On four different occasions in Luke’s gospel, Jesus clashes with religious leaders over his “work” on the Sabbath (healing and feeding). Jesus doesn’t set out to start something with religious leaders. He simply stays true to God’s mission to love and meet people in their place of need regardless of the circumstances.
In questioning Jesus’ activity, they also challenge his authority. Who do you think you are? Jesus’ words and actions answer a different question: Who do you think God is? What you think about Sabbath and any rituals and traditions ultimately reveals what you think about God.
- Is God mostly concerned with rituals, regulations, and rules? Or is God eager for reconciliation, righteousness, restoration, and renewal?
- Does God want to see us jump through hoops, or is God ultimately offering help and hope?
- This is how Jesus asks it. What is really “lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it (6:9)?”
Those are the questions we have to continually ask. What’s truly at the heart of God? When do our traditions help with that and when do our traditions hinder that? And if we ever find places where our traditions hinder that, then are we willing to alter our preferences to follow God’s priorities?
Our goal is not that we get our rituals right. And it’s certainly not to point out all the ways others get them wrong. I’m convinced God has never been all that interested in us getting our rituals right. God is interested in a world set right in all the places it has gone wrong.
God doesn’t burden us with rituals. Traditions and rituals are not hoops to jump through to maintain God’s favor. They are grace, gifts given by God to remind us God already favors us, God already loves us. Like Sabbath, we don’t have to work for God’s love. Receive it. Rest in it. We weren’t made for traditions and rituals. They are made for us.
We know we are on the right track with faith traditions if instead of leaving us feeling guilty and as if we have never done enough or never done it right, we feel grateful and filled and loved and wanted because God makes us right.
We know we are on the right track with faith traditions if we can yield our preferences and practices to ensure that others who are physically and spiritually hungry are fed, those who are afflicted are healed, and those who’ve been left out are finally included.
We know we are on the right track with faith traditions if they don’t make us more judgmental but rather more merciful and loving. They don’t make us feel better than others because we practice them or how we practice them. They just make us better people.