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Gems in the Gospel of John

Part 20: John 5:pb
Law or Mercy

We read that, “The day on which this took place was a Sabbath”. Jesus presumably carried out this healing on the Sabbath that they prized so highly, quite deliberately. Had he wanted to he could easily have returned the next day and done it then. But he didn’t; he seems to have chosen to do it on the Sabbath quite deliberately. Why? He didn’t do things like this accidently; he had a purpose – what was it? All the rest of this chapter, and much of the rest of the book follow on from this one act.

Jewish thinking of those days had come down to three main points to identify Judaism and – as they thought – the people of God: circumcision of males, obedience to the food laws, and strict keeping of the Sabbath as a day of rest. Both most of the food laws and the details of Sabbath keeping were defined by the religious authorities. So this was very much their territory and they reacted strongly to what Jesus had done; “the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”

Jesus had two clear purposes in what he did. The first was a general one: he wanted to remind them that, in the words of Micah: “what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” It is easy to miss the full meaning of those words. They say that the way to worship and serve the Lord is to treat our fellow human beings well. That is not what other religions say. They want us to carry out specific rituals directed towards their view of god. According to them we are to live certain ways, dress certain ways, pray in a prescribed format the correct number of times a day and so on. And the Jews had fallen into that trap; and many of them remain in it to this day.

Jesus says “no, that is not the way to worship and serve God the Father”, loud and clear. What really matters are relationships and we express our relationships with the Lord God very largely by our relationships with other people. That idea goes right back a long way. Of the ten commandments only the first four are concerned with us and God, the remaining six are about how we relate to other people.

Jesus’ second purpose is to announce loudly and clearly to his time and culture that he is different. He makes the rules; he has made the rules, though they did not recognize that, so he is above and beyond the often rather silly rules that they have constructed out of the Bible ( the Old Testament). He is God, walking this earth in disguise as it were. He is going to set up a new people of God in a new Kingdom, his Kingdom. That is going to cause a lot of problems in Jerusalem, particularly, and bring him to the Cross on which he would die as the one and only Son of God and true, faithful Israelite.

We will explore something of the implications of this second point – who Jesus was, and is, in following studies. The first point: the importance of relationships, all relationships, with God and other people, is there for us all to think about, take on board, and struggle with all our days.

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