Monday, March 09, 2009

Crossing the Line - Part 2

“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matt 12:33-37)

The passage above is actually the tail end of Jesus' comments regarding the 'unforgivable sin', but I decided to include them here because there is a connection between the two passages.

Jesus' builds on his condemnation of the Pharisees by pointing out the source of the accusations they have been making against him. It is a truth he will return to on more than one occasion - what defiles us comes from inside us. Just as a bad tree cannot produce good fruit a person whose fundamental heart condition is evil cannot be a fundamentally good person. Our world view is formed by our spiritual foundation, what Jesus calls our "treasure". When this treasure is corrupted how we perceive the world around us will be shaped by that corrupted treasure. It is why the Pharisees suggested Jesus was working by the power of Satan, and it is why they come up with this next brilliant request.

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. (Matthew 12:38-42)

On the surface, this seems like a ridiculous request. They've seen the sight restored to the blind, hearing to the deaf, demons cast out and many other miraculous events; there is a temptation to ask,"What more of a sign do you need?" And this is the take most commentators make on this passage. But I think we take this attitude because we regard this question as a separate event. But what if it is actually a part of the preceding conversation?

Let's sum up the sequence. (a) The Pharisees accuse Jesus' of casting out demons by the power of Satan. (b) Jesus' responds by pointing out that Satan can't do that because he'd be opposing himself, and the Pharisees should know this. (c) He then warns them about the danger of blaspheming the Holy Spirit and points out that this kind of thinking can only come from a heart that is inclined towards evil. (d) Then as if to punctuate Jesus' point, the Pharisee's come back with, "Give us a sign" or in a more modern vernacular "Prove it!"

I think the Pharisees request for a sign is not a failure to recognize the miracles as 'signs', but rather it is their response to Jesus declaration that only God could be empowering the miracles Jesus has been performing. If they just accept his argument on it's own merits then they also have to accept what he has said about themselves, that their motives are fundamentally evil. This of course is not an option. So they resort to an age old method of philosophical debate; they ask for proof!

In a more verbose edition of the request the Pharisees are saying, "Prove to us that what you are saying is true. Give us a sign! Your argument that Satan can't cast out Satan is an interesting one, but how do we know you're right? Maybe you're just trying to turn this argument back on itself to put us on the defensive. So... give us a sign! Prove to us that you are from God!"

If it were coming from an honest place of inquiry this would not be an outrageous request, but Jesus knows that the Pharisees are responding from fear; fear of losing their position and power. It is for this reason that it is an evil and adulterous generation that seeks for a sign. They seek signs not to prove that God is at work in the lives of men, but to prove that he is not. Those who believe require no proof; their faith is all the proof they need. It is only those who hold to a godless world view and want to see it stay that way who ask for proof.

And so Jesus offers them a sign, but not the kind of sign they were looking for. The sign of Jonah - three days and nights in the belly of the earth. He is of course referring to his death and resurrection. Those same individuals who ask for a proof they don't really want to see, will make much of the fact that Good Friday afternoon to Easter Sunday morning don't add up to three days and nights. They can't handle the idea that Jesus is simply making use of metaphor because again they are splitting hairs because they don't want to believe.

If Matthew chose the more poetic "three days and nights" to the more precise "two days, two nights and a bit" - what of it? The resurrection is not rendered null and void if it happens a few hours earlier than expected. An honest heart does not say, "Well, you are here Jesus, a few days after your death, as you promised, but the timing was off and so I have to question whether you actually came back to life at all." Such logic comes from a very empty place which is the subject of the final portion of this passage.

“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.” (Matthew 12:43-45)

There is a saying that goes, "Nature abhors a vacuum." So, it would seem, do demons. But seriously, this entire line of conversation is summed up in this one paragraph. The entire position of the Pharisees is one borne, not out of faith in God, but out of a moral vacuum that leaves them open to all the temptations of power and position.

