Your Heart Isn't Numb, Is It?
February 13, 2011
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Something Is Strange
1. Today's scripture reading began with the words, "On one Sabbath." Then again, in verse six the text has, "Also, on another Sabbath." Having said that, today's reading consists of stories about "the Sabbath."
2. The Jewish Sabbath is Saturday. Strictly [speaking], dates change along with the sunsets, but the Sabbath is from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday. In regard to the observance of the Sabbath, it is recorded as the fourth commandment among the ten commandments of Moses. "Remember the Sabbath, and keep it holy. You work for six days and do your business whatever it may be, but since the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord, your God, you must not do any work," (Exodus 20:8-10).
3. "You must not do any work." -- The deeply religious tried to keep this literally. They discussed it repeatedly in order to clarify what comes under "work," [and] thirty-nine major varieties of labor were prohibited on Sabbaths. Furthermore, they reached a decision formulating the thirty-nine bans against the different kinds of labor. [That is, there would be] one thousand five hundred and twenty-one bans in all. It is amazingly detailed. They don't think that in the times of Jesus it had gotten to that level of detail yet, but, for example, harvesting and threshing, and even routine medical treatments, were included in [the list] of [Sabbath] bans.
4. Well, what kinds of things happened [in the stories] on these "Sabbath days?" "On one Sabbath, when Jesus was going through a field, the disciples picked the head off wheat, then rubbed them in their hands, and ate. The Pharisees said, 'Why do you do what one must not do on the Sabbath?'," (verses one and two).
5. We think, "If you eat whenever you feel like it from somebody else's field, it is stealing, and you're not supposed to do that." But this was a deed that was actually permitted. The law of Moses is written as follows. "When one enters the field of one's neighbor, you may pick the heads with your hands, but you must not use a sickle in that field," (Deuteronomy 23:25). This is in consideration of the poor. In the Old Testament, a warm concern like this [for the poor] can be found often. Therefore, what the Pharisees were finding fault with was not that they had eaten at will the wheat from a field that belonged to somebody else. That was not what they took issue with, they took issue with the fact that they did the deed on "the Sabbath," saying, "Why do you do what we must not do on the Sabbath?"
6. In other words, the deed of the disciples got caught up in a Sabbath prohibition. They had picked heads of wheat. This corresponds to the work classified as "harvesting." In addition, the picked wheat could not be eaten as is. They loosened it by rubbing it and then ate it. This corresponds to "threshing" as well as "the preparation of food." It is not a joke. They were dead serious about it. They found fault, saying, "Why are you doing labor which is prohibited on the Sabbath!?"
7. In reply to this, Jesus said, "Have you never read what David and his companions did when they were hungry? [He] went into the house of God, [he] took and ate the bread of the offering which no one except a priest must eat, and did he not give it to his companions as well?" David certainly did a deed that transgressed the law. He broke the rules. But God does not find fault with David in this; he does not punish him for it, does he? This is what Jesus is trying to tell them. God did not pay attention to just the fact that David broke the rules.
8. Please think about this with me. Jesus' disciples were probably so hungry that they picked the wheat, rubbed it with their hands and ate it. If these hungry men picking and eating wheat and getting entangled in the laws for the Sabbath were the [whole] issue, [somebody] should just share a bit of bread [with them] so that they shouldn't violate the law. Right? Nevertheless, the religiously devout don't realize at all the pangs of hunger of these men. They only see that they broke the rules. Something is strange. Something is odd. But, even with that said, it is a common thing. Wouldn't you agree? People only see the mistakes others have made. Never regarding the person's suffering, they just blame a person for the mistaken deed, find fault, and punish. Nothing good ever comes out of that.
9. This part of humankind can even be found in us sometimes. [We're] seeing this part that says "Something is strange" more and more, [like in] the other episode that [I] read to you today, [in] the events that took place on another Sabbath.
People With Numb Hearts
10. "Again, on another Sabbath, Jesus entered a synagogue and taught. There was a man there and his right hand was palsied," (verse six). In saying that his right hand was palsied it means it was paralyzed to some degree. As we look at the place where the text says by design "right hand," it [implies] the dominant arm and hand of the man. When a person's dominant limb is paralyzed to some degree, then things are extremely inconvenienced. He had been forced to live a tough life. He was healed by Jesus. His hand went back to the way it was before. That's the story. But, the focus of today's passage of scripture is clearly not the healing of this man. It is the conversation between Jesus and the people around them.
