
He reminds them, the Sabbath law and other laws
were made to serve humans.
Humans were not made to serve the Sabbath laws.

Today, religion is not, for the most part,
in charge of society, at least not ours,
but there are still laws and they still have the
same benefits and problems.
Rules are good, of course,
they help maintain a just and safe society.
But in human hands, laws can be used to oppress,
they can be levied arbitrarily and
they are often used to further punish
people who are already in unfortunate circumstances
and to oppress and control certain groups of people.
I was in court once for a traffic ticket,
The ticket was like $40, but the court cost
was almost three times that much.
For me and for other people who had money,
the ticket was a minor inconvenience, no big deal.
But for a lot of the people there,
who didn’t have as much money,
these minor offenses could be crippling.
Since they couldn’t pay the court cost,
they were stuck with old tickets on their record,
that never got paid, their licenses were suspended,
then they couldn’t get to work, to pay their tickets.
It was a revolving door of mounting problems
They can end up serving the law and nothing more.
And that is just one of the least offensive examples.

We have immigration rules that are
often applied arbitrarily depending on
the race or social status of the person.
And mothers are having their children
taken away from them at the border,
and given into foster care.

This week, I heard about two parents
who were arrested for giving their 15
year old son marijuana because it
was the only thing that helped his seizures
which he would have several times a day.
They were facing time in prison,
and their son was taken away from them.

A man who was released from prison
in 2016, who served 20 years on a drug charge,
who was a model prisoner, and became a model citizen,
was told after two years of freedom,
that he was wrongfully released,
and he has to go back into jail to serve another
10 years because of a technicality.

But a college student
who was caught and found guilty
of raping an unconscious woman
only received six months in jail
and was released after only three.

For the oppressed: the poor, people of color,
people of different religions – breaking the rules is a
threat to society, it’s heinous, it’s a crime against humanity --
the law’s hands are tied, we have to satisfy the justice system.

But when those in power, or those who are well off,
or of the dominant race or religion do the same,
there’s mercy in the court, there’s an extenuating circumstances,
the offender just gets their hands slapped
and the court makes exceptions.

For a lot of people, it seems like they are slaves to the law
instead of the laws serving the good of all the people.
And that’s why poor people and people of color are
often identified as law breakers in all societies.
The laws are unevenly working against them.

This is what Jesus and the disciples were confronted with
with the Pharisees. They were just eating some grain,
but the Pharisees thought that they should have
just gone hungry for the day, or they should have
prepared better for the Sabbath and collected it the day before.
But those kind of things are okay for people with leisure time,
but not for everyone.

The Pharisees caught them breaking the law
that was supposed to serve them.
Never mind that the Pharisees were obviously working that
day too trying to catch Jesus breaking the law,
having meetings, conspiring with Herodians.
That didn’t count. There were extenuating circumstances.
When Jesus goes to a synagogue and
a man is asking for healing from him.
The Pharisees watch to see what Jesus would do
would he put a religious law first,
or would he heal the man?

And right in front of the Pharisees he defies the law.
And at that, the Pharisees conspire with the Herodians
to get rid of Jesus, it says, they try to figure out how to destroy him.
Not just to arrest him or get rid of him, but destroy him.
The kind of non-violent civil action by people not in power
which drove the Pharisees to have Jesus killed.
Why does this raise so much 
ire and outrage?
That act by Jesus was a civil, 
non-violent protest,
a demonstration by a group not in power,
against a law that has become unjust.
And that makes people 
in power very anxious.
You can watch it happen all the time today.

Jesus was not just 
breaking the rule about Sabbath.
With his action, 
he was challenging their method
and means of control and oppression.
Their way of keeping the riff-raff and the thugs under control.
Their way of keeping their own privilege and power.

When the Pharisees were waiting there,
in the synagogue to see what he would do,
it says that Jesus looking around with anger
and he was distressed at their hardness of heart.
Nowhere else in the gospels does it say outright
that Jesus was angry, but here.
And we know that Jesus was not angry for himself,
he was angry for all the other people who were caught in the same traps.

And if Jesus is angry, we should be angry too.
As Christians, we aren’t called to be good little girls and boys
and follow and respect all the rules blindly.
We’re called to be good citizens,
looking out for the good of everyone.
We’re supposed to realize that sometimes rules
aren’t good or they’re not enacted justly.
That they don’t serve the people.

Jesus coming to us is a radical reorganizing of the way things are,
in favor of the way things should be. God’s way.
Christ inspires every new generation to confront
these rules and laws that don’t serve the people:
·         The Protestant Reformation confronting the tyranny of the church
·         The American revolution confronting the tyranny of England.
·         Abolitionists confronting the brutality of Slavery
·         The civil rights movement confronting the
horror of Jim Crow Laws in the US.
·         What will Christ inspire this generation to confront?
and the next?

Jesus starts by giving us the belief  that everyone is a child of God.
Everyone is worthy.
And Jesus inspires us to put human lives
before production, and before money, before governments
and institutions, and even before the rules.
Jesus does not want us to be slaves to any of these things.
We should only serve each other, and God.

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