When one's moral code is founded only on what will maintain the status quo, or what will benefit me the most, then there is no limit to the hateful and even evil things we might say in defense of our position. Many times I have seen those desperate to defend an indefensible position dig themselves deeper and deeper until there is simply no way out.

The worst part is they often are fully aware that their position is untenable, but their fear of admitting to being wrong is so great that they will go to their deaths defending something they don't truly believe. And this I think is the greatest tradgedy of all. For when our fear of being wrong is greater than our fear of eternal damnation, then where is forgiveness to be found?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A Word from our Sponsor

Some of you may have noticed lately that the Bible quotations here have been coming from the ESV - English Standard Version.  I've been using the ESV since October, when, out of curiosity more than anything else, I accepted an email offer to check out sample opf a new study Bible online from Crossway Books & Bibles. I have to admit - I was impressed.

Well for the month of March, Crossway Books and Bibles are offering a free one-month trial of the on-line version of their new ESV Study Bible. I was impressed enough I bought the paper version back in November. Lifetime access to the on-line resources (which are more extensive than what's in the paper version) is included when you buy the hardcopy.

So why am I promoting this?

There are three basic kinds of translations scripture: Literal translations (best for in depth studying where the word choice matters), thought-for-thought translations (an excellent preacher's translation favoured for church use), and paraphrases (a popular choice for everyday devotional reading).  Over the last few years each of these has had a standard bearer that was considered by many, though not by all, to be the best of each genre. The NASB (New American Standard Bible) is a literal translation; the NIV is thought-for-thought, and The Message is a paraphrase.  Each is an excellent Bible that serves it's own role in Bible study.

As a storyteller I have always looked to use a translation that adheres well to the original text but it easily readable in English. This usually requires a balance between a literal and a thought-for-though approach; the standard for the NBS (Network of Biblical Storytellers) has been the RSV (Revised Standard Version).

In the new translation of the ESV however, the Crossway people have come up with a translation that works hard to keep to the original while gaining a higher level of readability than the NASB (IMHO*). Which I really appreciate because often thought-for-thought translations lose a little something in their desire for readabilty. I'm not an expert in either Hebrew or Greek, but have often been surprised when I research the origins of a word in the NIV only to discover that that word doesn't exist in the original text.

The list of contributors to this study Bible reads like a who's-who of Biblical archealogy and theological thought.  80,000 cross-references, 20,000 notes and hundreds of maps, charts, and illustrations.  Yes, the commentary is heavily evangelical, but they do a better than average job of presenting multiple sides of the any arguments that arise. In addition I love the feature that lets me add my own notes and refernces to the relevant passages.  There's also a digital high-lighter with multiple colours and you can listen to an audio-recording of any passage.

But what I really like is the effort they've put into explaining the culture in which Biblical events take place. Here maps and illustrations can make a world of difference in helping understanding and the Crossways new study Bible has the best I've ever seen.  The drawings of the Temple Mount at the time of Jesus is astounding. The image shown is a typical 1st century synagogue.

As a believer in personal Bible study I think it is important to have the best tools available and I like to tell people when I find a good one. I'm not saying evereyone needs to by one of these Bibles, but if you're likely to consider buying a study Bible in the next year or so, I think this one deserves consideration.

So check it out - it's absolutely free for one month. They've had my email since August and they've never tried to plug another product to me. So I have no hesitation is recommending the free trail. Have fun.

Until next timew ...  Shalom.

*IMHO - In My Humble Opinion

Friday, February 27, 2009

I'm Moving...

Hey everyone,

Just a quick note to let you know that starting Sunday, March 1st, 2009 I am moving 'Myriad Shades of Gray' to Wordpress.  The same title but with a different look and a little more content. I'm afraid those of you who are subscribers will have to re-subscribe, but it is just as simple as before so I hope you will stay with me.

