Then Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.” -Luke 6:5 (NRSV)
This verse comes from one of a number of New Testament stories where Jesus was at six’s and seven’s with the religious authorities over sabbath laws and observance.
Jesus’s disciples were hungry. They picked some grain, rubbed it between their hands to get the chaff off, and ate. Doesn’t sound all that appetizing, but it’s enough to get the predictable stick-in-the-muds, the Pharisees, to pull their yellow card and declare, “sabbath violation!”
It’s pretty easy for Christians, and maybe especially liberal Protestants, to say, “Look at those uptight, narrow-minded religious legalists. Thank God, we’re not like them! Thank God, we know that human needs like hunger, healing, or help in crisis are more important than religious ritual or observance.”
It is easy, in other words, to be smug about our open-mindedness, and to congratulate ourselves on our more flexible and magnanimous – and certainly not hidebound – faith.
But what if Jesus’ point was not less, but actually more, demanding? This story concludes with his tense, not-entirely-clear statement, “Christ is lord of the sabbath.”
It’s the kind of statement that creates a moment of truth: what is God doing right now? What does God require of me, of us, right at this moment? We are in the presence of the living Christ; what now?
Often we too are stuck in familiar arguments, predictable conflicts and entrenched positions. Christ’s presence shatters all that, renders it null and void. The old has passed away; there is, in Christ, a new creation. In Christ, God is doing a new thing.
We are “open,” but are we open to that?
“Jesus puts us,” a wise teacher once said to me, “where we all want to be and where we all don’t want to be: in the presence of God.”
Is that happening in our churches? Is there that sense of gospel urgency?
Where we have grown comfortable and self-congratulatory, break in upon us O Lord with your new creation and fresh urgency. Amen.
Tony Robinson, a United Church of Christ minister, is a speaker, teacher, and writer. His most recent book is Useful Wisdom: Letters to Young (and not so young) Ministers. You can read and sign up for his blog at www.anthonybrobinson.com.