God Breaks the Pharisaic Sabbath
Contrary to popular belief Jesus wasn’t a sweet Mr. Rodgers who put his sweater on and talked nice to kids. In his autobiography, The Great Good Thing—A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ, Andrew Klavan, the author of best sellers likeTrue Crime, Don’t Say a Word, andEmpire, describes how a secular Jew raised in Great Neck, Long Island, became a best-selling novelist and met Jesus as he journeyed from insanity to reality.
About his agnostic days he writes, “And I did not have faith, and I did not believe in miracles. Church doctrines seemed absurd to me. ‘Born of a virgin. Resurrected from the grave. Coming in glory to judge the living and the dead.’ I could not buy into any of it. To get around that roadblock, I tried the non-doctrinal Universalist church for a while.” He got married in this church but saw a total discontinuity between what it was saying about Jesus and what he read in the Gospel of Mark.
He writes, “The ferociously radical-to-the-death Jesus of the Gospels was transformed here (in the Universal Church) into a bland cheerleader for socially acceptable niceness. That made no sense to me. No one ever got himself crucified for organizing a charity golf tournament.”
Klavan got the Gospel of Mark right. Like every good story teller, Mark knew that tension held the reader’s attention, and that’s why we’ve been tracking how Jesus did one healing after another on the Sabbath, creating a growing heat among the Pharisees who prided themselves on how they kept the Sabbath. It finally united them with even their enemies. They had to take Jesus out.
“And Jesus again entered into the synagogue, and a man was there with a paralyzed hand. They were watching him closely to see if Jesus would heal him on the Sabbath so that they could accuse him. Jesus said to the man with the paralyzed hand, ‘Get up and stand here in the middle!’
Then he said to those who were watching him closely, ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do evil on the Sabbath, to save a life or to destroy it?’ But they kept quiet. Angrily he looked around at them, grieved over the hardness of their hearts, he said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand!’ And he stretched it out and his hand was restored. Immediately, the Pharisees left with the Herodians and consulted together how they might destroy Jesus.” Mark 3:1-6
Pharisees prided themselves on being purists—normal Jews who kept the priestly laws of ritual purity in their daily lives. The Herodians were at the other end of the social spectrum. They supported the line initiated by Herod the Great that stayed in power like a fox—keeping the Jews happy by maintaining external conformity to the Jewish customs, and keeping Rome happy by building chariot race courses and amphitheaters. Ordinarily, the two hated each other, but when a young Galilean started generating a people movement they united. The Pharisees hated the authority he claimed over their traditions and the Herodians sensed that his growing popularity would bring down the wrath of Rome. They sat down together and strategized how to murder Jesus.
LORD, help me not to turn away from Jesus because religionists try to control others with their legalistic rules and others are all about political power. Help me to see those right in front of me who need your touch. Heal one of my Southern Bible students who is fighting pneumonia in the hospital instead of enjoying Spring Break. Stretch out your hand and destroy the infection that’s taking him down.
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