The reason for the move is simple enough; Wordpress offers a few more options and I am looking to do a little more with the blog.  Java and Jesus will stay here at Blogger for the time being but will likely move sometime later this spring or summer.

After today all new posts will be at the new 'Myriad Shades of Gray' the address for which is..

So please drop by soon and comment on the new look and additional pages.

Thanks for your support everyone.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Last Minute Invite...

So, what are you doing on Sunday morning?

If you're going to be in the Guelph area then I'd like to invite you to drop around toWestminister-St. Paul's Presbyterian Church. The regular Sunday service starts at 10:30am.

If you do you'll get a chance to hear yours truly give a little presentation called "At the Marriage Feast with Mordecai ."  What is it? I'll let the church bulletin explain...

"The presentation Dennis will do, offers a midrash (a Jewish story amplifying a biblical text) on the text of John 2: 1-11 (the wedding feast at Cana, where Jesus performs his first miracle – turning water into wine).  The story is told from the perspective of a participant at the marriage feast, specifically one, Mordecai, uncle of the groom.  This original presentation, researched, written and recounted by Dennis Gray, fills in much of the cultural detail around Jewish marriage that John’s first readers would, of course, have known, but which most readers of John’s gospel today do not."

I'm not a big fan of blowing my own horn, but hey, one needs to get the word out somehow. Besides, I'd like to get the chance to meet some of you and that's only going to happen if you know where I'll be. So please, drop on by and introduce yourself.
Here's a map showing where to find WSP.

Until next time...  see you in church.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Crossing the Line

Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can someone enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matthew 12:22-32 ESV)

A number of years ago I was privileged to be the regular teacher at a midweek service in my home church. It was our custom to offer prayer and counseling after the service, and one night a woman came forward who wanted very much to believe but felt she wasn’t able to because she had “committed the unforgivable sin.” As we talked over the next half-hour or so it became clear that somewhere along the line a preacher had told her that anyone involved in witchcraft was beyond the redemption offered by God. That was his interpretation of this portion of Matthew’s gospel. She had once been involved in a Lucifer worship cult and was, as a result, firmly convinced that she was beyond even God’s help. No amount of counsel to the contrary would allay her fears. She left in the same hopeless frame of mind as when she arrived.

It was this event that began my personal examination of the passage above. It is a hard thing to reconcile a gospel of God’s limitless love with the notion that there is a line that one must not cross, that it is possible to step outside of His seemingly boundless willingness to forgive.

It is for this reason that a great many preachers today will tell you that what Jesus is talking about here is dying as a non-believer. We are told that the only way to blaspheme the Holy Spirit is to reject God’s offer of salvation, because while the offer is made by God the Father, and the price for it was paid by the Son, it is by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that the offer is fulfilled. And so the only unforgivable sin is to die without having accepted the offer of salvation and arriving in the next world without the righteousness of the Lamb to speak for you.

It is a reasonable and comfortable interpretation. But at the risk of being branded a heretic, I think it is an interpretation that may also be in error. This is an important issue so I ask your indulgence as I explain. I think this interpretation may be in error because of the last statement made by Christ in this passage: “whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”

There are two things to notice here: 1) “whoever speaks” is not about failing to make a decision, it is about making a statement, a proclamation, 2) “in this age” clearly indicates that the offense can be committed this side of the next world, while we are still of “this age.” These then are the characteristics of the “blasphemy” that has been committed against the Holy Spirit. The key to understanding this passage must reside in the meaning of this word.

It should be noted that blasphemy is not a translation of the Greek, it is a transliteration. The word was adopted from the Greek with only a change in pronunciation. According to Strong’s the word is “blasphemeo blas-fay-meh'-o ; to vilify; specially, to speak impiously:--(speak) blaspheme(-er, -mously, -my), defame, rail on, revile, speak evil.” So then, even the definition of the word used by Christ would indicate that he is referring to the things being said by the Pharisees. This calls to mind his words in Mark 7:15-16, “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”

But there seems to be more to it than simply speaking ill of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ discourse to the Pharisees points out the flaws in the logic of their argument. He makes it clear that the notion that Beelzebul (Satan) would seek to deceive the people by casting out his own demons is ridiculous. Think about it a moment. What profit would there be for Satan in this? If he were to cast out demons, would people praise him and abandon God? Of course they wouldn’t; rather they would give God the glory for the event and Satan’s kingdom would fall even further.

