With the internet’s emergence and social media’s advent, innumerable voices claim absolute truth. Even among Christian sources, there is a lack of unity of thought and several competing voices. While the internet amplifies the differences, they are not new. Splits in the Christian church date back to Acts 15, where disputes among differing factions caused not a minor issue regarding circumcision. With so many competing voices, it can be hard to know which voices we should listen to and which lead us to the truth. Jesus was repeatedly challenged regarding how to follow the Sabbath properly, and his response should guide us whenever we have doubts about what is right to do when we are uncertain of the truth. Matthew 12 shows us an example of how Jesus handled the opposition.
9 He went on from there and entered their synagogue. 10 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. 11 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? 12 Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 12:9–14.
As Jesus verbally danced with the Pharisees regarding what was lawful during the Sabbath, Jesus directed us to question the source of their truth. The scriptures direct us to observe the Sabbath and keep it set apart, but the Pharisees added to it, as laid out in the Talmud and other commentary-esque literature. They placed restrictions on some tasks because they might lead to transgression, but not a transgression. However, there was also the ability to allow a Rabbi to state that some actions were necessary, which is what Jesus references about the allowing of saving a sheep. When we look to our source of truth in the scriptures, we must refrain from mixing up interpretation or commentary with the plain language of the text. Many of us come from differing traditions that interpret Scripture differently, but we must hold to the source of truth as Scripture and that our traditions are lesser than the truth found in Scripture.
Traditions lead to disputes because we come from different backgrounds and want to think the best of our interpretations. Too often, we lean into the thoughts originating in our background, but looking at scripture honestly will open our eyes to differing interpretations of the exact text. The Pharisees could only see their traditional observation of the Sabbath as truth; anything outside of that observation was worthy of death. Therefore, they get flustered and angered when Jesus pokes a hole in their understanding through their tradition of exception. If we get frustrated that someone doesn’t view Scripture the way we do, we must look back to the Scriptures as a whole and strive for peace with God and others. Jesus directs us to the purpose of the Sabbath, not the practice. We must understand why God created the Sabbath, and it was certainly not to hold people in suffering but to create space for worship. How better to worship God than to liberate someone from a life of pain and suffering?
The Gospel liberates the world’s people from their separation from God, bringing peace between God and humanity. Therefore, our interactions with people in the name of the Gospel should bring peace and unity, not division and strife. Jesus brought healing to the man at the synagogue, bringing about a wholeness previously withheld because of the day of the week. He gave the afflicted life, which was authorized by the purpose of the Sabbath. Even though this conflicted with the Pharisees, Jesus reminded them that the Sabbath could not be oppressive but liberating to worship. Most of the time, we won’t come to a consensus about how we understand all the Scriptures. Still, as long as what we are doing is giving life and guiding people toward freedom in Christ, then we represent the Gospel, and our differences are inconsequential.
When we strive to find out how to understand what God wants us to hold as truth, there is far too much noise generated by the many opinions and traditions in the world. The Scriptures guide us to God’s purpose for us, which is to bring peace to the chaos all around, and instead of shouting about our differences, God calls us to unity in the Gospel. The Gospel brings life and not disunity and separation. Therefore, the Gospel will always lead us toward doing good and helping alleviate suffering and pain. Even if our actions may cause others to see us as doing something wrong, if we bring good to our community, it will always outweigh the need to follow a legalistic tradition.