On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, ‘Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?’ But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. Then he said to them, ‘If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?’ And they could not reply to this.
When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable. ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’
He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’
What are the difficult decisions we face in this season of life? We have hundreds of choices to make every day. Some choices are more challenging when they have to be made in public. Sometimes, we may know the right thing to do but we make excuses because we do not want to risk the hostile stare.
Many of us are also tempted to bend some laws to their advantage. For instance, many tax evaders claim that they do so legally. The fact that something is socially legal does not necessarily make it right. We are all made in the image of God. We all have a divine conscience within. We often know deep down when something legal is not right in God’s sight.
What matters is not just what the laws say but also what the spirit of the law is. Jesus told His followers what the 613 laws from the Torah amount to: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength…Love your neighbour as yourself…No other commandment is greater than these’. (Luke 12.30-31).
Jesus, the healer and rabbi, could have used the Old Testament command not to work on the Sabbath to overlook the man suffering with dropsy. This would have been a fair excuse. Are we not tempted to use socially acceptable excuses to avoid taking godly risks? Yet, the Holy Spirit is there to challenge us from within. Jesus’ love and compassion for His suffering neighbour superseded the laws on the sabbath. Whatever our social laws, rules and rites are, the spirit of the laws of the Bible is about radical love for our neighbours, particularly those who are most vulnerable: the poor, the sick, the prisoner and the less able.
May God grant us the courage to follow the spirit of the law of love, even when this triggers hostile stares and damages our worldly reputation. May our temptation to be people’s pleasers turn into our determination to please God and honour His presence within those in need. Whatever difficult choices lie ahead of us, may the Word inspired by the Holy Spirit be a lamp under our feet and the gravity of our decisions.
The Rev’d Bachelard Kaze Yemtsa is a minister in the East Midlands Synod.