It would also appear that Jesus knows the Pharisees know this (“Knowing their thoughts, he said to them”), which is what adds the incredible weight to their sin. If they know in their hearts that such healing could only come from God, by the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that moved upon the face of the waters at the moment of creation, then why would they suggest that Satan is the one who is at work? The answer is two fold: pride and envy.

At this point the Pharisees are beginning to show their desperation. Jesus has beaten their arguments at every turn. Even those totally unversed in the scriptures can see that there is something remarkable going on, that God is doing a new thing. Indignant at the popularity of this Galilean upstart, fearing that their position of power among the people is threatened, and even facing the possibility that everything they thought they knew about the messiah is about to be proven wrong, they make a desperate ploy to preserve the status quo – they attack the very God they claim to serve.

This is the depth of the sin involved here. They know that such healing can only come from God. They know that Jesus’ interpretation of scripture is entirely valid. They know that God is at work in His ministry and something new and remarkable is about to happen. But they no longer care about what it is God wants to do! Such is their desperation, they attempt to derail God’s plan; they are willing to condemn the acts of God Almighty as works of evil rather than risk losing their position of authority or alter their own world view!

How much envy has to live in one’s heart to come to such a place? How much pride does it take to believe that your world view is more important than God’s plan for Israel? In speaking this way the Pharisees engage in the sin of Lucifer. They set themselves above God and His will, and seek to impose their own will on the universe.

But I think the true weight of their error lies in it's consequence for the innocents. Consider Jesus' words in Matthew 18: "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea." Matthew 18:5-6 ESV The Pharisees denial of God's Messiah held the potential to put the salvation of others at risk. By deliberately declaring that the work being done by the Holy Spirit was being done by Beelzubul, they were running the risk of leading others astray, and Jesus' words concerning their fate are quite sobering.

So this then, I believe, is the sin that God will tolerate only so long. To simply reject His plan of salvation is one thing; to openly revile it and seek to impose your own world view when you know the truth is quite another. To continue down this path will put the salvation of others at risk and will eventually take one to a place where your heart is hardened beyond repentance. And if you have crossed the line to a place where you are no longer capable of repentance, then how can God forgive?

Understand that I am not talking about simply bad mouthing someone’s ministry here, or even being simply mistaken about what is God's plan. I’m talking about something far more sinister; something akin to setting yourself up as the arbitrator of salvation. This is about someone who knows the truth, acknowledges the reality of God’s plan, but seeks to discredit it in the eyes of others to forward their own agenda. As I said, this is a sin that rivals the sin of Lucifer. For this reason, I am convinced very few people will ever be this far away from God’s saving grace!

In fact, I doubt more than a handful of people down through the centuries could possibly be guilty of such a sin. Not that I am qualified to judge. But that said, I do not think even this group of Pharisees had crossed that line. Jesus’ words hold the flavour of a dire warning rather than a final judgment. He is letting them know, in no uncertain terms, that He knows exactly what is going on in their hearts. He is letting them know that they will not succeed, and that if they press the issue too far, the ramifications will be far greater than they might have imagined.

I think also this is why we are commanded not to judge others but only the condition of our own hearts. Because it is the passing of judgment on the works of others, especially when our opinions are more our own than founded in God's word, that will start us on such a path.

