Monday, January 6, 2014

Living with Justice and Mercy

Scriptural Reading: Luke 6:1-11
Devotional Reading: John 5:2-17

How many times have you wanted to utterly scream, “That’s just not right!” Yes, there are plenty of laws that are “just not right”. For this reason there are courts of equity in the world to determine whether mercy should reign despite the law. It is unfortunate to find those who shall always persecute those who shall have mercy and to whom have the need of the mercy for the sake of their interpretation of the law. It was the same in the days of Christ. In one instance He healed a certain man who had been lying at the pool of Bethesda with an infirmity for thirty-eight years. The man had been sick with an infirmity for a longer period of time than Christ had lived on earth in a human form. What law did He break? He healed the man on the Sabbath and the man worked by carrying his bed. The Jews were livid because Jesus had broken the law of the Sabbath. They cared nothing of the mercy and compassion granted by healing the man. It became their high desire to persecute Jesus that they might kill Him (John 5:2-17)

This quarter of study is entitled “Jesus and the Just Reign of God”. We are in Unit I – “Jesus Ushers in the Reign of God” of the three units of the quarter. This is the first lesson of a four-lesson study. Believers are encouraged to honor the Sabbath as recorded in the book of Luke.

In the first Unit our lessons centered on the beautiful Christmas story of how and why God sent Jesus. In this Unit we begin to focus more on the why aspect. Justice and mercy needed to be handed down to all mankind alike. The law was too stringent and taxing. There had been no room for compassion. Those who judged others through interpretation of the many Biblical laws had set themselves on pedestals. Their many interpretations were flawed by their sins, such as greed, favoritism, partiality, etc. It was their way or the highway. Unfortunately, history has repeated itself and many people today are like those we see in the days of Christ.

Dr. Luke chooses two occasions to illustrate the mercy of Jesus and His teaching versus the lack of mercy and understanding of the scribes and Pharisees. The first incident concerning the Sabbath and His teaching on mercy occurs in Luke 6:1-5. It is recorded as follows, “Now it happened on the second Sabbath after the first that He went through the grainfields. And His disciples plucked the heads of grain and ate them, rubbing them in their hands. And some of the Pharisees said to them, ‘Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?’ But Jesus answering them said, ‘Have you not even read this, what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he went into the house of God, took and ate the showbread, and also gave some to those with him, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat?’ And He said to them, ‘The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.’" (NKJV) Luke felt the timing was important. It was the second Sabbath after the first. The first Sabbath would have been the one after Passover. I am not sure whether the time period made this day more holy and the Pharisees more aggravated or the disciples were simply hungry on that day. Were they supposed to wait to be able to eat in order to remain in good standing with God because it was the Sabbath? Or, out of necessity, should they not find food to eat? The latter makes the most sense. The disciples took the heads of grain to eat for themselves. It was not that the disciples had taken the grain of corn to eat. I am sure the Pharisees had plenty to eat themselves on that Sabbath. The Pharisees interpreted Ex 20:8-11 as prohibiting the plucking of grain on the Sabbath. It was seen as a form of work, and everyone was supposed to rest in obedience to their interpretation of the law. Jesus immediately came to His disciples’ defense. He challenged the Pharisees’ ancestral and Biblical knowledge by asking if they were familiar with the point in time when David and his army of men were hungry. While they were being hotly pursued by King Saul, they went into the Temple and ate showbread reserved only for the priests (1 Sam 21:1-6; Lev 24:5-9). They ate the showbread out of necessity and God allowed it. God would also allow a person’s actions done out of necessity on the Sabbath. Jesus, as son of David, is the Son of Man and thus, He is also the Lord of the Sabbath. It is still yet His day, though, and must be spent in His honor.

The second illustration given is Luke 6:6-11. Jesus is faced with the issue of whether it is good or evil if He should perform justice by healing on the Sabbath. The incident is recorded as follows: “Now it happened on another Sabbath, also, that He entered the synagogue and taught. And a man was there whose right hand was withered. So the scribes and Pharisees watched Him closely, whether He would heal on the Sabbath, that they might find an accusation against Him. But He knew their thoughts, and said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Arise and stand here.’ And he arose and stood. Then Jesus said to them, ‘I will ask you one thing: Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy?’ And when He had looked around at them all, He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ And he did so, and his hand was restored as whole as the other. But they were filled with rage, and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.” (NKJV) Christ took the patience to teach, not only the disciples, but He entered the synagogue to teach the people. In these verses, the receiver of the miracle was one of the persons who came to hear the ministry of the day. We do not know if he came to request or ask for a blessing. We do know he had the faith to receive one. Jesus saw the man’s right withered hand and felt compassion. Christ knew the man was hampered by not having two fully productive hands. The scribes and Pharisees knew, also. However they were aware of a rabbinic tradition that only allowed healing on the Sabbath if the condition was life-threatening. The man’s right withered hand did not fit in that category. So, they watched to see what Jesus would do. But Jesus knew what they were thinking. He tested the man’s faith to see if he were ready to receive his healing. The man stood and Jesus posed a question that caused the wickedness of the persecuting scribes and Pharisees to be quieted in anger. There was no way around answering in the negative that it is lawful to do evil or to destroy life. While the scribes and Pharisees were silenced, Jesus healed the man to their opposition. They were filled with rage and discussed amongst each other what they would do against Jesus.

The Sabbath laws were a major factor in causing Jesus’ crucifixion. The Sabbath was intended by God for man’s good. When rightly understood, it did not prohibit a work of necessity or a work of mercy. We must be committed to God’s kingdom of mercy and justice. They are very important. “Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘Execute true justice, Show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother…(Zech 7:9 NKJV).

Written by Deborah C. Davis

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