"One time, when Jesus went for a Sabbath meal with one of the top leaders of the Pharisees, all the guests had their eyes on Him, watching His every move. Right before Him there was a man hugely swollen in his joints. So Jesus asked the religion scholars, 'Is it permitted to heal on the Sabbath? Yes or no?' They were silent . So He took the man, healed him, and sent him on his way. Then He said, 'Is there anyone here who, if a child or animal fell down a well, wouldn't rush to pull him out immediately, not asking whether or not it was the Sabbath.' They were stumped. There was nothing they could say to that." Luke 14:1-5 (The Message).
How often did this scene not repeat itself and how often did Jesus not have to say the same thing and yet the same criticism was levelled against Him time after time. 'Sabbath-breaker!' What was wrong with the people that it was so difficult for them to understand the simple message of Jesus? He spoke it and lived it for three years and they still didn't get it.
So what is this message that we have failed to grasp for the past two thousand years and are still not getting in spite of Jesus' glaring example? It's about mercy and compassion, not religion! Every time I encounter the ritualistic mumbo-jumbo that is done in the name of Jesus, I ask myself the question, "Is this why Jesus came?"
We have even managed to turn the work of the gentle Holy Spirit into a ritual. We lay hands on people and they have to babble or fall down, otherwise the Holy Spirit has not touched them! Is that really what we glean from God's Word? How it must grieve the heart of Jesus that His church has wandered so far from His example and mandate.
The Pharisees were so stuck in their notion of God that not even the Son of God Himself could shift them from the beliefs and traditions that overruled their own Scriptures. They were so blinded by their arrogant pride and self-centred performance that they were unmoved in the presence of God Himself.
Strange that the ones who claimed to know God, never experienced Him right there and yet, people like Matthew and Zaccheus, greedy and wicked men, were transformed after one encounter with Him. And what of adulteresses, prostitutes, thieves, irreligious and thoroughly bad people? They melted in the presence of His holiness and were drawn to Him like moths to a candle.
When we meet in His name, what is the purpose of our gathering together? Is it to perpetuate our beliefs, traditions and practices or is it to have an encounter with Him that heals our 'swollen joints' and releases us from our pain and imprisonment? Jesus did not come to start another useless religion. There are enough of those already. He came to show us the compassionate heart of the Father and to release us from the bondage of Satan's deception into the freedom of the sons of God.
Jesus is about taking us to the Father and introducing us to Him as "gracious, compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness" (Exodus 34:6). He is about reconnecting us to the Father and to one another so that we can experience our true humanity in unity with our Creator and His creation.
How does our futile religious gobbledegook contribute to His purpose? What does eating this and not eating that, or doing this and not doing that, do to help us do life together with one another and with God? Does keeping laws do anything to rescue a child or an animal that has fallen down the well on the Sabbath?
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