Last Sunday I began a seven-part series of sermons entitled Jesus the Good Troublemaker. Jesus scandalized many of the people of his day. He shocked them. He surprised them. He challenged them to look at the world and to live life in a different way. He challenged religious and secular authorities. He made them angry. He upset the routines. He would not be placed in a camp. When the Sadducees thought he was one of theirs, he would say something that was scandalous to them. When the Pharisees thought he was one of them, he would shock them with his words and behavior. When the Zealots or Herodians claimed him, he would make it plain that he transcended their political concerns. He was, in a word, a troublemaker — a good troublemaker.
This Sunday my sermon is “The Good Trouble of a Clear Priority.”
The fourth commandment in Exodus 20 says, “Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy.” The word holy means “set apart for a special purpose,” whether you’re talking about a day or a time or a person or a community of faith or an object or a building. A one-word synonym could be “different.” Remember the Sabbath and keep it different; keep it set apart for a special purpose.
Sabbath was central, and in the Jewish tradition the concept of sabbath grew and grew and grew in terms of how you keep it. By Jesus’ time, there were 1,521 things that a person could not do on the Sabbath. For instance, a person with a toothache couldn’t gargle with vinegar but could use a toothbrush dipped in vinegar; a radish could be dipped in salt, but not left too long in the salt, lest it begin to pickle.
So, by Jesus’ time what was supposed to be a celebration of freedom (Deuteronomy 5:15) became a day of being held captive by the minutiae of onerous rules, difficult to keep up with, much less keep. What was supposed to be a day of rest — because even God rested from creating on the seventh day (Exodus 20:11) —became a day where one had to work at keeping the little details of the law. Instead of providing for freedom, it had become burdensome for many people. And instead of giving life, sometimes it even endangered life. Instead of being a gift given by God to people, very often people felt like they were serving the Sabbath.
Jesus and his disciples one day became hungry and plucked some grain on the Sabbath and they were fiercely criticized for doing work on the Sabbath. One day in the synagogue a man came with a withered hand and Jesus healed him and he was criticized. You don’t pluck grain on the Sabbath. You don’t heal on the Sabbath; that’s work. And Jesus’ response to this backward priority was, “The Sabbath was created for humans; humans weren’t created for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) The Sabbath was made for us. It’s God’s gift to us. The text says that the scribes and Pharisees were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus — Jesus, the Good Troublemaker.
The legal experts and the Pharisees were scandalized by the idea that anything could be more important than keeping the religious rules. For the Pharisees, abiding by the strict letter of the law concerning correct Sabbath observance was the most important thing — even more important than the individual situations that they found themselves confronting.
But Jesus turned that on its head and said that the need of people — whether the need for food or the need for healing — is the priority. This wasn’t the only time Jesus asserted this priority. In everything he did, in everything he said, Jesus acted out of a clear priority — people.
It was that clear priority that led Jesus to say, “Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)
It was that clear priority that led Jesus to break the purity laws by sitting down at the table and eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners. (Luke 5:30, 7:34)
It was that clear priority that kept Jesus from giving in to the temptations in the wilderness to empower himself by exploiting others. (Matthew 4 and Luke 4)
It was that clear priority that spurred Jesus to sweep the children up into his arms and declare, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” (Matthew 19:14)
It was that clear priority that led Jesus to invite to invite himself to the home of the hated tax collector, Zacchaeus. (Luke 19:1-10)
In all those instances, Jesus caused trouble — Good Trouble. Having that clear priority caused trouble. That trouble led to the cross, and it was that clear priority that led Jesus to choose the humiliation of the cross over political power.
So, what does that clear priority mean for us today? What does it mean for keeping the fourth commandment — keeping the Sabbath holy? I look forward to exploring that with you on Sunday in Sanctuary worship, livestreamed at 11:00 am.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster
Common English Bible
1 One Sabbath, as Jesus was going through the wheat fields, his disciples were picking the heads of wheat, rubbing them in their hands, and eating them. 2 Some Pharisees said, “Why are you breaking the Sabbath law?”
3 Jesus replied, “Haven’t you read what David and his companions did when they were hungry? 4 He broke the Law by going into God’s house and eating the bread of the presence, which only the priests can eat. He also gave some of the bread to his companions.” 5 Then he said to them, “The Human One[a] is Lord of the Sabbath.”
6 On another Sabbath, Jesus entered a synagogue to teach. A man was there whose right hand was withered. 7 The legal experts and the Pharisees were watching him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. They were looking for a reason to bring charges against him. 8 Jesus knew their thoughts, so he said to the man with the withered hand, “Get up and stand in front of everyone.” He got up and stood there. 9 Jesus said to the legal experts and Pharisees, “Here’s a question for you: Is it legal on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” 10 Looking around at them all, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he did and his hand was made healthy. 11 They were furious and began talking with each other about what to do to Jesus.