Beyond the Formulas, Part 3 – Breaking the Rules

In my last post in this series I talked about moving beyond seeing the Bible as our “handbook for life” and embracing it for what it is – a collection of stories, poetry, and wisdom that tells us a story. The Bible tells us the story of God and his interactions with people throughout time. I mentioned it then but it’s worth mentioning again that the book The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible by Scot McKnight does an excellent job of looking at all the incorrect ways we read scripture and argues for reading it as God’s grand narrative. As we read the stories of Scripture we gain insight to our own story. We find where our stories, our lives, can align to be part of God’s story. One such story I want to take a look at in this post comes from Mark 2.

Throughout the Gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – the four books which tell the story of Jesus’ life) we see Jesus regularly encountering resistance from the religious experts of his day. These men were the foremost expert of what the Hebrew Bible (what we know as the Old Testament) had to say and how to apply it to life. These men had taken the handbook paradigm to the extreme. They were so zealous to live by the laws of Scripture that they had added a long list of additional rules of their own. There was only one problem: they had lost sight of the purpose of the law. More accurately, they had lost touch with the one who had created the laws in the first place. Jesus knew that (obviously, since we believe he was actually God, the one who wrote the laws) and he pointed it out to them.

Beginning in Mark 2:23, Mark relates a story about Jesus’ interactions with the religious leaders around the rules and laws associated with the Sabbath. In Exodus God gave Israel strict instructions about their work week. They were to work six days, and then they were to rest on the seventh day – the Sabbath day. The practice of Sabbath was core to Israel’s identity. But somewhere along the way they forgot why God gave them that instruction. It just became a rule to be followed. Enter Jesus.

The story begins when Jesus’ followers, his disciples, picked some heads of grain and ate them while walking through a field on the Sabbath. The religious leaders confronted Jesus and asked why he allowed his disciples to “work” on the Sabbath. Now it seems a bit of a stretch to say that by picking some kernels of grain Jesus’ friends were working, but that’s how the religious leaders of Jesus’ time saw it. Jesus points out their error when he tells them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” He took them back to the intent of the law. He re-introduced them to a God who desired that there would be a rhythm of work and rest in their lives. He did this, not to have them to serve a law but to have the law serve them. Sometimes the rules should be broken. When? When following the rule undermines or contradicts its intent. To make this point perfectly clear, the next story Mark tells is of Jesus healing a man on the Sabbath (an act taken as “work” once again by the religious leaders) to show that sometimes the rules are made to be broken.

“Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.”
Dalai Lama XIV

So how do you know when to break the rules? Well first, you have to know the rules. That means knowing the Scriptures and what God has to say about what is good and bad, right and wrong. But just knowing the rules isn’t enough. You have to know the maker of the rules. John gives an account in his gospel about Jesus healing on the Sabbath, and in his account he records Jesus’ answer to how he knew when to break the rules.

“Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”
John 5:19

So what does this mean for us? First it means we should always be studying and learning more about what the Scripture says. But that is not enough. We should also be looking for what the Father is doing, even if it threatens the way we’ve always thought about the rules.

I’ll talk more about that in my next post.

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