“You have heard it said… but I say…”
Twenty-four hours; one day; the simple waiting of the sun to set once more, and all would have been different.
But Jesus didn’t wait. Matter being, he instigated a big ordeal. The scene opens with a need before Jesus, while he stands in the midst of those searching for a reason to discredit him and his teaching. He speaks, “I will ask you one thing: Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy? (Luke 6:9)”
No one seems to respond. So Jesus directs his attention toward a man with a withered hand. His hand is ailing. How long has it been this way? We’ve no way of knowing, but something that is known is that a withered hand isn’t overly life-threatening, at least not for one more day. Jesus heals his hand that day. He heals him on the Sabbath as if to flaunt his disregard for the religious leaders’ interpretation of Moses’ Laws.
Consider another case. This one has no gray areas or any wriggle room. A woman is caught in the act of adultery (John 8). The Law is very clear; she is to be put to death (Deut 22:22, Lev 20:10). Jesus chooses to restore her instead.
The reality is that Jesus often breaks the law in the recorded gospels, at least in how it has been interpreted by the religious leaders of Israel. He touches unclean persons, making him unclean also (Lev 15:19). He allows his disciples to pluck grain on the Sabbath, dines in the midst of the tainted, and brings healing and acceptance to those far outside the sanctuary of a chosen people. This is the very same Jesus who makes this claim.
“Don’t think for a moment that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I have come to fulfill them (Matt 5:17).”
The Greek word translated ‘fulfill’ is interestingly used over 70 times in the New Testament and can mean several similar but a little bit different things. It can mean ‘to make full; to fill up.’ It can also mean ‘to make complete’ or ‘to carry into effect.’ None of these definitions however resign Jesus to being in agreement with how the Law was being interpreted and enforced during that day by the religious leaders.
It is evident that this caused a major disruption, Jesus’ interpretation of the Law, in that he makes his defensive statement, then elevates his case with the ‘jot’ and ‘tittle’ clause, meaning that one of the two parties has completely abandoned the right method for understanding the Scriptures as God gave them.
What here, I ask myself, is the common ground of every event where Jesus reportedly broke the Law as the religious leaders had interpreted it? In every case, at least I think, Jesus prioritizes the needs of people over a stringent interpretation of regulations. He does not consider this as abolishing the Law, but fulfilling it. Fulfilling the Law and the Prophets as described by Jesus’ actions meant delivering it as fully intended, and that full intention is obviously mysterious in nature, requiring more than a checklist to navigate.
This is difficult to grasp though, because we, like the religious leaders, also expect a cut and dried list of rules to cling to where there is never a moment’s question of what is right and what is wrong. When it came to interpreting Scripture, Jesus often chose to defend people rather than a rule or a ritual.
Derek Flood describes these two methods of interpretation as diametrically opposed to one another, rendering us to examine, “Am I a creature of unquestioning obedience or of faithful questioning?” Is adhering to a rule more important to me than altering my life and standards to meet the needs of those laid at my gate? When Jesus reads his Bible, he chooses the latter. This may often be to the dismay of the religious, but according to the Lord of the Sabbath, is an accurate interpretation of the Word.