Going against the grain

Have you ever been called “a pain?” “You are a real pain in the neck.” Ever been called that? I suppose if Jesus had a pain in the neck, it would have been the Pharisees. They just keep bothering him and they will not let up until he is dead on a cross. Talk about being nagged to death! In Luke 6.1-11, we see the the Pharisees once again acting as Jesus’ pain in the neck.

A little grainy

The Pharisees first attack Jesus’ disciples for “doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath.” They are picking heads of grain and rubbing them in their hands to get the kernals within, a light snack on the Sabbath. It seems that the Pharisees see the act of rubbing the heads together as harvesting the grain. But Jesus corrects them through an account from the life of David. Jesus is trying to communicate that there is something greater at work here than lawful and unlawful activity. There is a bigger picture that is grainy and fuzzy to the Pharisees; they don’t see what Jesus sees. The final assesment is that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. He is greater than the Sabbath. But Jesus has to affirm this message somehow.

One Armed Bandit

So on another Sabbath, he is teaching the people. Yet again, he has a pain in his neck as the Pharisees are there. Their attitude is sick, though: they are purposefully looking for a reason to accuse Jesus of healing. This is important: they actually want Jesus to work a miracle so that they can use it against him for “working” on the Sabbath. It is sick.

But Jesus gives them what they want: he has a man with a shrivled hand stand up in front of everyone. Then he asks a very pointed question: What is lawful to do on the Sabbath? Its a good question. You Pharisees who know what is right and good to on the Sabbath, you have everything figured out, can we do good or evil on the Sabbath? Should we save a life or kill? No doubt they were dumbfounded.

So Jesus has justified himself and also vindicates his message of being the Lord of the Sabbath by working a miracle – he heals the man’s shrivled hand. The physician Luke records that it was “completely restored.” Not everyone walks away from the story happy, though. In fact, the Pharisees are fuming. Who is this Jesus that tells us which way is up or down? For centuries the Pharisees have had a monopoly upon the correct translation of the law. Yet, Jesus marches onto the scene and goes against the grain (pun intended). How dare him do that good deed to that man!

Here is the lofty picture of Jesus that is grainy to the Pharisees: mercy. The grand picture over both of these accounts is mercy. The disciples are hungry and need food. But they get no mercy from the Pharisees; they are breaking the law, Jesus! How can you let them get away with this atrocity? Because first Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath and two because it is the right thing to do. The disciples needed mercy and this man with the shrivled hand needed mercy. That is the key that the Pharisees are missing in these two accounts is mercy. In fact, Jesus will quote from the prophets concerning this very thing – somewhere God has said “I desire mercy.”

Indeed, with us God desires mercy. And the reason he desires mercy is because he first bestowed mercy to us. How can we expect mercy from God when we ourselves refuse to show mercy to others? We must people of mercy, willing to show mercy to those need it, because God first showed us mercy. We don’t deserve the treatment we get from God (love, kindness, forgiveness) and yet he has given poured it out to us. We must in turn do the same thing and pour forth from our very being the same qualities to all men.

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