Matthew reports that Jesus saw a man with a withered hand in the temple. After a dialogue with the Pharisees about the appropriateness of healing on the Sabbath, Jesus acts; “Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.”
The reader of Matthew’s Gospel might conclude that the Pharisees have lost their minds. After all, their reaction at witnessing a divine healing appears bizarre. Why not be filled with wonder? Why not be filled with praise? Why not just be curious? Even if Jesus did ‘break the Law’, why not rather be merely upset? But that last sentence is there for a reason, and it isn’t that Matthew is making a dramatic point about how much Pharisees disliked ‘work’ on the Sabbath. For God Himself had said to Moses, “Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; whoever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people.”
All of us filter what we experience through our worldview. Our worldview is how we make sense of reality. It underlies and informs our beliefs, our values and our actions. So when the Pharisees saw the obvious – a healing that is otherwise unexplainable being done by someone who is making a point of doing so on the Sabbath – their worldview mandated that the Law (which was their worldview) be religiously followed. Even if that meant killing the very one who was healing (benefitting) one of their own disciples. After all, if God had told them that, “Anyone who desecrates [the Sabbath] must be put to death,” then surely that is the right course of action. The Law was the Law, and the Law must be followed in order to honor the Holy Name of God and remain who God called them to be as His people. To not follow the Law literally would be to break away from God’s clear and well-understood commands. It was unthinkable – a thought to be dismissed immediately.
What they failed to realize is that Jesus was challenging that very worldview. A dogmatic obedience to the Word should not trump the reality of the One who spoke the Word. For sure, the Bible is absolutely true and can be absolutely trusted. But the reality of God is greater than the Bible – as the reality of an author is greater than anything they could write. The Pharisees should have had enough discernment to realize that if God’s Law was being violated in God’s Name for the benefit of God’s people in God’s temple, it must be because something new was happening. Even if they could not immediately realize that God was in their midst, at the very least such events called for a fuller dialogue with the one perceived as violating the Law, and/or a careful and prayerful review of Scripture to see what the best course of action would be.
In this the truth of the matter is found; The Pharisees were so proud and sure of themselves they could not even imagine a challenge to their worldview. In haste they rush off to commit the gravest error humankind could ever make.
We may think that we are above making the same mistake. If so, we best remember that the Pharisees were those who studied God’s Word day and night. They would not have thought they were foolish either. May the Lord grant us pause before our decisions, so that we do not make the same foolish mistake!
We feel our way around our world more than we think our way through it.James K.A. Smith
Keeping a focus on the awesome reality of God helps us avoid the limitations of our fallen worldview. Today, focus on experiencing God’s presence.