Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Outlaw Jesus Christ

Today I was reading about Jesus’ encounter with the Sabbath-keepers. (Luke 6:1-11; Mark 2:23-27). They were a law-abiding bunch and hated law-breakers… like Jesus. “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” the Pharisees asked him.

I have studied these Sabbath episodes in my biblical commentaries and preached them in sermons. The standard interpretation is that Jesus was not really breaking the fourth commandment; he was just breaking the Pharisees’ legalistic interpretation of it.

This train of thought says that Jesus was actually fulfilling the real meaning of the Sabbath law, thereby keeping the Sabbath in a deeper manner.  Whew! The Ten Commandments are intact! Maybe. Or maybe Jesus was really breaking the Sabbath.

The Sabbath commandment is one of those divine laws that many people bend to fit their own circumstances. The Bible makes it very clear that the Sabbath is the seventh day of the week – Saturday. No other day would do. It was not a holiday that moved to fit a person’s weekly work schedule. The work schedule was supposed to change to fit the Sabbath; that was the whole point.

But apart from the Jews, only the Seventh Day Adventists, and my cousins the Seventh Day Baptists, observe the Sabbath on Saturday. Other Christians have transferred the day of rest to Sunday, the first day of the week, something Scripture never permits.

Even assuming Sunday were the new Sabbath, Christians don’t even observe Sunday as a day of rest any more. Many Christians “have to work” on Sunday; their jobs demand it. Larger churches even provide Saturday evening worship to accommodate their Sunday-Sabbath-breaking members.

So technically speaking, almost all Christians are Sabbath-breakers. Yet we hold up the Ten Commandments as the pinnacle of morality, lauding them as divine non-negotiables and demanding that monuments to them be erected in public places. Maybe we should be honest and edit them down to the Nine Commandments.

I have never been convinced by the sophistry of Christians who rationalize breaking the fourth commandment regularly, yet get bent out of shape at people who break the other nine. It seems kind of hypocritical to me - more like the Pharisees than Jesus.

That is why I like the stories about Jesus as a Sabbath-breaker. He does not justify his behavior as actually “keeping the spirit of the law.” He just points to another famous lawbreaker in Scripture, King David, and says he is just following his great, great, great, great, great granddaddy’s example. Then he announces, “The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”

Jesus goes further, saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Is he stating a divine principle that supersedes other biblical commands as well? Or is this principle unique to the Sabbath? Does this principle apply to other Scripture texts? Is he possibly saying, “The Scriptures were made for man, not man for the Scriptures?” 

Whoa! That is going too far! Think of the ramifications! But the Pharisees thought Jesus was going too far in regard to the Sabbath command. It says, “But they were filled with rage, and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.” I can almost hear people discussing what to do with me - the outlaw Marshall Davis. At least I am in good company.

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