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Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?" But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
One of my all-time television shows is Seinfeld; I can watch the same episodes over and over again. And I think my favorite Seinfeld episode dealt with a cook they called the Soup Nazi. Now this was the name he got because of the way he treated his customers. You see, when you placed a soup order, you had to follow a certain protocol, and if you didn’t, he’d say, “No soup for you.” And if you heard those words, well, you were just out of luck. And the same thing applied to anyone who had the audacity to point out a mistake in the order. But his soup was so good, people were willing to put up with this just to get a spoon into his jambalaya.
But you know, the Soup Nazi had nothing on the Pharisees in this story we read nor a lot of us as we’re explaining the Christian faith to others. You see, just like those people at the synagogue, we can be pretty legalistic yet also arbitrary in how we define living as a follower of Jesus Christ. We sound as though God is waiting for people to step out-of-line just so he can lower the boom. Therefore, followers are constantly walking on eggshells, hoping that they don’t slip. Of course, that’s how God deals with them. He’s much more lenient with our little peccadilloes. In other words, the kind of good news that we often share is actually anything but good. And based on it’s rigidity, I think it’s more than reasonable to ask the question, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?”
Of course, regardless of what we might say, we know the answer. It’s always lawful to do good and to save life. In fact that’s what the law is all about, loving God and neighbor. You see, that’s really part of the good news. And it’s something we might need to remember before anyone accuses us of being Sabbath Nazis.