"Why Jesus Broke the Law"


Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 6/1/1997

II Corinthians 4:5-12; Mark 2:23-3:6


     In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus set a very poor example for those who looked at the Law as being the rule of authority for their lives. Jesus and his disciples broke the law twice on the same day and that enraged their on-lookers. He left them wondering, "What gives him the right to set aside our traditions? No one has the right to pick and choose among our Laws and decide which ones are true and which ones are not."

     Today we might say, "He could do anything he wanted to do because he is the Son of God." But we need to remember that he was not the Son of God then, at least, not to the Pharisees. Why did Jesus choose to set his vision of truth above what his own people found sacred, above the Laws many people believed were inspired by God? He could have easily anticipated their reaction.

     We know how uncomfortable some of us become when someone teaches a different Biblical message than the one we have been conditioned to hearing. And yet any serious student of the Bible knows well the frustration of finding as many as five possible interpretations for many of the Scriptural passages that are central to our faith.

     Doris Miller, a former parishioner, is currently writing a book. She told me a number of years ago that she has read over a thousand sermons based on Jesus' parable of the talents. Each sermon contained a slightly different meaning or emphasis. Even when reading the recorded words of Jesus, which "Word of God" is the Word of God? Jesus had discovered how to resolve this dilemma.

     The answer to why Jesus broke the Law is very consistent with what he was constantly trying to teach us. What bothered Jesus were beliefs that divided people instead of enhancing the quality of their lives or building bridges between differences. To show the Pharisees the error in their thinking, he gave them the equivalent of a riddle. He asked, "What does our Law allow us to do on the Sabbath? To help or to harm? To save someone's life or to destroy it?" This created a problem for the Pharisees. To give Jesus the obvious answer might be interpreted as a show of support for him, so the Pharisees responded with silence.

     Our lesson says, "Jesus was angry as he looked around at them, but at the same time he felt sorry for them, because they were so stubborn and wrong." He could not get them to think outside of the box that neatly packaged their beliefs. They were so incensed by Jesus "arrogance" at setting aside the Law that the Pharisees left the synagogue and began to make plans to kill him. To kill him! Beliefs can entrench as well as liberate. Are we safe from this kind of thinking today? Not at all! The protectors of "the true Faith" have made their presence known in every generation.

     There was a very dear 86-year-old woman who could no longer manage living my herself, so her daughter and son-in-law brought her to live with them. It wasn't long before she decided to join the church where they attended. Upon hearing of her desire, the minister came to visit. During their moments together he learned that she had never read the Bible.

     With this information, the minister sadly informed the couple that he could not receive her into membership. He said, "The church cannot receive new members who have never read the Bible. The Church must always maintain its standards or one day it will become an institution that stands for nothing." Even with her age, the minister felt he could not grant an exception simply to accommodate her.

     The daughter was quick to explain. She said, "When my mother was a little girl, her mother had become very ill. She stayed home to take care of her while my grandfather worked their small farm. Because of this, she had no formal education. She had not read the Bible because my mother had never learned how to read." The minister was touched, but did not allow her to join.

     This example is only the tip of the ice berg. Such thinking is everywhere in the Church. Its results can be experienced when couples attempt to plan a marriage, plan a baptism, or experience the sacrament of Holy Communion. Many devout Christians believe that convictions, by their very nature, divide people. Perhaps now we can understand why Jesus grew angry when the Pharisees refused to put their love of others ahead of their convictions.

     In at least two places in the Gospels, Jesus summarized essential beliefs. Notice what they are asking of us. The first is the Golden Rule. Jesus said, "Do for others what you want them to do for you: this is the meaning of the Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets." (Matthew 7:12). This covers everything in the Old Testament.

     Secondly, he invited the people to love God with everything they have and to love their neighbors as they love themselves. "There is no other commandment more important than these two." (Mark12:30f) This covers everything written in the New Testament. Jesus placed living in this spirit above every "sacred" word that was ever written.

     Many people, however, prefer to divide others into being "the sheep and the goats." This preference makes a terrible mockery of Jesus' words, "Love one another as I have loved you." Most definitely we have the sheep and the goats. All any informed person needs to do is look at the conditions of our world to know this is so. But, Jesus warned us that such a distinction was not ours to make.

     Jesus broke the Law because he placed his love of others above everything else. He broke the Law to expand our awareness. Think about this in terms of the sacrament of Holy Communion that we will receive in a few moments. There are a vast number of beliefs held by individual Christians concerning the meaning of Holy Communion. In fact, there are entire books written about this sacrament. None of these beliefs are as significant as Jesus' own words, "Do this in remembrance of me." That was his only point. Jesus wanted us to remember what he gave us.

     In spite of Jesus' words during the last supper, over half the Christian churches in the United States still deny this sacrament to other Christians for one reason or another. This practice does not make any sense. Jesus always put his love for others above everything else, even his own life. Do we?