Wrestling with the grey area


Luke 13:1 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. 2 Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. 3 And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?” 4 But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. 5 Then he said to them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?” 6 And they could not reply to this.

Jesus asks an interesting question here. “Is it lawful to cure illness on the sabbath, or not?” You’re probably aware that “working” on the sabbath was prohibited. But does healing someone constitute work? There was nothing in the written law that explicitly prohibited healing, but tradition held that healing was only permitted on the Sabbath in life-threatening situations.

In v.5 Jesus offers the examples of a child or ox falling into a well – both potentially life-threatening. We’re told in v.2 the man in question had “dropsy” (what we would call today “edema”), which was an accumulation of water in the body. This would certainly have caused the man to suffer, but was not likely life-threatening. So what we have here is something of a “gray area”. It’s not expressly prohibited in the law, but does go against tradition. As you might expect, Jesus chose to heal the man – which frustrated the teacher of the law.

In these strange days of coronavirus we Christians are being pushed into situations none of us has experienced before. Grey areas, if you will. Since March, when the church I lead started going entirely online for worship, we have been celebrating holy communion virtually. In other words we’ve invited people to gather bread and wine/juice in their homes, join with me in blessings these elements, then receive them – all without an ordained person in their midst. Is this practice prohibited in scripture? No. But it does violate the tradition practice of the Lutheran church? Yes.

Here’s another question people have been wrestling with. If the people are not gathered together in once space is the church still the church? Is a physical gathering of some kind necessary?

Part of being a Christian is wrestling with the tension of adhering to tradition and allowing the faith to grow in response to a rapidly changing world. Heavenly Father give us wisdom to know when to stay within the traditional boundaries and when to break out. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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