I had an encounter with an old friend the last time I was home from Christmas several years back now. I recall the encounter because he was one of the players that seem to always run afoul of me when I was refereeing hockey. He was nice guy but he seemed to spend a lot of time in the penalty box despite early and repeated warnings not to do what he was going to do. Not just because he had been detected doing something that was against the rules in the course of playing the game, but also for the colourful ways in which he expressed himself and his thoughts about the call, my refereeing in general and occasionally about my lineage as we made our way to the “sin bin” or the penalty box. I recall this off-ice encounter because this friend came to me and in the course of conversation apologized for his words and actions back the in the good old days. He told me that in times after that, when he was refereeing games, he was treated in the same manner and then though of his own actions. I assured him that what had been done was both forgiven and forgotten or in hockey terms – “it was all left out on the ice.” I was there to help everyone play by the rules and to have some fun if possible.
Seemingly it appears that we like our church and our faith the same way. We like to know what the rules are so that we can keep them and have everything on an even keel thus having “fun” or religion. Thus the maintaining of the rules becomes a way of life. We want to call that way of life tradition but in the process we inadvertently make church and faith about wrestling with sin and about sin management. We worry about how to avoid “the bin”. We want to learn how to deal with sin and how to be good. We want to avoid wrong doing and wrong being but never quite seem to get there. We need to realize that the only thing that stands between us and the coming kingdom is our own transformation.
We like our systems but those same systems also serve to isolate us make us lonely and grim people. We like our institutions and systems because we can tell who is in and who is not. And because we like our systems and institutions that way it becomes a free for all and everybody works for themselves. People will only gather when they agree with one another or when they can come to a consensus that they disagree with someone else.
Why do we come to Church? Is it not to be encouraged to live the life God calls us to and at the same time see other people set free to live that same life? Do you go to do your duty or do you go that someone else might be set free. Isn’t that what shall happen on the Sabbath? The Sabbath is at least as much about being free and seeing that others are freed as it is about having a rest. Should we not celebrate our freedom in Christ so that God can be praised for his mighty acts, his healing of people and the salvation he has provided through Jesus Christ? How can we choose to honour ourselves and rest while there is someone sitting beside us who is bound up or bent over and do nothing about it while claiming some level of spirituality? The Sabbath and the Day of the Resurrection are meaning for setting people free so that they might worship and serve God. Allowing our friends and neighbours, our brothers and sisters to remain bound for the sake of tradition and social norms shows that we still want the Law and need to hear the message of the Gospel again.
And at the same time, we ought to be careful about labeling other people as the problem. The man who led the synagogue where Jesus was teaching was working to be faithful and pass on what he had been taught. The president of the synagogue believed he was being faithful to the Scriptures and that what was being taught was correct. He was not used to seeing this kind of faith in action. He was not used to this kind of teaching. Jesus doesn't undermine all that has been said and done before but rather shows how what he is teaching fits into all that they believe. Jesus shows the people that it is right to set people free on the Sabbath just as it is okay to tend your animals because they needed to be untied and led to water to drink and to be fed. It is right to help a child of Abraham to straighten up and praise God in the midst of the community and see, praise and worship God as we all should. Isn’t that worth going to church for? Not only is the women set free of a long standing evil in her life but the leader of the synagogue has seen what God can do and is invited to come and participate in that. Ultimately he will decide whether he will or he won’t. We as children of Abraham are called not to tell God about our frailties and shortcomings – he already knows them and it is all too easy for us to do that. God still calls us not to live a life bound by limitations but strengthened by the promises he has made to us. We are called to live out those lives for the sake of those who live around us that they too would discover what God has done and how they might live out the promises too.