When I grew up Sabbath looked different. It was the one day that changed my behaviour, It determined everything from what I wore to what I watched. I grew up understanding Sabbath as a cruel taskmaster. While I do recognize there were some positive things that came from a society that stopped one day a week, I wonder if the end justified the means. Today if I want to cease my work on sabbath it is my choice, Something that I do because I bring value to the principle of Sabbath.
I have been following Moses through the deserts on his journey to the Promised land. A 11 day journey that took 40 years. I think it really took 40 years because thats how long it look to write down all the tedious case laws that governed Jewish life. It takes me almost that just to read through Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. If I could be honest one question pops into my mind.
Did the Jewish people leave the slavery of Egypt for the slavery of religious Law?
I know that the many case laws that Moses gives the people are not uncommon for this period. When you read the code of Hammurabi which predates the Jewish law, you find the similarities incredible. There is no question that this population living in the desert needed to be governed and organized, but was this the way it was intended? When you begin to read the commands-many lines are blurred between the what is communal law, spiritual law, moral law etc. When just looking at the laws that bring the death penalty you wonder if survival in Egypt would have been easier. I have read many theories that justify why God needs to be so Petty. I just don’t buy it. I understand the decalogue (the 10 commandments) and even see their relevance today. But I get lost in the sea of commands accredited to God in the chapters that follow.
But Jesus comes to my rescue.
I have an Anabaptist approach to the scriptures, which means that I do not believe that the Bible is a flat book, and Jesus’ teachings help shed light on the understanding of the old testament. In my struggles reading through the book of Exodus I escape to the red letters for some comfort and find myself in a grain field with Jesus and his disciples. All three gospels record the encounter of Jesus and the Pharisees. (Mark 2:23) It’s the Sabbath and Jesus’ disciples are caught picking heads of wheat and eating them. This is breaking the law of the Sabbath which forbids harvesting as well as 38 other forms of work on the Sabbath. Jesus is confronted, because after all if he claims to be God, shouldn’t they know that this is not only forbidden but punishable by death. Jesus make a comment that puts so much into focus for me. He says “Man was not made for the Sabbath, but Sabbath for man.” (insert record scratch) What?, this is one of the most sacred of commands, and your saying it wasn’t made to obey and serve?, Jesus is saying that it was made for us….to serve us. Jewish culture at the time of Christ was a slave to the religious law, it ruled them with a iron fist. What is saving them is Israel is a client state of Rome and not under Jewish Theocracy. For the Jewish leaders to prosecute and punish by death will need Roman permission.
Heres my question, could it be said then that all of the law was not created to be served but to serve us?, It doesn’t make sense that the sabbath law would be created for man and not the rest. How could the law be meant to serve? And how would it change the nature of religion if we recognized religious obligation as serving us rather than being its slave. When you serve religion you don’t need to understand the why. Which we clearly see in Jesus confrontation with the Pharisees. They understood the letter but missed the Spirit of the law. What if the Law was meant to serve us, to help make us better people. Once again Jesus reiterates this in the sermon on the mount (Matt 5:21) and in other places.
Suddenly it is all coming clearer. Jesus came to free us from the slavery of religion. The jews wanted the case laws just like we want our legalistic fundamentalism, some how it makes us feel safe. A list of check boxes that we can daily say we haven’t broken. But the life Jesus calls us to is far more risky, far more unsafe – but it is the only life that is free.