Until next time... Shalom

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Palace of Time - a Place of Healing

I know - it's been almost a year. I said there would be a next time, it just took a lot longer than I thought. I'm not going to explain my absence other than to say I needed the rest. But now I'm back. Matthew's story still calls to me and I can no longer ignore it. So let's just pick up where we left off, shall we?

In our last episode, I talked about the Sabbath being a Palace of Time, a place where we could escape the hustle of the daily agenda and find time to spend with God exploring who He is and who we are in Him. But the Sabbath is not just about getting some rest. There's more to it than that.

He went on from there and entered their synagogue. And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

Now, the Pharisees actually have a point to make here. You see the prevailing wisdom of the day was that while it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath, it was only in the case of life-threatening situations. They acknowledged that allowing a living thing to die by inaction was no way to honour God on His Sabbath; but the man with the withered hand was in no danger. His healing could wait a day and the sanctity of the Sabbath would be maintained. In some respects it was a reasonable argument.

But Jesus doesn't see the argument as reasonable at all, because to Jesus suffering is suffering and needs to be relieved. He points out the flaw in the Pharisees reasoning, because even they themselves would rescue an animal on the Sabbath, "of how much more value is a man than a sheep?"

Jesus, as Lord of the Sabbath, makes it clear that to end suffering, to help the helpless, to do good, is lawful at anytime, even on the Sabbath. The Sabbath is not just a Palace of Time, it is also a Time of Healing. An opportunity to relieve the stress that withers our spirits during the week and allow ourselves to reach out to God and be restored. It also calls us to reach out and be a source of healing as we gather with those we care for and let them find restoration in a time of fellowship.

It is, as Jesus made clear, a time to do good. The most acceptable form of work on the sabbath was the ministrations of the priests in the temple as they offered the showbread in recognition of God's provision. (Jesus makes reference to this in the previous section.) In like manner I believe the sabbath is a time for us, and as citizens of a priestly kingdom, to offer ourselves to the benefit of others; to use the time to participate in the healing of the community provided by the fellowship we experience in the Palace of Time.

But the episode doesn't end there.

Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all and ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.

I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.

He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;

a bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;
and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”

Jesus withdraws to another place. Some would look upon this as a retreat, but rather I think He is looking to avoid letting the confrontation escalate until the time is right. He withdraws because the Gospel of the kingdom is not about confrontation, it is not about winning a theological Battle Royale. Rather it is about hope.

And who is the hope for? Oddly enough it is for us, the Gentiles. Those who until this point in history have been excluded from the Gospel Kingdom. I mentioned at the beginning of the process that I felt Matthew was writing not to a Jewish audience exclusively as others have suggested, but rather to a mixed audience. A church of Jewish believers and Gentile converts likely struggling to get along. It is passages such as this one that re-enforce my feelings on this.

The Jewish believers needed to understand why they were worshiping God in fellowship with Gentiles. They needed to understand, and still do, that it was God's plan from the beginning to heal the rift that started in the days of Abraham.

And the Gentile converts among them, these new Christians, they needed hope. They needed to know that God had never abandoned them. They needed to know, as do we, that the gift of salvation, that citizenry in the Gospel kingdom is not about race, or nationality, or how well you can slice and dice the scriptures until they resemble the Word no more than french fries resemble a potato. No... it is about faith, and faith alone.

Faith in the one who gave the Sabbath to mankind that in it we might find refreshment and renewal. A moment in which we might find a fresh start, an opportunity to put the past behind us and begin a new week, revived by fellowship with God and with each other.

Until next time... Shalom.

Monday, March 31, 2008

A Palace of Time

It is sometimes a remarkable thing the way God points me in a particular direction in my life. The other night I was at my friend Gord's place, with a number of other people and we found ourselves having a very meaningful conversation about how we need to 'experience the moment' more. The next day I sat down to consider the following passage of Matthew's gospel in preparation for this article and was a little taken aback because, in a manner of speaking, the passage is about the same thing.

