This morning’s reading was from Mark, chapter 3:
3 Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there.2 Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. 3 Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”
4 Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.
5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.
I love this story. It’s one of my favorites. It so clearly draws the lines between religion and true faith. The religious ones are looking for Jesus to color within the lines, to keep the rules, to obey the standards. Instead Jesus colors outside the lines, because the point is not the lines, but to create something beautiful in the life of another human being, and in this case, the lines inhibit that rather than facilitate it. So he colors outside.
And this isn’t accidental or innocent on Jesus’ part. He is deliberately provoking the religious ones, to hold up a mirror to their self-righteous, callous legalism. The law actually DID allow for emergency first aid to be administered on the Sabbath. But this man’s need is not urgent. We can presume that the hand had been shriveled for some time, and so this was not a critical situation. It could easily have waited until the next (non-Sabbath) day, when any healing would not be considered “work” and thus a breach of the Sabbath.
But as Jesus has already pointed out in the previous story, the Sabbath is for man, and not man for the Sabbath. The “rules” are for our benefit and protection, not for arbitrary restriction. And when the benefit is available through breaking the rules, it’s the benefit that triumphs, not the rules. Compassion wins over laws every time.
I hope that when the rough, the raw, the almost-ready stumble into our churches, they are met with compassion rather than laws, love rather than legalism. I hope that we are not quick to expect behavior that is as yet a standard and expectation unknown to them.
And I hope that as we have opportunity today, to show compassion and love, that we will be prepared to color outside the lines and make it happen.