A BLOG by Pastor Ken Rickett
Luke 6: 1-11
One Sabbath, as Jesus happened to be passing through the cornfields, his disciples began picking the ears of corn, rubbing them in their hands, and eating them. Some of the Pharisees remarked, “why are you doing what the Law forbids men to do on the Sabbath day?” Jesus answered them, saying, “Have you never read what David and his companions did when they were hungry? How he went into the house of God, took the presentation loaves, ate some bread himself and gave some to his companions, even though the Law does not permit anyone except the priests to eat it?”
Then, he added, “The Son of Man is Master even of the Sabbath.”
On another Sabbath day when he went into a synagogue to teach, there was a man there whose right hand was wasted away. The scribes and the Pharisees were watching Jesus closely to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath day, which would, of course, give them grounds for accusation. But he knew exactly what was going on in their minds, and said to the man with the wasted hand, “Stand up and come out in front.” And he got up and stood there. Then Jesus said to them (scribes and pharisees), “I am going to ask you a question. Does the Law command us to do good on Sabbath days or do harm–to save life or to destroy it?” He looked around, meeting all their eyes, and said to the man, “Now stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was restored as sound as the other one. But they were filled with insane fury and kept discussing with each other what they could do to Jesus.
In this day and age data bombards us daily through media (print, online, corporation boards, advertising, policy-making, etc.) and the question is NOT ONLY, “Is this data true?” but ALSO, “In what context do I (we) place this data?”
Examples abound as to the wisdom of knowing the context of any information that we hear and repeat to other people. Failure to place data in context not only lays the foundation for poor decisions, but also hinders the development of vision merely for the sake of maintaining tradition and custom.
For example, from 1500-1800 English nobility lived about 71 years, quite an astonishing piece of data until you learn that the average lifespan of the English people during those same years was 33-40 years! Why? Nobility had more nutritious food, little contact with commoners, and often more sanitary everyday life. Did you know that the early English colonies in Virginia in the 1600s had a life expectancy at birth of 25 years? And in the 1600s in England, 40% of those born in that century died before reaching adulthood?
What was the lifespan of Americans when the United States constitution was written in 1789? Take a guess! Try 30-something! Then put that data into this context: In 1860, before the Civil War began, the average lifespan at birth was 39.4 years and dropped to 35 at the end of the war. It was 1911 before a person, at birth, could expect to live 50 years; and 1938 before a baby could expect to live to 60 years. In 1969, for the first time, newborns could expect to live 70 years! From 1900 to 2000 life expectancy rose over 30 years and 25 of those 30 years are directly the result of advances in public health care. Our country’s forefathers could not, in their wildest imaginations, see a time when 10 of the 100 Senators would be 76 to 88 years old. These same 10 Senators have served in the Senate for a combined total of 270 years (Our country, from 1776 til today, is only 245 years old!)! The average age of U. S. Senators is 64.5 years, but 79 of the 100 Senators are over 65. I’m not necessarily arguing for “change”, I am arguing that context tells a story that adds insight that may be used for evaluation.
We need CONTEXT!
As a retired minister, I valued context in preaching, and it has been a joy to be a part of a congregation in which the context of scripture is explained in sermons (Thanks, Rick!).
Take the Sabbath as portrayed in the New Testament. In Luke 6:1-11, Jesus is twice confronted over actions that he took on the Sabbath. In one instance, Jesus and his disciples were traveling on a Sabbath day when they passed a cornfield. Being hungry, they took some corn, rubbed it in their hands, and ate it. Some Pharisees confront Jesus about gathering and eating corn on the Sabbath as such “work” was forbidden in the Law. Jesus’ response is crucial to interpreting this text: “The Son of Man is Master even of the Sabbath!” The other instance is the story of Jesus’ healing of a man’s atrophied hand on the Sabbath, and in anticipation of controversy, Jesus asked before he healed the man’s hand if the Law commands us to do good on the Sabbath or to do harm–which angered the Pharisees to the point that they wondered what they could do to stop Jesus. Healing was “doing work” which was “against the law.”
