Pastor Michael Frye:

One of the major problems human beings have in this world is being able to distinguish between those things that are really important for a human understanding of God, and those things that only confuse and confound us.

For instance, in our gospel lesson for today it is obvious (because of Jesus’ full knowledge of scripture) that he knew the disciples who were gathering grain for food on the Sabbath were breaking the laws built around that commandment, “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.”

Jesus was also very much aware of all the other rules and regulations devised over the years to define the kinds of things that one could not do on the Sabbath.

But Jesus allowed them to gather grain on the Sabbath in direct conflict with those laws, knowing full well that the Pharisees had been following him and his disciples around just to be able to catch them violating their laws.

Jesus calmly reminded the Pharisees that King David had done something similar centuries before and that David had taken the bread of the presence which was meant to be food for the priests and had shared it with his hungry companions.

Jesus went on to explain:

“The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath, so the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

A bitter pill for the Pharisees to swallow, but somehow they knew that God was speaking to them through this troublemaker who was turning things upside down.

Before they could put a plan together against him, Jesus had moved into the synagogue, where he saw a man in the crowd who had a withered hand.

As Jesus reached out to the man and called him forward, the religious leaders were ecstatic, because if he healed that man on the Sabbath, his credibility would be shot, and his transgressions against the Sabbath laws would have been undeniable.

So Jesus took it upon himself to call the man forward and ask the crowd the critical question:

“Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?

Did they answer the question?

Of course not, because it would have meant that they placed greater value on words that had been filtered many times over the centuries by human beings than they would over another human being’s life.

The Pharisees knew this, which is why they kept silent; but they began plotting immediately to destroy Jesus before he could do any more damage to their tarnished reputations.

Now, Jesus had no intention of nullifying observance of the Sabbath Day, quite the contrary.

Jesus was putting things into their proper perspective.

He was calling upon them to come back to what was really essential in the eyes of God; that his people should “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with their God,” according to the prophet Micah.

How does one’s feeding those who are hungry on any day of the week, including the Sabbath, defy God’s desire for his human creation to be just and kind toward one another?

How does healing someone who is in pain or who is physically challenged harm one’s relationship with our creator?

By doing what he did, even in the face of immense criticism and condemnation, Jesus was putting a human face upon an all-powerful, all-knowing, and ever-present God whose love and compassion for his children on this earth is far greater than we can ever imagine.

Robert Farlee has said that in some ways, all of us are Pharisees, and that isn’t all bad. In order to live in a society, humans need structure.

Laws provide ground rules for behavior, and to the extent that they are fair and mutually agreeable, they allow us to move beyond the mundane and creatively consider deeper matters.

What happens when the fairness of these laws comes into question?

Almost every parent has had to deal with the question from a child, “why do I have to do that?”

Sometimes a quick response, “because I said so!” isn’t going to bring about an amiable solution.

Throughout the Bible, the promise of God to always be with his people suggests a different approach.

Jesus has always been concerned with overturning weak, poorly-thought-through rules.

Farlee observes that “it just makes sense that people should be able to harvest food and that the sick should be healed.

That makes perfect sense, but carrying out Christ’s mandate to follow in his footsteps doing things according to his plan doesn’t always make sense to us.

In our second lesson for today, St. Paul wrote:

“For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake…

“We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed;

“perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;

“always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.”

In Luther’s Small Catechism, he explained the commandment regarding the Sabbath day in this way:

“We are to fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching or God’s word, but instead keep that word holy and gladly hear and learn it.

Luther goes far beyond attending church worship services or Sunday School, although doing those things is important; he emphasizes that we love God so much that we gladly hear God’s word wherever and however it is preached and taught; that we are eager to learn and make an effort to understand how that word fits into our own lives, as well as into the lives of others.

It is our role as Christ’s disciples to proclaim that word however and whenever we can, including our feeling at rest in that word (which is what “sabbath” means).

We have “this treasure”, this presence of God, within us (who are made of dust and clay); within our own bodies; within this body, the Church.

Though we may face afflictions, and perplexities, and persecutions because of our faith, the fact that we have died with Christ and have been raised with him through our baptisms means that our Lord is visibly a part of who we are.

Jesus walks with us every day and encourages us to do what is right in the eyes of God.

Let us be bold enough, and courageous enough, to follow our Lord’s lead in living out God’s commandments, especially to Love God, and to love one another.

Amen.