Sunday, January 13, 2013

Can't See The Grace Through All That Law

As I read through the gospel of John recently, I found something that stood out to me that hadn't before (another great thing about reading the Bible - you always find something new).  This time I noticed a few things about Jesus healing people on the Sabbath.  You can read several of these stories throughout the gospels, and Jesus calls the Pharisees on it a couple of times after they condemn him for violating the Sabbath.  But some specifics stood out to me this time that hadn't before.

The first one is the healing of the lame man by the pool in John 5.  In short, Jesus sees a lame man who believes that if he is the first one to get into a nearby pool "when the water is stirred up," then he will be healed.  It was believed that the first one in the pool when the water was disturbed would bring about healing.  But this dude couldn't walk, and he didn't have anybody to put him in the water when it was time.  So Jesus asks him if he wants to be healed, to which the guy responds in the affirmative, and Jesus tells him to simply take up his bed and walk, which the guy does.

All this happens on the Sabbath day.  And when the Jews see a guy walking and carrying a bed on the Sabbath day, they call him on it, because carrying a bed on the Sabbath day was considered work, and work was forbidden on the Sabbath.  So they essentially say to him, "Hey, stop it.  What you're doing is illegal."  The guy responds to the Jews by saying that a man healed him, and this same man told him to pick up his bed and walk.

The Jews' response to this is fascinating.  They say in verse 12, "Who is the man who said to you, 'Take up your bed and walk?'"  What's so fascinating about that?  What's incredible is that in their question, the Jews totally bypass the fact that the guy was healed.  They skip over the grace that was manifested in his life, and move directly to his alleged violation of the law.  It's as though the fact that a man who was previously unable to walk who is now walking is of secondary importance when compared to the fact that the man is carrying his bed.

Also of note is that when the healed man tells the Jews that someone else told him to carry his bed, they want to know who it is, presumably to implicate whoever it was in the man's crime as an accomplice.  Not only did they want to charge the man who was carrying the bed, but also the one who told him to carry the bed.  In my opinion, they weren't mad at Jesus for necessarily healing the man on the Sabbath, but because he simply instructed the man to pick up and carry his bed on the Sabbath.  Either way, all the while, they are totally blind to the fact that a remarkable miracle has taken place.  They're so obsessed with law, they can't see the grace.

Another instance comes in one of my favorite stories in the Bible: the healing of the man born blind as recorded in John 9.  Jesus finds a man who had been blind since birth, and so he spits in some dirt, makes some mud, puts it on the guy's eyes, and tells him to wash in the pool of Siloam, which the man does, and his sight is restored.

The local Jews don't like the looks of what happened, so they bring the formerly blind man before the Pharisees, and ask him how he got his sight back.  The guy explains, and the Pharisees are not happy.  Verse 14: "Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes."  And then in verse 16: "Some of the Pharisees said, 'This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.'"

Now, what we need to think about here is how exactly Jesus violated the Sabbath.  Again, I would argue that the Pharisees aren't so much considering the healing as a violation of the Sabbath, although that certainly could have been part of it, and other parts of scripture validate this.  But what really got their blood boiling was the fact that Jesus spit in mud and mixed it up.  Believe it or not, the Jews believed that if one spat on the ground on the Sabbath and the dirt on which he or she spat moved, it could be considered plowing.  As in tilling the ground to plant seed.  And then his mixing of the mud was just the icing on the cake.  Not only was he plowing the ground with his spit, but he was working by using his fingers to mix it up into mud.  The nerve!

The Pharisees use this as evidence against Jesus - evidence that he is not actually from God.  After all, how could a sinner who doesn't keep the Sabbath - one of God's laws - be from God?  And if a sinner isn't from God, then the next logical step is that he can't be doing these signs and miracles.

Again, the Jews and Pharisees were so blinded by law that they could see the grace.  Jesus performed a miraculous healing by spitting and mixing mud, but all they saw were violations of rules.  As Jesus explains elsewhere, the Sabbath definitely is important, but not anything like the ways the Pharisees regarded it.  In fact, they had so legalized the observance of the Sabbath that it made them immune to any grace that might be dispensed by it and through it, and through their Sabbath rest, namely Jesus.

Now, it's easy for me to read these stories in scripture and rag on the Pharisees for their spiritual blindness, but it's less easy for me to think about how I sometimes display the same kind of blindness in my own spiritual life and in my relationships.   This kind of Pharisaical attitude manifests itself in our lives (read: my life) in at least three ways:

1. We can be blind to the working of God's grace in our own lives.  Quite often God can do something miraculous in our lives, and we either fail to notice, or we cover up his grace with a bunch of law, by thinking that we're no good, or that we're too big of sinners to ever deserve God's grace.  This kind of thinking completely forgets the gospel, though, which states that we are obviously not worthy of God's grace, but he gives it anyway.  This leads to guilt and shame, which are the opposite of the gospel.  When we experience the grace of God, we should take note and praise him, not feel sorry for ourselves, or condemn ourselves further through man-made standards of righteousness.

2. We can be blind to the manifestation of God's grace in others.  Sometimes it's easy to see God working in others.  Sometimes it's more difficult.  In either case, sometimes we can be irritated because, although God has shown grace in someone's life, they haven't lived up to the standard we've placed on them.  Think about it: ever been happy that someone has grown or progressed to a certain point, but then though, "Now only if they could be a little better, or if they could just be like this or that."  That's legalism, and it's missing the grace that God has shown through the law that we impose on others.

3. We fail to give God glory for the grace he gives, and instead get caught up on non-essential, worldly issues.  In each of the scenarios listed above, God is robbed of his glory because we find ourselves so caught up in the how's and what's of our own making.

What should the Jews and Pharisees have done in these two accounts from the gospel of John?  They should have rejoiced in the working of God's grace in the lives of people, and forsaken their man-made rules.  Let us do the same as we receive grace from God and see it in the lives of others.

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