Luke 6:6 On another sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. 7The scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him. 8Even though he knew what they were thinking, he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come and stand here.’ He got up and stood there. 9Then Jesus said to them, ‘I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?’ 10After looking around at all of them, he said to him, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He did so, and his hand was restored. 11But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.
It’s complicated. That’s where I end up today after some quiet time reflecting on the Sabbath and the Law referred to in today’s gospel passage. I revisited some source material to remind me of the tradition of sabbath-keeping, recalling that the day of rest was God’s action in Genesis, not an action intended for humankind. Not until Exodus 20 is keeping the Sabbath commanded. And not simply commanded but a detailed explanation of what it means to keep a seventh day ‘holy,’:
8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
What was important then, is so today. It is the intention behind the commandment. The intention behind God’s Word that we are to attend to. The scribes and Pharisees needed to be reminded from whence the commandment to sabbath-keep came. Bottom line, the intention was to rest – that’s all. Pretty simple. God revealed in Genesis what looks to be a healthy and balanced way of living – work and create, and take a rest, work and create, and take a rest. The body needs refueling, down time, quiet.
All the details added in Exodus seem to have distracted the faithful from the intention. The Pharisees are adhering literally and narrowly to a commandment that is so much bigger than they have interpreted. They are blinded by the fine print of the contract to see God’s intention.
Many of us are blinded and paralyzed by the fine print of commandments, covenants and contracts. The law says one thing and we interpret said law through a micro-focused lens of the fine print rather than the pano view. It makes sense to pay attention to the details of any contract – they are there for a reason – to protect us, the consumer. But if we keep our gaze only on the fine print we risk becoming blind to the big picture, the pano view.
That’s what Jesus is encouraging the Pharisees to do – to lift their gaze from the fine print – the letter of the law – up to the intention of the law. To let the light of the Lord illuminate their understanding.
God is in the details many of us often say. True that. I see this most especially in nature – God is there in every flower, every insect, sand grain. I cannot look at anything through my camera’s micro lens without seeing and sensing and knowing God’s presence.
But if God is in the details, then who I see most in the pano view, is Jesus. The law, like creation, was revealed by God, and Jesus came not to upend as the Pharisees wrongly charged, but to fulfill. To ‘fill out’ – to expand, enlarge, encompass, enlighten. I see Jesus in every intention of God’s creation, commandments and covenants. And I see Jesus asking me to think bigger, open up, trust the intention to be bigger and better than all the details and fine print others might suggest are set in stone. Keep the Sabbath, that was what was set in stone. Nothing more.
We are commanded to rest and as Christians honor the Lord on the Lord’s Day. That’s the big picture and intention. That is what Jesus illustrates over and over – he expands the view – opens up the lens – softens the hard edges of the details in the law. Not doing this or that – in this case healing – are details that simply point to a way to rest – some good suggestions, perhaps but not the law and not the intention. Like the fine print of any contract, details that may protect you but should not stop you from making the purchase. The details of the law as understood by the Pharisees paralyzed them – blinded them – not just to the intention of the sabbath, but more importantly to seeing and knowing Jesus as the Son of God.