Bible Background: In Luke 5, the religious ‘experts’ (Pharisees=lay leaders who take their faith very much to heart; scribes=religious law experts) begin to criticize Jesus for pronouncing forgiveness (something only God can do?) and for befriending tax collectors and other obvious ‘sinners’. The controversy builds in chapter 6 when Jesus directly challenges sabbath rules.
Digging Deeper: 1. It’s very easy to quickly blame the religious experts as being enemies of Jesus, with evil intent in their hearts. (And, by the time Luke is writing his gospel, a big rift had grown between Jewish followers of Jesus, and Jewish leaders trying to keep their religion intact.) But the larger issues is still an everyday issue for people like us: When competing values and beliefs clash, how do you determine who and what is right? These kind of controversies happen often in the church, and they happen every day in the field of politics!
2. Remember why God gave the sabbath day for rest? The concept is first highlighted in the first story of creation, where God rested in the sabbath day! Then, when God gives the Ten Commandments to Moses and the people, the Sabbath is a gift for people and for livestock-because, when they were slaves in Egypt, Pharaoh’s taskmasters gave them no rest and no time to worship God!
3. Jewish tradition built 39 rules (and many minor rules) around keeping the Sabbath day holy. Most forbid any kind of labor. You can picture Jewish life and society shaped around sabbath, and dependent on people keeping the rules. Jesus’ disciples seem to break the rules by plucking grain (a form of work) when they were hungry. Jesus counters that even King David and his followers broke a sacred rule when they were hungry, the point being: human need takes precedence over rules. When do religious rules fail to serve God’s people? When are they good and necessary?
4. In healing the man with the withered hand, Jesus challenges the religious experts directly: “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath? To save life or destroy it?” The answer should not be that hard! The response is that they want to destroy Jesus. Why is Jesus such a threat? When do the ‘new’ ways of God’s reign upset longstanding ways?
5. Who is right? There is often no easy answer. Like it or not, there are many gray areas in faith, in life, in politics. The rule of thumb for followers of Jesus is: What is the loving thing to do? What choice shows love for God? For neighbor?