Do murder and worship mix? I think not.
Yet it happens in churches all across the country every Sunday. People raise their hands to God in worship, while thinking murderous and hateful thoughts about the person in the next pew. And such thoughts, according to Jesus, are the spiritual equivalent to murder.
But this is nothing new.
In Luke 6:6-11, Jesus asks a question of the religious leaders about one of the big theological issues of the day. The question essentially is this: “On the Sabbath, is it better to save a life or to destroy a life?”
Clearly, the answer is that it is better to save a life, but since work could not be done on the Sabbath, the religious leaders of the day had come up with an answer to help pious Jews figure out whether or not they could help someone on the Sabbath. (I wrote about their answer here.) Jesus was aware of this answer, and purposefully acted contrary to it by healing a man with a withered hand.
According to the theologically-approved answer, Jesus should have waited until the Sabbath was over to heal the man. After all, he apparently had been this way for some time. A few more hours wouldn’t kill him. But Jesus ignores all that, and helps the man anyway. Right in front of all the religious leaders.
Jesus heals this man on the Sabbath because He believes that the purpose of the Sabbath is to reveal God’s love for others. Observing the Sabbath means ceasing from your own work so you can enjoy life and help others. So that is what Jesus does. He heals on the Sabbath.
And the statement in Luke 6:11 is shocking to me. The verse says that the Jewish leaders will filled with rage at what Jesus had done, and discussed among themselves what they might do to Jesus. We know from other texts and other incidents that this means they were discussing how they might get rid of Jesus, that is, how they might kill Him.
The irony is humorous, if it weren’t so sad.
To save a Life or Destroy
Jesus had asked the question about whether it was better to save a life on the Sabbath, or to destroy a life. The religious leaders had an answer, which Jesus acted against. And so now, the religious leaders get their heads together again for another theological question, namely, how they can use the law to kill someone.
The question of Jesus in Luke 6:9 has become sadly prophetic. When someone refuses to save a life and help someone, they actually hurt, hinder, and possibly even plot to kill them instead. And theology is often used to justify it all.
We may not plot to kill people today, but we do similar things with our words and actions. We try to get them fired from their place of ministry. We try to get them to lose credibility. Such actions hurt their income, and threatens their ability to provide food and housing for themselves and their family. This is hateful, hurtful, and destructive. It is a form of murder.
We see someone’s physical needs, and say, “God will provide” and “I will pray for you.” Then, in the name of Christian fellowship, we go spend $50 at Applebee’s after church.
The examples go on and on, but the principle is the same: when we see a need that we could meet, and we refuse to meet it, even on good theological grounds, we have lost sight of the heart of God, and have made theology more important than people. Instead of saving a life, we are working to destroy a life. There is no in between.
This post is based on the Grace Commentary for Luke 6:6-11.