Not the Healthy, But the Sick (v. 17)
The big question we need to ask from this verse is, “Do I see my need?” Jesus was not asking the Pharisees to be more compassionate (“allow the sinners and tax collectors to repent”); he was confronting their blindness (“you do not see how you are like them”).
Consider some of the social groups you consider to be most despicable, destructive, or (at least) misguided. Jesus is not saying you are just as bad as them—“as bad” is a bad category of thought for this discussion. Jesus is saying you need Him just as much as they do because you suffer from the same malady—a sin-stained heart. The point of the discussion is not comparison (frequency or magnitude of sin), but condition (level of hope apart from Christ). Comparison language fails us because there are no degrees of damnation or salvation.
APPLICATION: Once we adjust our thinking from comparing ourselves to others to evaluating our condition before God we are able to apply what Jesus said without slipping into shame (“I guess I really am as bad as a suicide bomber or [blank]”) or pride (“I just can’t accept that I am as bad as [blank]”). This allows our hearts to be humble and willing to reach out to others while still making distinctions (falling into the modern “tolerance” movement).
Feasting and Fasting (v. 19)
Christians sometimes feel bad about feeling good. If you find yourself wrestling with this, I would recommend Gary Thomas’ new book Pure Pleasure. Jesus is indicating to the Pharisees that somberness is not necessarily a synonym for righteousness in the new kingdom He is inaugurating. At the same time Jesus is not condemning the practice of fasting.
Once again Jesus is not as neat as we would like Him to be. Somehow Jesus calls us to take celebration as seriously as self-denial. As people we are usually only good at one or the other; or we believe one is good and the other is bad.
Jesus will not fit into our (or the Pharisees) pre-made categories and practices. They cannot contain the fullness of life He has for us. Our categories lack elasticity in the same way as the wineskins and they cannot be mended (but must be made new) with a patch. As you seek to apply this passage to your life, I would recommend the following two questions to help you identify where to start:
- When do you feel bad (or self-conscious) about an innocent pleasure?
- When you feel good (or self-justified) in an emotion that is wrong or condescending?
Sabbath was Made for Man
The Pharisees wanted to use the Sabbath as a litmus test or thermometer for Jesus’ spirituality. Jesus appealed to the created order and His title as Lord of the Sabbath to dissolve their trap. However, I think it would do us good to reflect on Jesus’ words, “The Sabbath was made for man.”
Whatever we do with this phrase, let us not fall back into the gnat-straining rules of the Pharisees. But let us not forget that God gave us a gift that we too often ignore. God looked at our finiteness and saw our ambition (to achieve, to give our kids every opportunity, to please others, etc…) and decided these people need a regular break.
The following questions are meant to help you evaluate whether you are using the Sabbath for God’s intended purpose.
- Do I feel like God is “holding me back” by asking me to take Sabbath rest?
- Have I confused entertainment (things that stimulate me) for recreation (things that refresh and strengthen me)?
- What kind of things would God have me “do” with this “Sabbath” time?
- Is Sunday the best “day of rest” for me?
- Is it feasible with my life situation to take Sabbath rest all at one time?
- Does my disposition while I work reveal that I am “resting” in God during the entirety of my week?
- Do I need to change my spending habits so I can afford to take Sabbath rest?
- Might I need to cut some “good things” in order to live a 168 hour week in which I devote the majority of my day to rest, devotion, and family?
- Does my use of Sabbath rest result primarily in worship of God or self-indulgence?
- Are my day-to-day energy levels and emotions an inviting testimony to the goodness, grace, provision, and patience of the God I serve?
Introduction to the “Living Our Faith” series.