“An Appeal for Softer Hearts”
Psalm 139: 1-6, 13-18; Mark 2: 23 — 3:6
Pearl: Addressing human need matters more than enforcing the law.
Function: To motivate worshippers to open their hearts and their minds to prioritize meeting human needs over adhering to religious rules.
Robin Hood was a character from English folklore whose claim to fame was that he stole from the rich in order to give to the poor.
- Legend has it that he was a noble.
- That means that he knew the privilege that was his and his heart led him to share it. Legend has it that he had returned from fighting in the Crusades. He was skilled with the bow and with the sword.
- He disguised himself, dressing like a commoner.
- As a person of much privilege he set it aside in order to care for those who did not have any privilege whatsoever.
- Robin Hood broke the law in order to feed the poor. Was Robin Hood a criminal?
- Jesus and his disciples were walking through someone’s fields one day when they became hungry.
- But it was no ordinary day; it was the Sabbath day.
- They began to pick some of the heads of grain from the field through which they were walking.
- This field belonged to someone. So Jesus and his disciples were helping themselves to something that belonged to someone else.
- The Pharisees called them on it.
- Now the fact that they were picking grain from someone else’s field was not the issue. The issue, for the Pharisees, was that they were “working” on the Sabbath. Indeed, the Law specifies not to work on the Sabbath.
- Were Jesus and his disciples criminals?
The Way of the kingdom of God is to defer to people, not the law!
Jesus clashed with the Pharisees on this occasion in regard to Sabbath-keeping, law-keeping.
- Jesus did not seek them out. They sought to catch him in the act of breaking the law of God. They succeeded.
- The disciple’s picking the heads of grain from someone’s field on the Sabbath.
- Jesus’ curing of the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath.
- Guilty as charged!
- So Jesus asked the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?”
- Jesus knew how to zero in on the heart of the matter!
- According to Jesus the law was not so concrete and inflexible. It appears that the law had some higher principle to override inflexible observance and adherence to the letter of the law.
- Scripture records that Jesus then looked around at them and become angry. They remained silent. Further it says that Jesus was “grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand” (Mark 3: 4, 5). The Greek word describing Jesus’ anger was unique here.
- This whole “hardness of heart” issue was always something that foiled God’s will.
- In the whole drama of Moses going back and forth to the Pharaoh in order to gain release of God’s people from Egyptian bondage you read that it was because of Pharaoh’s “hardness of heart” that he kept refusing.
- The Psalmist lamented, “O that today you would listen to his voice! Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness” (Psalm 95:7b, 8).
- King Zedekiah was one of many evil kings in the history of Judah. It is written of him, “He stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the Lord, the God of Israel” (II Chronicles 36:13).
- These rulers, and the Pharisees many years later during the life of Jesus “hardened their hearts” in the face of human need. They ignored human need in order to maintain their “privilege and their power.” They deferred to law instead of love by “hardening their hearts.”
- This is still a way of life for people who preserve their own privilege at the expense of the needs of others.
Jesus urges his followers to defer to people above the keeping of rules.
In last week’s message Jesus was approached by one Pharisee, Nicodemus, in the dark of night. Remember that Jesus told him that he needed to be “born again.”
- The whole notion of being “born again” has taken on all kinds of baggage, even to the point of being a “turn-off” to most.
- What Jesus likely meant by that statement is that you have to give up your old way, your old mindset, your old “law-preserving mentality” and open your heart to embrace a new way, the Way of God.
- Jesus was all about bringing into light a new realm, a new kingdom. He was all about bringing people out of an old way of seeing things to God’s way of seeing things and it was an altogether new way of seeing things, it was a new realm—God’s kingdom!
- “Repenting” and being “born again” has to do with turning from something and turning toward some other thing.
- Most attention goes to what are all of the things to turn away from.
- Some Christian sects are known for all of the things they don’t do.
- More focus should be placed upon what to turn toward!
- The turning is about turning toward God’s Way, God’s kingdom.
- The new life that you are meant to embrace in Jesus Christ is the Way of God. It is a way which elevates human need over law. It prioritizes love over law.
- It is adopting a new heart and a new mind.
- It is adopting the heart and the mind of Jesus.
- That is a heart which places human need above the keeping of rules, human need above the keeping of laws.
- The appeal of Jesus is for a softer heart. It is about replacing a heart of stone with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).
- Most attention goes to what are all of the things to turn away from.
Many, including many of us, would argue, well you have to have laws. You have to abide by laws. True, you do, in many ways. But when you repeatedly defer to religious laws in the face of human need, what you are doing is preserving your privilege. You are making use of laws to protect yourself at the expense of others.
- Jesus set aside the law when it was a matter of human need.
- The disciples, and likely Jesus himself, were hungry. So on the Sabbath they helped themselves to some food.
- A man with a withered hand came into Jesus presence, on the Sabbath. Maybe he was planted so that Jesus had to see him.
- So Jesus cured his hand. Jesus did the helping thing, the loving thing, rather than observe a rule to do no work on the Sabbath.
- Jesus revealed that the law was for the good of people. He said, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath.”
- So the law is inherently good as it is meant to give life. But if following it would get in the way of life and doing good then by all means don’t worry about it.
- The problem is that within humankind is an inherent selfishness which wants to preserve privilege without sharing blessings and the world’s goods.
- But there is plenty enough for everyone.
- Care for others and you will be provided for.
- Share with others and you will not lack.
- Give and it will be given to you.
- You don’t need to bury what you have in a hole. You don’t have to build walls and fortresses. If you do you will be lonely and alone.
Rather, open your hearts and open your minds to the kingdom of God. It is an altogether different way of life.
- Proverbs 28:14-16 reads, “Happy is the one who is never without fear, but one who is hard-hearted will fall into calamity. Like a roaring lion or a charging bear is a wicked ruler over a poor people. A ruler who lacks understanding is a cruel oppressor; but one who hates unjust gain will enjoy a long life.”
- How does one acquire such hatred for injustice and for inequity?
- By softening your heart and opening your mind to allow God’s new heaven and new earth to inhabit your being.
- It comes from receiving God’s perspective which is different from our inherently selfish perspective.
- It comes from a compassionate perspective which elevates human need above rules every day.
Err on the side of love rather than law every time that it is a matter of human need.