BaptistWay: Focused on people, not rules

• The BaptistWay lesson for Dec. 29 focuses on Luke 13:10-17.

Two wrongs don’t make a right

Our church is located off Main Street in an easily accessible central area. This can be both a blessing and curse, depending on how much free time I have to chat with “drop-ins.” One drop-in I never will forget stood outside my office with tears in her eyes before being asked to sit down in a chair opposite me.

I immediately assumed she faced a domestic disturbance or needed immediate financial assistance. To my surprise, neither of these common scenarios were the case. Instead, she had a question about the Bible.

Believe it or not, opportunities like this come around less often for a pastor than you might think. She opened her huge King James translation to the Gospel of Luke and turned to 16:19: “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

“So what is the question?” I asked.

“Well, my pastor told me this means I have to live apart from my son’s father, and we have to split custody of our child.”

She wasn’t looking for an answer; she was looking for grace. She went on to tell me how she and her husband had split up in the past, got involved with other people, but now they were back together and had a child. In an effort to recommit their marriage to God, they began attending church together.

When the pastor heard about their previous mistake, he told them the only way they could be forgiven in God’s sight was if they were to remain celibate and live separate lives.

While most pastors struggle with getting people to stay together, this one was telling a couple God’s will was for them to be apart—and quoting Jesus in the process. As outlandish as this seems, it is the result of what happens when we turn the Bible into a book of rules instead of a guide that points us to Jesus.

With all seriousness, and without allowing my full frustration with her pastor to show, I simply told her: “You won’t find this one in the Bible, but Jesus knew ‘two wrongs don’t make a right.’”

A healing (Luke 13:10-13)

This is the sentiment Jesus demonstrated when approached by a women in need of healing while he was teaching in a synagogue. The humanity of Jesus must have been taken by surprise. As he carefully focused his energies on explaining and applying the Scriptures, his attention became diverted, and he took notice of this poor woman.

Jesus didn’t fumble with his words or wait until he was finished teaching to address the situation. Rather, “when he saw her” (v. 14) he took action to bring her healing.

Not a lot of detail is given on the “spirit” that plagued her or the infirmity that prevented her from standing straight (v. 11). These things are not the point. The emphasis is given on her instant healing and its direct attribution to God. God rejoices when people are healed and families are put together, regardless of the rules or scriptures others cling to while raining on their parade.

A reaction (13:14)

The synagogue ruler clung to the law of the Sabbath in Exodus 20:9-10. Perhaps intimidated by Jesus’ ability, he avoids addressing him directly and instead attempts to turn away anyone else who might be seeking healing by saying: “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath” (v. 14).

Of course, he is missing the point. Healing is not to be looked upon as work or performed out of obligation. It was something Jesus did out of compassion—out of his insatiable desire to set things right in the world he had come to redeem. Rigid rule-keeping doesn’t understand this kind of desire or the heart of Jesus.

A response (13:15-17)

Jesus could have told the synagogue ruler and those who agreed with him they were missing the point. Instead, he takes the discussion a step further by using their logic against them. There was ample evidence of rabbinic precedent for helping animals in emergencies on the Sabbath. So Jesus uses a lesser-to-greater argument to move from helping animals (v. 15) to helping humans (v. 16). Luke says his comment and actions “delighted” the people and “humiliated” his opponents (v. 17).

Relationships over rules

The humility others face at the hands of religious leaders stuck on obeying the letter of the law can be traumatizing. That’s not why the law was given, nor why Jesus came. I highly doubt the pastor who advised the parents of a young child to break up their family would cast himself in the role of the synagogue ruler in today’s Scripture. None of us purposely would take on that role. However, any time we value rules over a relationship, that is what we do.

Lord, help us to follow in your footsteps by delighting others through relationships rather than humiliating others through rules. Amen.

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