The Tyranny of the “Should”

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You should never be bullied by anyone who tells you that “you should do” something or other.

The tendency to be a Pharisee is very close to all of us, isn’t it? Think of all those Mother-in-Law jokes, based on the premise of the older interfering with the way the younger does things. Or back-seat-drivers. Or petty officials telling you how to fill in Form 314/1. Or the frustrations of living in a “Nanny State” with its endless Rules and Regulations.

These things are not indicative of a new state of affairs. The Bible has its moments, reminding us that “A nagging wife is like a dripping tap.” (Proverbs 27:15) And Isaiah prophesied (with rolled eyes?) of petty tyrants who demanded:“Do this, do that, a rule for this, a rule for that; a little here, a little there.”(Isaiah 28:10)

Of course, the Pharisees did not set out to be mean-spirited and nit-picking. They just wanted to do things right. They wanted to be serious about life and live with an awareness of God’s authority and rule. Didn’t God give us “The Law” after all? So what was that if not a blueprint for how to live? A whole bunch of Shoulds.

The trouble was that by Jesus’s day things had snowballed out of contol into a situation where there were now “laws” about how to keep the Law. The basic blueprint of the Bible’s teaching had got a wee bit complicated. The Bible told them not to work on the Sabbath. So they classified forty-six activities that constituted “Work.” Coud you carry a stick on the Sabbath? No, because technically that’s the transportation of timber. So could you carry a child who is carrying a stick? Er, yes because that’s good parenting. But no, because…

And Jesus walks blithely into the middle of all this. Here’s the account in Luke 6:

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the cornfields, and his disciples began to pick some ears of corn, rub them in their hands and eat the grain. Some of the Pharisees asked, ‘Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?’

Jesus answered them, ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and taking the consecrated bread, he ate what is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.’

On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shrivelled. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shrivelled hand, ‘Get up and stand in front of everyone.’ So he got up and stood there.

Then Jesus said to them, ‘I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?’

10 He looked round at them all, and then said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He did so, and his hand was completely restored. 11 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.”

So here are two “Jesus and the Nitpickers “stories. How did He deal with the Tyranny of the “Should”? 

By the way, this is no lightweight discussion. Did you read the implied threat in the last sentence? Jesus’s attitude so infuriated the Pharisees and the teachers of the law that they “began to discuss… what they might do to Jesus”  It reminds me of that line in The Parole Officer: “Don’t mess with office-workers”! Seriously, revenge and eventual murder started right here in Subsection B, paragraph D.

And they know that Jesus could be caught out here, on Sabbath regulations: “The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely…” 

In the first story, the tricky bit is when the disciples “began to pick some ears of corn, rub them in their hands and eat the grain.” You see, it’s ok to eat corn but not to rub it in your hands, because that constitutes food preparation (and that’s work – GOTCHA!).

Jesus replies with a story from 1 Samuel 21. It’s not a Sabbath story, as such, but it concerns David, the anointed proto-Messiah, taking God’s bread from the altar for his men. It’s a clever, perfect parallel, for now the Son of David is taking Sabbath grain for His disciples.

There’s an assuredness and a freedom about Jesus’s action. In a parallel, Jesus makes the trenchant point, that “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” These “rules” were given to liberate us into God’s life, not to tie us into being neurotic obsessives.

In  Steve Brown’s A Scandalous Freedom, thre’s a powerful passage on this:

“The good news is that Christ frees us from the need to obnoxiously focus on our goodness, our commitment, and our correctness. Religious has made us obsessive almost beyond endurance. Jesus invited us to a dance…and we’ve turned in into a march of soldiers, always checking to see if we’re doing it right and are in step and in line with the other soldiers. We know a dance would be more fun, but we believe we must go through hell to get to heaven, so we keep marching.”

And then things take a more serious turn. Jesus is quite light-hearted in the field, but in the synagogue, he sees a man with a shrivelled hand and the crowd of supicious onlookers. Will He knowingly break the rule? (For healing constitutes work, too!). Yes He would:

“But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shrivelled hand, ‘Get up and stand in front of everyone.’ So he got up and stood there.

Then Jesus said to them, ‘I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?’ 

10 He looked round at them all, and then said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He did so, and his hand was completely restored.”

It’s a disturbing moment and was an intensely brave thing to do. Behind the man with the shrivelled hand stood people with shrivelled hearts.

It was the work of a moment to heal the man, but Jesus would be crucified upon the attitude of the synagogue crowd.

Lord, please forgive me for being critical of others, or watching for mistakes, of counting myself superior, of trying to sort situations and people out. I’m a Pharisee and I want to be free of it.

Amen.

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