11. Let's turn our attention to the people around them. In verse seven it reads as follows. "As the scholars of the law and the Pharisees tried to find a pretext by which to make a case against [Jesus], they were observing Jesus as to whether or not he would heal an illness on the Sabbath." The scene is the synagogue on the Sabbath, which means they have assembled for worship. Jesus was teaching there. They were listening to Jesus' words. They were listening to the gospel of the kingdom of God. Yes, the sound of [his] voice had reached [their] ears. But, as they were within earshot of the grace of God, in a place where one worshipped God, they were not even thinking about God. They were thinking about making a case against Jesus.
12. As I touched on earlier, even deeds related to medical treatment were included on the list of bans for the Sabbath. When a life was in danger, medical care was permitted, even though it was the Sabbath. But, in cases where no life was in danger, routine medical treatment was prohibited. A lame hand was not in and of itself a life threatening condition. However, they knew they could count on Jesus' healing the man as he looked at his suffering. Then, they could make their case for a violation of the law. Worse still, it was men who were versed in the scriptures who were thinking that way, in a place of worship, as they had in their presence this man who had been suffering with a palsied hand.
13. Something is strange. Something is weird. Jesus had a man before him who had a bad hand that needed to be healed, but from Jesus' view, the healthy people around him must have seemed more paralyzed than [the one man with the bad hand]. It wasn't just a right hand that was paralyzed and numb; the people's hearts were in a state of paralysis and numbness. The guy with the bad right hand may still be in good condition, [heart-wise], though. -- Because, at least, he was not there trying to discover a pretext by which to make a case against Jesus, but instead he was in the synagogue to worship and his heart was turned towards God.
14. A numb heart is quite serious. Let's take another look at the Pharisees and the scribes of the law. A man with a palsied hand was healed right before their eyes. His hand was obviously healed as a work of God's mercy. [They] saw the grace of God. [They] saw the joy of that man. Undoubtedly, he had been shedding tears and rejoicing. But, they were not rejoicing with him. What does the text say? "However, they became enraged and conversed with one another on what they might do [to] Jesus," (verse eleven). -- Paralyzed hearts which did not rejoice with the man who was rejoicing over the grace of God. That is more miserable than a right hand being paralyzed.
15. But Jesus knew these hearts of theirs. It is just as the text says, "Jesus saw through their thoughts," (verse eight). Jesus knew. Therefore, he set the man in their midst and healed him. It was a real live demonstration, a demonstration to show that the grace of God heals people. The ones who needed healing even more than the man with the palsied hand were those Pharisees. And we, who are here in this place, might just be in the very same condition. The grace of God will heal us. But how? It will come by Jesus as "the Lord of the Sabbath" restoring us back into the proper kind of Sabbath.
16. Jesus said, "I want to ask you a question. In the law for the Sabbath is it permitted to do good or to do bad? To save a life or to destroy [it]?," (verse nine). Yes, that day was certainly "the Sabbath day." And, God did not originally establish the Sabbath for the purpose of prohibiting things. In Deuteronomy are the following words. "You must remember that you were once a slave in the land of Egypt, but your God, the Lord lifted his powerful hand and arm and guided you. For that reason, your God the Lord commanded [you] to keep the Sabbath," (Deuteronomy 5:15). In other words, the Sabbath, in essence, is supposed to mean the day that one remembers God's grace and mercy.
17. Just before that the scripture says, "As for the seventh day, because it is the Sabbath of the Lord your God, you must not do any kind of work. It goes for you, [your] sons, [your] daughters, [your] male and female slaves, oxen, donkeys, [your] cattle, and the people who are dwelling within your gates. Therefore, your male and female slaves can rest like you," (Deuteronomy 5:14). You let everyone rest. You let even the oxen and the donkeys rest. It is ultimately for the purpose of letting the slaves rest. As one recalls that he or she has received God's mercy, you let all [your] neighbors rest, in this case, even extending to one's slaves. Thus then, the Sabbath means the day in which one remembers God's grace and mercy, and furthermore, as one remembers God's grace and mercy, now you point others to grace and mercy as a person who has had a share in grace and mercy. It is that kind of day. We share God's grace with each other. It is the day we rejoice together. That's the kind of Sabbath that Jesus and the Pharisees were supposed to be in.
18. Jesus restores us back into this kind of true Sabbath. In today's passage we are already catching a glimpse of the figure of Jesus heading for the cross; for, when he healed that man he did it while knowing that it would bring him one step closer to the cross. As usual, they became enraged and conversed over what they might do [to] Jesus. Didn't they? Yet, by Jesus' going towards the cross like he is doing and by his [eventually] being crucified, he is bringing us forgiveness of sin, and he is restoring us back into the original Sabbath. He is restoring anyone [of us] as righteous persons, anyone who used to pay attention to just the wrong deeds of others [he is now restoring] as forgiven persons, persons who are now living as recipients of mercy. Thus, [God] renews us as persons empowered to feel God's mercy towards other persons as well besides ourselves, and then as persons who live as one with God's mercy.