Bible Studies
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Monday, 08 November 2004

It's vital that the Christian community today realize that God values obedience over sacrifice.  God wants us to advocate for justice, mercy, truth, righteousness and love rather than merely to proclaim fealty to His cause in our massive, ornate sanctuaries.  It's time enter the arena of action against worldwide oppression and injustice.  Is there a greater calling?


By Jim Jordal

And He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who for eighteen years had had a sickness caused by a spirit; and she was bent double, and could not straighten up at all. And when Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, "Woman, you are freed from your sickness." And He laid His hands upon her; and immediately she was made erect again, and began glorifying God. And the synagogue official, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, began saying to the multitude in response, "There are six days in which work should be done; therefore come during them and get healed, and not on the Sabbath day." But the Lord answered him and said, "You hypocrites, does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall, and lead him away to water him? And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?" And as He said this, all His opponents were humiliated; and the entire multitude was rejoicing over the glorious things being done by Him.

Luke 13:10-17 (NASB)

Imagine if you will the ornate, decorous, serene synagogue filled to overflowing with people not usually found there on the Sabbath---people who have heard of Jesus and wish to see a real miracle or hear some scintillating new truth. Imagine also the consternation of those staid, officious rulers of the synagogue, who fear greatly what Jesus might say or do to disrupt the traditional Jewish service. Consider also the possibility that not for centuries has there been anyone publicly healed or delivered in this place. Now imagine the expectant silence as hundreds of bated breaths await the outcome as Jesus---in the midst of His speaking---spies the hunched, infirm woman and calls her to Him. Now hear again the gasps of awe and wonder as Jesus touches her and she suddenly straightens up and begins loudly praising God.

Now think of what goes through the minds of those Jewish officials witnessing something they have possibly never before seen. What can they do? This Jesus has just blatantly and publicly violated one of their most sacred rules—keeping the Sabbath holy by refraining from any form of work. Yet they must admit that a dramatic healing has just taken place. What to do? They cannot refute the truth of what the people have just seen, nor can they declare Jesus to be an impostor. So they do the next best thing: declare Jesus in violation of Mosaic Law. Thus they create an aura of illegitimacy around His righteous act by tainting its origins and intent. In effect, as possibly Jesus alone recognizes, they substitute religious legalism for mercy and true righteousness.

How can Jesus reply to their legally-correct but spiritually-obtuse claim concerning His violation of the Sabbath? He draws upon an example from their own lives---that of mercifully caring for their livestock even on the Sabbath. Of course the implication is that they in their legalistic hypocrisy care more for animals than for people. Perhaps they now ruefully remember the story of Jonah, who was rebuked by God for caring more for the stricken vine that for the 120,000 endangered souls of Nineveh. Perhaps some of them even remember what God said to Saul about obedience being better than sacrifice, or to Hosea concerning God’s desire for mercy rather than sacrifice.

In any event, what Jesus did once again was to use a miraculous act of healing to not only deliver a needy person from physical or spiritual affliction, but to also confront and challenge the religious power structure over its callused, heartless disregard for human suffering. He vividly pointed out that adherence to law cannot substitute for obedience, mercy, truth and righteousness. And He again reiterated that love for God and man ought to transcend formalism, ritual and mindless adherence to legalistic principles. The law now is fulfilled through love.  

So what lessons can the modern church in its struggles against human oppression and suffering learn from this example? First we can realize that there is a profound difference between charity, or direct individual aid; and justice, or advocacy for change in the human systems which ignore and often cause the human torment in question. It was not His miraculous healings and deliverances that got Jesus crucified, but His continued direct confrontation to the traditional religious power structure, and the consequent indirect effect of His claims upon political, economic and social custodians of power and influence.

It is wonderful and necessary that the church have a heart for persons alienated and marginalized in our society. It provides us with great blessing as we sacrificially give time, effort and money to meet their needs. But that is not enough! What is needed now is advocacy and even confrontation with the societal systems causing, or at least ignoring, the pressing issues of poverty, homelessness, poor education, inadequate medical care, unemployment and many others. It is time for churches to take up the piercing sword of the Spirit and of biblical truth. It is time to proclaim to the halls of power that God demands justice, righteousness, mercy and truth for His people. It is time to act on the words of the prophet Amos: "Let judgment run down like water; and righteousness as a mighty stream."

Last Updated ( Saturday, 12 November 2005 )