Sometimes we get so caught up in our own traditions that we miss the bigger point entirely.
The Jewish religious authorities in Jesus’ day had done this. In their effort to be holy…to cross the t’s and dot the i’s they had wrapped various commands in so many traditions that it was hard to tell what was Law/Torah and what was tradition.
Over time they became so dogmatic about their traditions that to break the tradition was as heinous as breaking the Law of Moses itself. They had confused their traditions with scripture and not without good intention, at first. If God says don’t work on the Sabbath then how do you know how much you can do without crossing the line? Tradition defines that. But tradition is just tradition. Why did God give them the Sabbath in the first place? What was the point of the Sabbath and do the traditions that have wrapped themselves around God’s Law stand consistent with the intent of the Law itself?
Jesus healed on the Sabbath. He could have waited a day (in keeping with the tradition). He could have waited a week…the people he healed on the Sabbath were never on the verge of death. If they had been, the traditions would have made provision for Jesus to have healed them. But non-life-threatning conditions had to wait until Sunday.
Jesus healed them anyway. Jesus healed them anyway because to heal them was to uphold the intent of the Sabbath (to be life giving) and to wait a day would actually be against the intent of the Sabbath (whitholding giving life and wholeness). Again, he could have waited. He could have been cognizant of their scruples and their conscience issues but Jesus did it directly to challenge their scruples and their matters of consceince because they needed to be challenged. Why? The intent of the Sabbath command was greater than the traditions and greater than their conscience issues. Their values had been so twisted over time that they undermined the intent of the Law itself. This had to be challenged for the Sabbath to have any meaning left.
What was the intent of the Sabbath? This is the gist of Jesus’ question in Mark 3:4, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”
This gets to the heart of the intent of the Law itself, which the traditions missed entirely. In their effort to be obedient to God via tradition they were disobedient to the Law itself.
Now here is the sad ironies of sad ironies,
“5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.” – Mark 3:5-6
They were plotting to end life on the Sabbath because Jesus restored life, again, the very intention of the Sabbath day itself. It should have been cause for Messianic celebration to see the very purpose of the Sabbath fulfilled before their eyes. They couldn’t see it that way.
Jesus didn’t challenge tradition because it was tradition. He challenged these traditions because they weren’t spiritually neutral traditions. Their view of Sabbath had gone awry with the addition of their traditions so much so that they had the whole thing backwards.
Not every tradition needs to be challenged. Many traditions are good and helpful. But these kind of traditions need to be challenged and in instances like this the “weaker brother” conscience argument doesn’t work out. Jesus didn’t avoid violating their conscience on this matter only because it had gotten that bad and they only way to sort it out was for Jesus to directly challenge them on it.
What traditions do you see today that are beneficial and what traditions do you think do some harm (maybe in and of themselves or maybe due to misapplication)? Do you believe this still happens today? If so, how does one go about pushing against this in a way that honors God and is done in a spirit of love and respect?