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!” But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” Matthew 12:1-8 NKJV

When someone mentions the Sabbath, what comes to mind? A day of prayer? A day for church? Synagogue? It is certain that these things have their place in our Sabbath observance, but to truly appreciate the depth of the relationship between Jesus and the Sabbath we need to understand that above all else, the Sabbath is - a gift!

Think about it for a moment. The first thing that God chose to declare as sacred forever, was not a piece of land for people to make pilgrimage to, not a building where one would seek His presence, or even an artifact, some carving or golden idol that would be the object of our worship. No, the first thing that God chose to make scared forever was a day (Ex. 20:8-11), a period of time, a collection of moments set aside for the purpose of being with His people. The most sacred thing to God, after ensuring we knew who He was, is to spend time with us.

The Sabbath is a gift - a gift of time. In a world that, even in Jesus' day, called upon the individual to spend every waking moment struggling to survive, God seeks foremost to ensure that we are rested. In the world of the Bible the only ones who reclined at dinner were the masters, the oppressors, the idle rich, most of whom had achieved their wealth and power on the backs of others. To His people God offers a taste of equality with the upper classes; what Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel calls, "a Palace of Time," a place where the servant and the slave, the fisherman and the carpenter, the handmaid and the midwife, come to recline at table with their Creator.

In a life of hardship and stress God gives his people the greatest gift of all - time! It was a completely foreign concept for the culture of that day. No one outside of the Jewish community could fathom it at all. Consider the words of Roman historian and orator Tacitus on the subject...

"In order to secure the allegiance of his people in the future, Moses prescribed for them a novel religion quite different from those of the rest of mankind. Among the Jews all things are profane that we hold sacred; on the other hand they regard as permissible what seems to us immoral. ... We are told that the seventh day was set aside for rest because this marked the end of their toils. In course of time the seductions of idleness made them devote every seventh year to indolence as well."

In fact most cultures considered the Jews lazy, shiftless, and undisciplined because of their habit of taking a "holiday" every seven days. It was one more thing that contributed to the general public's distrust of all things Jewish.

Of course, as usual, the Pharisees and the priests had turned it into another way to burden the backs of the people with layers and layers of legalism. In the strictest terms they were right to challenge the actions of Jesus' disciples. Picking the heads of wheat could be interpreted as work. Since there was good reason for the Sabbath laws, they had to be observed. The problem was the Pharisees had forgotten the reason.

The laws of the Sabbath were designed to slow down God's people enough so that they could enjoy God's gift. Even in the first century, life often was racing around at such a pace that people didn't see what was right in front of them. Picture it this way...

Imagine that the moments in your life are like the telephone poles at the side of the road. If you're driving down that road at 60 miles an hour then the poles are going by at about one per second. Not much time to notice either the poles themselves or the spaces between them. But if you are going from pole to pole, from moment to moment, at the pace of a Sabbath walk, then you get to enjoy it all. You can see the flowers God has planted along the road between the poles. You can hear the singing birds which God has housed in the trees - trees that need to be pruned to make room for the wires to pass from pole to pole. And yes, you can even see the pop cans and McDonald's containers that litter the way, making note to come back the next day when work resumes and clean up the highway of your life just a little bit.

The laws of the Sabbath were not designed to restrict us, as some Pharisees might think. They were designed to grant us access to the Palace of Time, where matters of the soul, the heart and the mind can be examined without the tyranny of the agenda to distract us. It's hard to love God with all your soul when your soul is so badly in need of rest.

Jesus came to take us back to that palace, to reunite us with the gift that God chose to give us first above all others - the gift of time with Himself. A time for us, as my friend Gord would say, "to carry eternity in our hearts... to dialogue freely with an inner expanding universe... and to catch the truth in a net."

How He did that we'll talk about next time.


P.S. The pic below is of an artwork that Gord created some time ago. It depicts the poem he wrote that the above quote comes from. I hope you don't mind Gord, it's too good not to share. (click to see larger version)