As so often in His teachings, Jesus cuts through all the ritual, dogma, and tradition. None of this matters if it doesn’t help you more fully know God or more fully love your neighbor. That is the only point to it, and when it fails to do that, you are not using it right.
Jesus is being criticized for healing a man on the Sabbath – a day in which people are supposed to rest. Jesus does not debate whether or not he broke the literal rule of the Sabbath. What he argues is that God’s point is to do two things: 1. To listen to and follow the lead of the Living God and 2. To care for the hurting.
Can you really say that, simply for breaking a ritual rule, that someone is going against God if they break the rule to help a hurting person? Jesus says, no. We bend the rules for reasons that matter much less in terms of caring for the hurting. God would rather have us put aside our patterns of worship for a few minutes and help that dear hurting one. This is the spirit behind the rule, the heart of God burning in the center of true religion. Let us fulfill that, even when its fulfillment goes against the rituals, dogmas, and rules.
Also Jesus encourages us to truly listen to God. At times God will call us to go beyond the written words of Scripture, and the literal meaning of our religious tradition. Jesus does this when Jesus heals those suffering from ailments at a time the religious leaders of his day rightly said the Bible called for no working must be done. Yet God calls us beyond the written words to a living encounter and relationship with God. In Jesus’ case, it led to fulfilling God’s clear message about caring for the hurting but bending rules about religious rituals. His followers come to extend this to other religious rituals, by welcoming in their midst as fully children of God and members of the covenant people who did not keep Sabbath or kosher, men who were not circumcised, and people who were eunuchs, when such ones showed evidence of the transformed heart that God brings those who know God.
What rules or dogmas guide your life? Some of them may be helping you hear the voice of God and see the hurt of your neighbor. Thank God for them. But which ones might you be approaching in such a way that they, not the Living God at work in our world, are the ones you worship? Let’s always remember our call is not to worship religion, rule, ritual, dogma, or even Scripture but the Living God revealed in Jesus by loving God, and caring for each other.