Luke: Legalism Concerns – Fasting and the Sabbath

Read: Luke 5:33-6:11

“They said to Him…” begins the reading for today and one of my recurring nightmares: will I be counted as one of them? Am I in the “they” group? Jesus wants us all to be part of His family, but He is not about checking boxes to gain acceptance, that would be easy, He is about transforming hearts. The transformation begins with the one I see in the mirror.

This morning, we’ll pick on the Pharisees and teachers of the law for a bit. They don’t get it at all. They’re caught up in their world of legalism even more than we’re caught up in our church world that’s so focused on the Sunday production that at times, sometimes far too often, we have no clue. The animosity between Jesus and the religious right begins to simmer in these passages. Luke will shift to teaching for a while, but wants us to see that at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, “they” were watching, taking notes, and building their case. They’re always looking from the outside.

My prayer is we don’t become they.

Jesus Questioned About Fasting: Luke 5:33-39

This starts off with a simple question for clarification about fasting, or so it seems. Those who were being faithful to following their list of rules knew that fasting was something you were supposed to do, so they ask Jesus why His disciples are disobeying rule #___.

Jesus answered, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.” Luke 5:34-35

Ok, that just went right over their heads! They were looking for something more concrete and Jesus starts to explain something about a wedding celebration. They are scratching their heads, so He explains with a parable.

No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. Luke 5:38

My strange sense of humor sees them nodding in agreement: yep, that’s how you work with wine and wineskins, makes sense. But what about the fasting question? Luke lets that just slip on by. As we will see, their question is irrelevant, yet reveals their heart, their motivation. I think that’s the main point.

Jesus Is Lord of the Sabbath: Luke 6:1-11

One Sabbath, then another, and another. Luke likes to point out when Jesus is teaching on the Sabbath, healing, loving, doing life on the day which is supposed to be a day of rest.

Then Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Luke 6:5

I’m confident that God is serious about taking a day off, no doubt; otherwise, it wouldn’t make the top-ten list. We know from those who have invested a lot of time into researching the ways of the Pharisees, they had hundreds of rules about everything. I’d love to see a mindmap about these rules, how they centered on the Ten Commandments and branched off into rules about rules, etc. The geeky part of me would be fascinated by looking at 600+ segments. I can easily get distracted!

In this passage, Jesus makes a point of teaching the Pharisees in particular that He is above their rules. He can sense their confusion, so He heals a man with a shriveled right hand in front of everyone. No hiding, no call to step behind the curtain. Jesus wants to make a point.

Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” Luke 6:9

I really think He’s really giving them a chance to see the err of their ways more than poking them in the eye. Their reaction reveals their heart, they become furious about Jesus’ actions and miss the fact that this man has been healed and quite likely can now begin to provide for his family.

Are we they?

I hope not, but don’t be too quick to answer. This is why we have each other, to hold each other accountable, but not a checklist. Checklists are for the head. Please tell me when I’m acting like a Pharisee! Let me know when I’ve slipped into Sunday production mode rather than being the hands and feet of Jesus for the lost, the lonely, the least! You are my brother and sister in Christ, don’t be afraid to call it like it is. My commitment to you is to do likewise. Don’t wait for Sunday.

Luke is carefully selecting stories that speak about transforming the heart. May our hearts be changed.

Thoughts about serving others

This link includes a list of posts about Serving the Least, the Lost, and the Lonely.

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Let the Word evoke words. May your life encourage lives.

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