I grew up seeing things very black and white. I believed I had a firm grasp on all the rules in the Bible. The way I interpreted those rules was simple, if you broke any of them, you were going straight to Hell. There was no room for mercy or grace in my mind because those things don’t follow the rules very well. They aren’t easily definable and didn’t fit into my black and white world. It wasn’t until I got older that I began to make room for those in my mind and in my life. The more I looked at the things Jesus did, the more I saw that He wasn’t about the rules as much as the Pharisees were.
One of the stories that helps me to see differently is in Luke 13:10-17. Jesus was teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath. There was a woman listening who had arthritis so bad that her body was twisted and she couldn’t look up. Jesus saw her, laid hands on her and healed her. The head person was furious with Jesus. He said, “Six days have been defined as work days. Come on one of the six if you want to be healed, but not on the seventh, the Sabbath.” But Jesus shot back, “You frauds! Each Sabbath every one of you regularly unties your cow or donkey from its stall, leads it out for water, and thinks nothing of it. So why isn’t it all right for me to untie this daughter of Abraham and lead her from the stall where Satan has had her tied these eighteen years?” (MSG).
Jesus was telling them and us that it’s not just about the rules. We’ve got to have compassion, mercy, love and grace too. As I said, those don’t always fit into our predefined understanding of the rules, but Jesus constantly showed us that those things trumped the rules we try to force people to live by. Jesus was constantly at odds with the legalism of the Jewish leaders and did things like this to help open their eyes to what God really wants from us. A life led by God’s love for others will always yield more fruit than one bound by legalistic thinking. Yes, we need the rules, but without compassion we miss the point.
Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash
A couple of years ago I watched a video where they asked you to count how many times a group of people passed a basketball. After counting the number of passes, I felt pretty good about getting it right. That’s when another question showed up on the screen that asked if I noticed the bear moonwalking through the group of basketball players. I didn’t believe it when they showed me, so I started the video over looking for the bear. Sure enough, I was so busy trying to count that I missed the person dressed as a bear dance through the screen as they passed the ball around him.
In Matthew 12, Jesus and His disciples were passing through a grain field on the Sabbath. Since they were hungry, they picked a few heads of grain and ate them. Some Pharisees saw them and got onto them quoting the law of Moses that says you can’t harvest on the Sabbath. Jesus’ response seems odd at first, but what He said to them, applies to us. In verse 7, He said, “And if you had only known what this statement means, ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION [for those in distress], AND NOT [animal] SACRIFICE,’ you would not have condemned the innocent” (AMP).
Jesus was saying, “Don’t get so caught up in the law that you lose compassion. Quit using the law to condemn, and start finding ways to help people.” Yes, God gave us the Law, but it wasn’t intended for us to use it as a means to condemn or to keep us from living. We can’t live our lives bound by legalism. The sacrifice Jesus made on the cross paid for our sins, not our ability to follow the Law. We can’t miss what Jesus was trying to say here. God desires that you and I show love and compassion more than living a legalistic life.
If you were raised to live a legalistic life, listen to the words Jesus spoke to the legalism elites of His day. There’s more to the Christian life than following a set of rules. God’s grace is greater than your worst sin. Your salvation is not dependent on your ability to follow a set of laws or to hold others to those laws. Jesus wants us to trust God’s grace, love people, and help those in need. Don’t miss the dancing bear in the screen because you’re too busy following the rules too closely.