30 June 2020John 5:1-18
Jesus said to him, ‘Stand up, take your mat and walk.’ At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath. (vs. 8-9)
Psalm: Psalm 67
We love rules. By we, I mean human beings. They tell us what to do, give structure to our lives, to society. We all like rules, don’t we? Do I sense resistance?
All right, I’ll admit it, I’ll be 72 this year ... not quite yet you understand. I hear that in lockdown, with COVID-19, people over 70 shouldn’t go out on their own. We are vulnerable. Obvious. A few months ago a friend of mine in his 90s did a sky dive. A man nearing hundred walks round his garden and raises millions for a health service that should have been adequately funded in the first place? Don’t go there, it’s political. Get back the the point. Rules! We like them.
Actually, I think it’s more nuanced than that. We like rules to be applied to other people. I know of instances of children not letting their parents ‘go out’, of people shopping being challenged and told they shouldn’t be there. And I know why. Social distancing. Safety. My scientific background makes me understand the sense of it. What’s strange is that, so far (I’m writing at the beginning of May) I haven’t been challenged! Perhaps it’s something to do with my genetics! People say, I look younger than I am – 69 would do! The trouble is that laws are not nuanced, hold no shades of grey, are general not specific.
The hymn writer Frederick Faber, hitting out at legalistic religion in the hymn ‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy’ wrote, "We magnify his (that is God’s) strictures with a zeal he would not own." He recognised how Jesus promoted the love of a neighbour, whoever that neighbour was, and if laws didn’t enable that they needed to be broken. The man who Jesus healed needed to be healed whatever day it was, sabbath or not. As Faber went on to say, "There is kindness in his justice which is more than liberty."
It is not that we don’t need laws, nor that those laws should not be applied, but that we should be careful, thoughtful, kind in how we apply them.
Arguably, social distancing, shielding and all the other regulations that have grown up over the last few months have been essential, perhaps have not even been brought in soon enough. Time will tell. But please let us apply our laws in a way that is sensitive, and not punitive, just for the sake of our own love of controlling others, while exercising our own power to control.
Elsewhere Mark reminds us of other words of Jesus, "The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27), so if a rule is needed should we not apply it with kindness and sensitivity, enhancing not diminishing the sense of another being loved?
- What sort of rules do you value most?
- What rules would you apply to others that you might be unwilling to keep yourself?