Does God Care More About Rules or Relationship?
I read that President Biden attended Mass in the morning prior to the Inauguration. I looked at the Gospel reading for the Mass for yesterday, and discovered it was from Mark 3:1-6 which reads:
1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 And they watched him, to see whether he would heal him on the sabbath so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, "Come here." 4 And he said to them, "Is it lawful on the sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?" But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Hero'di-ans against him, how to destroy him.
I mentioned the whole way I came to this passage as a way of making some connections to the rocky road ahead of us toward unity and understanding in this country of ours.
Besides, this story has always intrigued me, mostly because it is one of the few moments in the Gospel accounts where Jesus is described as being angry.
His anger at this moment is directed at the overly religious Pharisees, who are silent when asked about a very simple, ethical issue...
Essentially Jesus asks, "Which is more important? Keeping some religious rule or caring for a human being in need?" Inferred in this is a deeper question, "What do you think God really cares about?"
The silence of the Pharisees angers Jesus because he perceives that they know what the right answer is, but they are too busy being "right" about their rules that they refuse to admit it.
It's easy to read this story and to identify with Jesus himself---the one who heals, the one who is angry at the overly religious, hypocritical folk who would rather see Jesus dead than admit he is right about the heart of God.
But how often do we act like those Pharisees in our own contexts?
What happens when we are asked to give up our own privilege, soften our hold on our tightly held beliefs or change the way we view Scriptural interpretation in order to bring healing and wholeness to someone's life?
Are we willing to do it?
Jesus embodied what it means to act as God would have us act.
He reached out to those on the margins of society and lifted up those who had become ostracized under the auspices of religious law because of their own actions, who they were, or because of their infirmities.
It's easy to speak of these things in the abstract, but how do we live out Jesus' example in the concrete realities of our everyday life? Do we find ourselves standing with Jesus on God's side of the equation... or are we keeping our silence and plotting a way out of having to give up our comfort, our power, our certitude?
The interesting thing about this story is that not only do we know all-too-well what it feels like to act like the Pharisees, we also know what it is like to desperately want to be healed, and made whole.
It is this feeling that should guide us to stand with Jesus. It is this understanding of what it means to receive undeserved grace that should drive us to offer the very same to those in need... regardless of what our "rules" dictate.
May you discover new ways to be Jesus to someone who needs a relationship and not more rules. May you offer grace and healing to all who need to be made whole--remembering what it feels like to receive it.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.