We had been walking for a week straight. The pace was incredible. We did not even feel like they had homes any more because we were always on the move. This is the way it always was. There was a constant pressure to move on to the next town and to continue proclaiming the “good news”. Saturday was always the hardest day. Usually there was no way to prepare and have extra food on hand so Saturday was a hungry day. Today, was especially tough though. Our travels took us through a grain field! It was excruciating. But, to our astonishment the Teacher grabbed the head of a grain rubbed it in his hands and ate the kernel. We looked at one another, confused, it was the Sabbath wasn’t it? But, the Teacher picked and ate. We did too.

Then “they” showed up. The religious, the high and mighty Pharisees. They were always around. They said, “Your disciples are breaking the Sabbath rules!”

The Teacher’s response was amazing, “Really? Didn’t you ever read what David and his companions did when they were hungry, how they entered the sanctuary and ate fresh bread off the altar, bread that no one but priests were allowed to eat? And didn’t you ever read in God’s Law that priests carrying out their Temple duties break Sabbath rules all the time and it’s not held against them? There is far more at stake here than religion. If you had any idea what this Scripture meant — ‘I prefer a flexible heart to an inflexible ritual’ — you wouldn’t be nitpicking like this. The Son of Man is no lackey to the Sabbath; he’s in charge.”

Then we went into the Synagogue for worship. When we got there “they” thought they had the Teacher trapped because there was a crippled man there. “They” asked, “Is it legal to heal on the Sabbath?”

The Teacher got them again, “Is there a person here who, finding one of your lambs fallen into a ravine, wouldn’t, even though it was a Sabbath, pull it out? Surely kindness to people is as legal as kindness to animals!” Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” He held it out and it was healed. “They” walked out furious, sputtering about how they were going to ruin Jesus.

(Based on Matthew 12:1–14, with a little help from the Message)

This is an amazing story. It’s really a central text for our question about freedom and law. The law said, “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God, your God. Don’t do any work — not you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your servant, nor your maid, nor your animals, not even the foreign guest visiting in your town. For in six days Godmade Heaven, Earth, and sea, and everything in them; he rested on the seventh day. Therefore God blessed the Sabbath day; he set it apart as a holy day.”

The Pharisees were somewhat right in their questioning of Jesus and the disciples. In their minds they really were breaking the sabbath commandment. But Jesus response flips their understanding of the commandment on its head, “the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath”. Brilliant! He even says that the disciples in this case are guiltless! He goes so far as to point out that they missed the point of the command when he quotes Hosea 6:6. In Hosea God has his people in the dock and calling them to account. The Pharisees would have felt the sting. Jesus was calling them out as heartless and completely disconnected from God himself.

In their quest to be faithful to God the Pharisees had missed God’s heart and his desire for them to worship. I think we are guilty of this. What are the rules that you have put in place to be faithful to God?

Maybe some of these ring true:

  • No R rated movies.
  • No secular music.
  • No smoking.
  • No drinking.
  • No dating.
  • No being a Democrat.
  • No being a Republican.
  • No being Pro-Choice.
  • No being Pro-Life.
  • No watching MSNBC.
  • No rooting for Ohio State University (OK, this is mine, I admit it. I think God’s OK with it.)

Freedom is about worship. Freedom is about coming to the God of the universe and being with him and with his people. There are no longer divisions. The boundary markers of in and out are changed they are now spiritual and communal. They are no longer based on law.

What’s your list? How does it need to change? Are you building barriers on behalf of God? Are you OK with God’s dismantling of barriers through the crucifixion of Jesus?