Don’t misjudge the context of this scripture in Luke!
The fourth of the ten commandments reads, “Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy.” These two incidents in the previous paragraph are not about the Sabbath; they are about the word “holy.” Over the centuries as the Law developed, there was little question that “God rested on the 7th day” but the intent of the Law was to insure that the Sabbath was kept “holy.” Under the Law, to keep the Sabbath holy, then absolutely all work must cease except for essentials such as feeding or milking animals. Thus, all food to be eaten on the Sabbath must be prepared in advance of the Sabbath which began at 6 PM on Friday night and ended at 6 PM on Saturday evening. In the first instance in which Jesus and his disciples gathered and ate corn, they became “lawbreakers” in a way that failed to keep Sabbath “holy” and thus they failed to “rest.”
In the second instance, due to the fact that the Holy and Sovereign God rested on the seventh day, the Law declared that any healing was “work”, not rest, and therefore unholy.
It is necessary to put the word “Holy” in context. Holiness is a characteristic or attribute of God alone, not humanity. There is nothing that humanity can do to become “holy” and the New Testament makes clear that salvation from a Holy God is by grace and not by works. The prophet Isaiah declares that Yahweh alone is the Holy One of Israel. Holiness is the one characteristic by which God says, “I am God and not human.” Now we have a problem: how do we understand the 4th commandment “to keep it (the Sabbath) holy?” The answer is simple: “to keep the Sabbath holy” is to acknowledge that God alone is the Holy One and therefore worthy of worship and adoration and glory.
One day when I was at the seminary, a professor asked if he could join us at our table. We were pleased to have that time with him as he was a noted author, theologian and teacher. As we finished our meal, he asked us, “Tell me, are we saved by a Holy and Righteous God or by a Loving and Merciful God?” What a question! Most of us said “Loving and Merciful God.” As the professor got ready to leave and go to his next class, he said to us, “Let me remind you that only a Holy and Righteous God can choose to be Loving and Merciful toward all humanity.” Catch the implication? In worship we acknowledge a Holy and Righteous God who revealed in Jesus Christ a Loving and Merciful God. AHA! To keep the Sabbath holy means that we recognize that God alone is Holy and worthy of worship. Failure to “remember the Sabbath” in the framework that God alone is Holy and worthy of worship is to fail to acknowledge God at all. God “rested” on the 7th day, but for us human beings, to keep the Sabbath holy is not found in avoiding work, but rather it is found in the nature of worship; namely, we can “rest” only when we acknowledge that we belong to a Holy and Righteous God. But nothing we do, whether it is done on the Sabbath or not, can impart Holiness to ourselves.
Put these Sabbath stories in context! Luke, in telling these two stories about Jesus and the Sabbath, is not about avoiding work in order to become holy ourselves; it is about acknowledging the Holiness of God, the only true basis for worship. When Jesus and his disciples gathered and ate corn on the Sabbath, it was a worshipful recognition that a Holy and Righteous God provides for us all. Did not Jesus inform the Pharisees that even “the Son of Man was Master of the Sabbath?”– a statement that acknowledges that the fullness of God, including Holiness, was placed in himself.
When Jesus healed on the Sabbath, it was a worshipful recognition that a Holy and Righteous God will and can act for the welfare of humankind. Did not Jesus, in whom the fullness of God dwells, say “come unto me, and I will give you rest?” Only a Holy Supreme Being can give “rest” that comes only when we recognize that we utterly and completely belong to the Holy One, Creator and Sustainer of us all. At some point, in a society of 4 day workweeks and jobs that must be done on Sunday, we need to put scripture about the Sabbath in context, and I DON’T mean a NEW context. It is time to let go of all kinds of guilt created by our lack of context for understanding the Sabbath. The context in which these two stories by Luke is the same context that has been there for centuries before Luke wrote these stories. Not even Jesus was able to break through to reset the proper context of keeping the Sabbath holy. It is high time for us to put these stories in proper context. We keep the Sabbath holy by acknowledging that the Creator God was Holy. AND THAT IS OUR REST.
Context reveals meaning.
Put it (scripture) in context, please!