Jesus rarely did what was expected of him.
Matthew and Mark record a fascinating little story about Jesus. On the Sabbath, Jesus goes into a synagogue and encounters a man with a crippled hand. Mark actually says it was “shriveled,” so we get the sense this was not the result of an accident, but it was something he was born with. How the man’s hand came to be shriveled doesn’t really matter, what is interesting is that Jesus heals this man. On the Sabbath. In front of a bunch of religious authorities who were intently watching to see if Jesus would in fact break down the gate they thought he might.
And Jesus chose, deliberately, to heal a man on the Sabbath. Which raises all sorts of questions. Why didn’t Jesus wait until the next day?
After all, this wasn’t a life-threatening condition for the man. He could survive a day or two. Jesus must have known that it would cause a stir among those watching. Sabbath wasn’t an ancillary practice, but it was a primary religious routine rooted in the rhythms of creation. It’s importance was affirmed at Sinai. It became one of the marks of a people, separating Jewish from Gentile, God-fearing from pagan. Sabbath mattered deeply.
Which why Jesus’ seemingly flippant treatment of the holy day appalled the religious authorities.
We talk a lot about truth and defending the truth and speaking the truth in love and even, and this one seems to be popular today, that speaking the truth even if it is difficult to hear is a loving act.
I wonder if the pharisees thought that? Couldn’t you hear them saying, “Jesus, we understand your desire to heal, but healing on the Sabbath is to deny the truth. Isn’t it more loving to tell the truth about sabbath and holiness than healing someone and causing them to desecrate the holy day? After all, this rooted in creation! This marks us as a people! If we compromise on this, than how can we be called a people of the covenant?”
To which Jesus says, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” (Mark 3:4)
Rarely did Jesus do what was expected of him. Let’s correct that.
Rarely does Jesus do what we expect of him.
Because we have boxes that we put Jesus in and say, “Jesus would do this.” Let’s be honest. We don’t know that Jesus would do X or Y or Z. We only know what Jesus has done. Included in what we know about what Jesus has done is how Jesus consistently and purposefully wrecked the expectations of the religious.
To a Roman soldier, “When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” (Matthew 8:10)
Sitting with a Samaritan woman at a well in Samaria. Dining with sinners. Going to the house of Zaccheaus. Letting a prostitute clean his feet with her hair. Surrounding himself with uneducated fisherman. Bringing the Gentiles to himself. Eating on the Sabbath. No, Jesus could not and cannot be boxed in. Sometimes he is going to purposefully mess with our religious boundaries – even if they seem vitally important to us.
Even the ones that seem most central to who we are as a people. I’m not saying he will eradicate them. Jesus didn’t abolish the Sabbath, but he reoriented it back to its original design.
I wonder what we love that is perhaps good, but not as good as it could be if it were aligned with its design?
Which is why he, Jesus, is all that I am certain of. I am certain of his place at the center of the story of all that is. I am certain that the Bible matters because Jesus embodied, and thus validated, its authority. I am certain of his death and resurrection and the new order coming with his kingdom. I am certain that I, you, we get to taste that now when we orient ourselves around the commands of Jesus in this present life. I am certain of my hope in the day in which mourning and tears and sickness and death end and beauty and love are all that we know.
But how we get there, I do not know.
And I’m not sure we are supposed to.
I think we are supposed to stumble around trying to figure out how to hold the delicate tension that arises when we seek to love the Holy God and love our neighbor who bears the image of the Creator. Easy answers are not right answers, and often fail to consider the complexity of the already-but-not-yet.
Which means we have to ruthlessly work to rest in the one other thing I am certain of: Grace.
Nobody does life perfectly.
Nobody gets it right the first time out.
Which is a deep shame because, well, we only get one shot. So the one shot we have is a shot that will be marked by mistakes and missteps. We’ll try to avoid adding to the shit around us, but inevitably we will add to it, pile it on, and step in it.
And then we’ll probably put our foot in our mouth.
Which means we need to learn grace. It needs to permeate our interactions and expectations. Perfection is an impossibility, and yet, despite our recognition of our inability to attain it, we crush ourselves with the weight of getting it right. Grace is a long way off, possible for others, but distant for us.
It would be less frustrating if it were simply a distant object we never got to touch. But grace, and the respite it offers the weary perfectionist, is often tangibly frustrating. Sometimes graces feels like holding water. It’s cooling qualities fall in into our hands so we cup our fingers and let the cool water run over the ridges and crevices of our palms. Ever so slowly we close our hands around the refreshing, life giving water hoping we can save a little more for when we are again thirsty. But open our hands, and we don’t just drop the water that was there, but found that it was never there to begin with.
We cannot hold water and and we cannot hold grace. Holding grace would be to control grace, and we cannot control grace. Grace gives itself to who it wants on its terms alone.
But come here, because there is a dirty little secret that you need to know. I understand that you want to wrap your fingers around grace and hold on to it, maybe even put it in your pocket, because you know that one day you’ll need it. The world around us is finite, and we have grown accustomed to saving things for a rainy day. But, and I hope you are listening closely, the fountain from which grace flows never stops. It is the manna offered us each day. Just a little more to strengthen and sustain us on the long road of obedience before us.
Maybe this is what Jesus meant when he says if we drink his water we will never be thirsty again. It isn’t because our need for grace is quenched in one glassful of a fresh water, but that the well continues to bubble up. We don’t need to bottle it up or put it in our pocket because the fountain is always flowing and always waiting for us to drink from it.
We just have to come drink. Deeply and often. And unlike the things of this world, the fountain will never dry out.