As someone who studied marketing in school and as a pastor, I’m very interested in how churches promote themselves. Whether you are a business or a church, you only have a minute or two to get your message across and so you need to be quick and clear.
A number of years ago, I came across a flyer for a church. It was a Baptist church. I don’t remember the exact wording, but the message they wanted people to hear was that they were against the Pope, against Billy Graham and against any Bible translation other than the King James Version. I vaguely recall them being against a few other things as well. I looked in vain for what they were for but only found what they were against. They were looking for people who disliked these things or these people as much as they did.
That is an extreme example but in my reading, many non-Christians see the church in a similar way. When asked what they thought of the church, many offered statements such as anti-science, anti-women and anti-gay. The message that the church has gotten across is about what we are against, not that those statements were accurate.
The truth is is that it is always easier to criticize than to take steps toward building up. This is an ongoing temptation, for both individual Christians and for the church. But there is a better way.
Healing on the Sabbath
The story we are looking at is one of a category called Sabbath controversies. Although Jesus healed on other days, he also seemed to have made a point of healing on the Sabbath. A number of these healings took place in or near a synagogue, so that religious leaders would notice. It is almost as if Jesus was daring them to criticize his healing ministry.
What is the big deal about the Sabbath? The Sabbath was Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. One of the Ten Commandments was to keep the Sabbath holy. Part of keeping it holy was resting and not working. The problem with this commandment is that it is not always clear what is work and what is not. How far are you allowed to walk? How much are you allowed to carry? Traditions grew up around this commandment that filled in the details. If you broke one of the traditions, it was considered the breaking of the commandment.
One day, Jesus was teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Among the people listening to Jesus was a woman who was bent over with a physical problem that had been with her for decades. Instead of just teaching from the Bible, Jesus performed a miraculous healing on her.
I would hope that if we had a dramatic healing like that in our church that people would rejoice and get excited. Unfortunately that is not what happened here. Instead of praising God, the synagogue ruler criticized Jesus for what he had did. Without even acknowledging the power that had been demonstrated, the man condemned Jesus for the day that he had healed on. It’s fine to heal people if you want, but do it on one of the other six days.
This man was probably trying to be logical. If the woman had been sick for eighteen years, one more day was not going to kill her. But if you have ever had a long-term chronic illness, being asked to wait one more day than you need to is a big things. Suffering is not something that can be looked at in purely logical terms.
Jesus responds to the synagogue leader with reminders that even the most religious help their animals on the Sabbath. How much more should we help our fellow human beings?
i would suggest that Jesus is doing more than just arguing for the permissibility of healing on the Sabbath. Rather healing a child of God on the Sabbath is absolutely appropriate. The NIV says that when she was healed, the woman praised God. But the Greek is stronger in that it literally says she glorified God. What could be more appropriate than glorifying God on the Sabbath?
The synagogue leader was so focused on the things he though you shouldn’t do on the Sabbath that he completely missed out on what you should do on the Sabbath. By only looking at the negative, he neglected the positive.
Healing in Our World
I see this story as being much more than just what we are allowed to do on the Sabbath. Rather this story seeks to create in us a radical paradigm shift in how we understand the Christian faith.
I don’t mean to suggest that there is nothing that we should be against. There are plenty of things I’m against. I’m against human trafficking and child abuse and cheating on your spouse and dozens of other things. There are things that I choose to avoid in order to achieve my goal of growing spiritually. There is a time for the church to have a prophetic voice in speaking against the injustices of our society. All of this is good.
But if we only focus on what we are against, then we are presenting an incomplete picture of what the church is all about. Not only that, only avoiding the bad is not a sustainable practice. For example, imagine a person with mental illness who seeks to self-medicate through illegal drugs. This is a very common situation in our community. What if that person made a decision to stop doing drugs? That would be great but more needs to be done. Drug addiction must be replaced with something else. This may include proper medication under the supervision of a doctor, counselling, becoming part of a community and many other positive choices. If the addiction is not replaced with something, being clean cannot last.
As a church, we need to avoid certain things. We should be a place where lying, gossip and slander is not welcome. But instead of just rejecting those words, we need to replace them words of encouragement and prayers. We must shift from tearing down to building up.
One of the most important questions for a church to ask is how people would react if we closed our doors for good. If we are only known for what we are against, people will not even notice we are gone. But if we are known for what we are for and what we are doing, people will notice. They will say that our church is missed for what we did for newcomers to Canada and for homeless people in our community. They will say that our church was the place where everyone felt welcome and where people could come and meet God.
This is a time for us to ask ourselves what we are for. We need to ask ourselves this both as a church and as individuals. What do we want to be known for and what are we going to do to make this happen? None of this will happen on its own. We need to work for it, seeking God’s guidance, becoming shaped by the Scriptures and sacrificing of our time, talent and treasure.
What is the Christian life meant to look like? There is an important place for personal holiness. We need to make good choices that include avoiding certain behaviours, even if they are tolerated or even promoted within our society. But that only takes us as far as the synagogue ruler.
Jesus took it to the next level by healing a woman who had been sick for a long time. The result was that she glorified God. Healing may look different in our community. But there is a tremendous amount of pain and suffering around us. There are people that have been waiting much longer than eighteen years for help. What are we going to do about it? It is not enough to be thankful that we are not in that position. We must choose to make a positive change in our community. There may be decisions we need to make both as a church and as individuals. What will we do to lead people into glorifying God?