Much of Jesus’ ministry was about healing. Lepers, demoniacs, paraplegics, blind, speechless, and more received his healing touch. Sometimes he healed in private and other times among throngs of people.
Sometimes he healed out of shear compassion. Other times he healed what seemed to be at random. At the pool of Bethesda he picked an infirm man out of a crowd while leaving the others in the condition in which they came. Once he even healed without meaning to, when an elderly woman touched the hem of his garment.
Not surprisingly, these acts of mercy and power garnered quite a buzz. Publicity makes both friends and enemies. It’s an odd thing that cause for rejoicing should create controversy, but many of Jesus’ miracles did just that.
Jesus had an interesting habit of defying the arbitrary regulations that the religious leaders of the day had imposed upon one of God’s great gifts. God gave us a day of rest, the Sabbath, a time to stop, pause, and take a break from the toils of this world. What better day to heal the sick and wounded? But the religious types had turned it into a burden. No healing on that day, even though “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)
Healing on the Sabbath was Jesus’ way of showing that this was to be a day of rejoicing and not of burden. “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:11-12 NIV)
The world of religion, both then and now, can become a series of rituals with no apparent relevancy to the other six days of the week. Jesus healed a man, and what should have been cause for great rejoicing instead became a cause of scandal, for we are told that “the Pharisees went out and plotted against him, how they might destroy him.” (verse 14). Looking to destroy someone for doing good might be the sign of some people’s religion, but it is surely not of mine.
These religious leaders had their religion neatly crammed into a ribbon-topped box. They had everything right where they thought it was supposed to be. But when Jesus came to their neighborhood and exposed the fundamental flaw in their system, the veil dropped, exposing their moral nakedness. In building a system of beliefs, they neglected the entire purpose of God. They somehow forgot that it is not about ritual, but about people.
“Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this,” wrote James, “to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27) Or, put differently, help people and obey God.
If your religion is more focused on ritual and narrow interpretation of the law, your religion is in vain. Your faith should inform your behavior away from yourself and toward the needs of others. If you can’t do good on the Sabbath, then what good is the Sabbath?
Lenny Cacchio is a resident of Lee’s Summit. He blogs at http://morningcompanionblogspot.com/.