When Doing What is Right isn’t Always What is Good

Gospel Lesson      Luke 13:10-17

 10One Sabbath day as Jesus was teaching in a synagogue, 11he saw a woman who had been crippled by an evil spirit. She had been bent double for eighteen years and was unable to stand up straight. 12When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Dear woman, you are healed of your sickness!” 13Then he touched her, and instantly she could stand straight. How she praised God!

14But the leader in charge of the synagogue was indignant that Jesus had healed her on the Sabbath day. “There are six days of the week for working,” he said to the crowd. “Come on those days to be healed, not on the Sabbath.”

15But the Lord replied, “You hypocrites! Each of you works on the Sabbath day! Don’t you untie your ox or your donkey from its stall on the Sabbath and lead it out for water? 16This dear woman, a daughter of Abraham, has been held in bondage by Satan for eighteen years. Isn’t it right that she be released, even on the Sabbath?”

17This shamed his enemies, but all the people rejoiced at the wonderful things he did.

 

Unfair, unfair, unfair is the call we hear rumble when the right thing was done, but people felt cheated at the outcome.

Perhaps the one that made the headlines the most as of late was the verdict of George Zimmerman in the Travon Martin case.  There was due process, there was a trial, a jury of one’s peers, and a verdict in which many cheered as just, but many more jeered as unfair.  So, the question stands, if justice is done, why do so many feel justice was miscarried?

I dealt with this paradox a good deal as a military chaplain with young soldiers.  From time to time soldiers do some pretty stupid, yet avoidable, things and face non-judicial punishment for their misdoings.  They may lose pay, may be put on extra-duty and restriction, and perhaps lose rank depending on the gravity of the offense.

It wasn’t uncommon for them to come to in distress sharing their side of the story.  The command typically saw only the right and wrong of what they did and for the sake of good order and discipline consistently gave out the same punishment for everyone regardless of the circumstances.

I can’t tell you how many times I ended up standing in front of a commander’s desk stating the soldiers case, providing more than just the black and white evidence.  The soldier often still received punishment (basically for behaving idiotically), but the severity of the punishment was often reduced.

So, in some cases doing what is right and good can come together.

But, hey, how many remember growing up with brothers and sisters when one of your siblings got in trouble all of you were in trouble?  In my case, since I was the oldest, I was punished because I allowed the others to get into trouble. Not particularly just or good?

We could spend a month of Sundays discussing the merits of all the laws, policies, codes, regulations and procedures for maintaining civil balance and harmony and to what degree they are right and good.

What I’ve seen is that many policies are a reaction to the offense of one leading to the punishment of many.  So many of these policies bring needless restriction and limitations because one person blew it.

If someone leaves a door unlocked or lights are left on, rather than correcting the one, a policy is written and approved that effects everyone else.

How many belong to an HOA (Home Owners Association)? Granted, the intent is to maintain a pleasant, uniform, safe and secure neighborhood environment free from abuse or neglect…but from what I’ve observed in community after community some of the conditions and constraints one has to scratch their head over.

Probably one of the most distressing a number of years ago involved a decorated vet who erected a flag pole to fly our Nation’s Colors and it took a national outcry for them to give an exception.

I remember in one case in Baghdad, a soldier died because he was huffing from a can of compressed air.  A tragic circumstance, needless to say.  However, the response was to ban or limit the sales of all compressed air and to restrict each person to 1 can.

I understand the need to respond preventively, however, have you ever been in Baghdad?  Dust is everywhere.  You feel like you’re walking on the surface of the moon…the talcum like dust is up to 4 inches thick in some places and as soon as you dust a surface and turn around, it is right back.

With all the computers, electronic communications, etc…there was a great need for compressed air to keep these systems clear of dust.  So you see, just because 1 person made a poor and tragic decision didn’t necessarily mean everyone else needed restraint.

I share this because this sets the scene for Jesus and legalistic religiosity He confronted day after day.  Time after time, the religious experts challenged Him.

You see, Jesus was upsetting their apple cart.  Over the generations the religious authorities instituted strident obedience to ancient law and were pretty good at enforcing it…that is, until Jesus came along.

The problem with Jesus, He wasn’t someone they could control, threaten, bribe or coerce.  When He came on the scene there was an unusual and distinct authority He infused. An authority which often left them speechless and others amazed.

And what really irritated them was His inference that they didn’t know what they were talking about because of their blind hypocrisy.

How dare He accuse them of such. After all, Jesus was a peasant, a son of a nobody carpenter…what credentials did He have, which notable Rabbi did He understudy?   He was no more qualified to instruct or correct them than the man on the moon.

They were closed in their thinking; the law was made for them and only they could determine the exceptions.

Interestingly, last week we had another earth shattering finding; this time from a Florida study on pet owners revealed their devotion, responsibility and commitment to their pets.  They were presented with a scenario that if a vehicle passing by was about to hit an unknown foreigner and their pet, who would they attempt to rescue first, the foreigner or their pet. A large number stated they would first save their pet over the foreigner.

The scenario was rephrased, and instead of a foreigner, the one about to be hit by a passing car was a fellow American.  Though less, many still chose the pet first.

In much the same way described in the story in Luke 13, the religious experts would make an exception to lead their ox or donkey to water on the Sabbath, but would refuse healing to one afflicted for 18 years.

In His day Jesus confronted the same phenomena we face today, whenever we put possession, such as an ox or donkey, car or smartphone, before another person we are actually violating the very tenants of what we say we believe.

  • We say we love our neighbor but avoid those who are not like us;
  • we say we have a passion for souls who don’t know Christ as their Savior but we fail to seek them even though they are all around us;
  • we say we aren’t biased, prejudiced or bigoted but we do not go out of our way putting our ideology aside to embrace those who differ from us;
  • we say we love our enemies, we say we forgive as Christ forgives us but our forgiveness is often selective to those we feel deserve or earned it;
  • we say we are friends with Christ but prove unfriendly to those Christ calls His friends;
  • We say we are giving and generous and care for the needy, but our monthly account ledgers and credit card statements show more invested into ourselves and our things than for others and the mission of Christ’s church;
  • Or, here’s the kicker….we want our doors open to everyone…but you better not clog up the toilets, stain our new carpets, and mar our freshly painted walls.

It wasn’t that Jesus neglected or rejected the perfect law of God; His objection was when people used the law, used their religion, used their houses of worship or used their faith and convictions in such a way that it dehumanized others, discounted them, and made them feel worthless and ashamed, thus preventing them from experiencing the grace and kindness of God and the power of His healing and transformation.

So often, when we hear Jesus chide the Religious Dogmatists of His day, we say “Amen” for His standing up for the “little guy.”

But, can Jesus’ chiding apply to us too?

Whenever we put a possession before a person, whenever we value an item over a need, whenever we pride ourselves in our own conviction while another one weeps and suffers….then we must rethink and say,

  • “Thank you, Jesus for speaking to me…
  • thank you for reminding me and setting me straight, for once I was blind and now I see;
  • lift me Lord to new heights that I may perceive what You perceive;
  • break the shackles that bind me to me;
  • yes, free me from doing what is right to the neglect of that which is good;
  • and rescue me from my own trouble, free & lift me so my song shall be, ‘glory hallelujah, Jesus lifted me!’”

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