I have been thinking a lot about rules lately. Everywhere we go there are rules.
I am going to proctor End Of Grade tests at the local middle school and there are rules. I can’t speak during testing, read a book, have my phone out or help with the questions.
When I explored being a missionary in Venezuela, there were rules. I would have to live with another single woman, I would have to hire a woman to be my companion and go nowhere alone. I would have to dress conservatively, be vigilant about who I spoke to and I would have to leave every 90 days, so I wouldn’t violate visa and immigration policies.
Life has rules. Some written, some unwritten. We want 2.2 feet of personal space, acceptable amounts of eye contact, words you can use in some situations but not others, clothes appropriate to different situations and events.
Most people would look at me funny if I preached in shorts and an old t-shirt.
The Bible has rules. We have the 10 commandments, but we also have rules about forgiveness, loving our neighbor and our enemy and care for the less fortunate. We also have rules that help us keep the other rules.
Our lives are consumed with rules.
In our scripture, Jesus addresses the issue of rules, specifically what it means to Honor the Sabbath and keep it Holy.
This is one of a series of challenges in Mark. Jesus has been challenging the cultural rules of who can forgive sins, when people should fast, whom it is acceptable to share a meal with and who can be seen in public together.
These confrontations build up to this climax. Mark has the religious and political powers in such a tizzy that they are conspiring to kill him only three chapters in.
Jesus is challenging the rules, challenging the status quo, and the authority of those in power, not because he wants to be a trouble maker or know it all. Jesus challenges the rules because people have forgotten or misused the rule and its importance.
When Jesus says; “Sabbath was made for humanity, not humanity for the sabbath,” Jesus is challenging the core of their reasoning.
Why do we follow rules? Why are there rules?
In a just society, rules are there for the benefit of those who follow them. Observing traffic laws keeps us safer on the roads. Not eating raw meat helps prevent us from getting sick. Taking all our antibiotics help prevent antibiotic resistant germs. The rules we follow when dating or talking with people on-line will help keep you safe too.
All the rules about living in Venezuela were to protect me and my reputation as a woman, as a Christian and to keep me safe in a dangerous country where I hadn’t perfected the language and didn’t know the unspoken cultural norms.
Rules are typically created with good intentions, not to be a burden but to provide an avenue to health and happiness.
So why is Jesus challenging these rules? The same reason God calls us to challenge some of our rules today. Jesus recognizes that what has become most important was the rule itself, not the people it was designed to help.
The people in power had gotten and kept power by enforcing the rules. The people in our scripture were more concerned about keeping the rules than whether people were hungry or suffering.
We in this country are no different than our forefathers in the faith in this regard. We have rules today that we keep more for power and control than safety or care for those without power.
The commandment the Pharisees in the story wanted Jesus to keep was the command by God to Honor the Sabbath and keep it holy. They had created many rules around this one rule.
They had defined what it meant to rest, and work. They had rules about when an exception could be made and the consequences for breaking the sabbath, but they had forgotten why we were given the command and what it means to keep it holy.
Sabbath is a gift from God. An opportunity to rest, to spend time in worship, to remember to trust God to provide for our needs.
A reminder that the world doesn’t revolve around us and we aren’t in control. It is a time to meditate, reflect and give thanks for the gifts of God.
Humanity turned it into rules. When I was a kid it was an unwritten rule that you didn’t mow grass on Sunday. But what if that is the only time during a week you can be alone with your thoughts and with God? What if the mower is where you feel relaxed and able to contemplate God’s creation?
It has been within my lifetime that businesses were expected to be open on Sundays and I don’t know about you but the only time I crave Chic-fil-a is on Sunday when they’re closed.
Does this mean we aren’t keeping Sabbath? Does it mean Sunday is the only day to take Sabbath? Does sitting at home watching a race instead of mowing make it holy? What about the drivers and others working the NASCAR race?
Jesus says, we have forgotten the point. Sabbath rest is important for us, not because of us.
God wants us to ask the same questions about our rules. What’s the point? Is the rule misused? Is it there to keep some in power at the expense of others? Do our rules lift people up and encourage them to live healthy lives? Or are they there so that others can be condemned for breaking them, made to feel shame and guilt?
Jesus looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart.
Not because they were breaking the rule but because Jesus sees us for who we are; broken and sinful people.
Jesus is grieved because he wants better for us. He wants us to thrive in a loving relationship with God and others, not the rules our egos have put in place.
What is it we do that grieves Jesus? Are there times in our lives when we want power, and the ability to judge others for breaking the rules that we forget the humanity of the person in front of us. Do we overlook their needs, their pains, their desires so we can maintain control?
What’s more important being right or being compassionate? Jesus says being kind and compassionate is more important and thank God, because those kind and compassionate eyes are the ones Jesus uses to see us.
Jesus knows when we break the rules. Jesus knows when we do things that break his heart and he still loves us anyway. He sees our humanity and our need for grace behind every misstep and failure. That is truly good news because there is no way to ever keep all the rules and we break them every day.
If this is the grace, we hope to receive then shouldn’t we extend that same grace to others?