I remember, oh about 20 years ago now, taking a J-term class on Leadership Development in college. I did not need the class to graduate, but a bunch of my friends were taking it so I figured why not. One of the first classes in this intensive split the class into two sections. We were given instructions and told to follow them closely. Both groups were given the same instructions, with one exception. One group was told they had to follow the instructions; otherwise, they would be penalized.
Both of the groups finished the task. It was quite menial, but that was not the point of the task. While there was no real difference in outcome, the group without the penalties worked together better and felt that the experience was overall much better. When asked how likely they would be to work with their group again, 90% of the group without the penalties wanted to stay in their group while 75% of the other group wanted to switch.
As the lesson went, what we saw was that while both ways produced similar results allowing flexibility though not penalizing the process made for a happier group. This is at the heart of what John is explaining about Christ’s relationship with the law, which is at the heart of the passage this week. As it were, Christ did not come to abolish the law, but to offer a different way from the strict adherence that was being taught.
It is important to remember that the law is what it is, and while Christ does not come to abolish the law, he does come to offer a different way of understanding it. Rather than the law being the directive to life that must be followed, the Law becomes more of a instruction manual that helps the individual find their way through the world. In other words, for Christ, the ultimate importance is that we have God central in our deeds and life, and this cannot be attained if we let the law be our sole guide.
This is what Christ gets to when he heals on the Sabbath. There were two laws in conflict, so he reconciled the two towards what is best for God and performed the healing. While it went against the rules, it allowed for those to come into stronger belief. What is better, following the law, letting someone suffer and that person may never know God’s love, or healing the individual and they come to have a strong possibility of coming to God? Seems clear the better answer.
Now if we were to ask Christ if he kept the Sabbath, ultimately he would say that he did, but just not the way most interpreted it.
Unfortunately, as Christians many groups within our faith have come back to a place where the law must be adhered to fully, so much so that there is not much room for the holy spirit, or grace, to work. This means that like the experiment I told you about before, those who have no room for grace just do not have the full connection to what Christ is about and let anger and derision be their guide.
But, when we live by Grace, the Grace taught to us by Christ, people often find life to be much more full and enjoyable.
As you prepare for worship this Sunday, think of the moments of grace in your life and how they have worked to strengthen your relationship with God.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen