Applying the Criteria
21 Jesus answered and said unto them, I have done one work, and ye all marvel. 22 Moses therefore gave unto you circumcision; (not because it is of Moses, but of the fathers;) and ye on the sabbath day circumcise a man. 23 If a man on the sabbath day receive circumcision, that the law of Moses should not be broken; are ye angry at me, because I have made a man every whit whole on the sabbath day? 24 Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.
Here is some background to situate this passage correctly: The Law of Moses reiterated a command made previously by God to Abraham ("from the fathers") that required that male infants be circumcised on the 8th day of life. Since babies are born every day, some will be born on days when the 8th day would fall on the Jewish Sabbath. Jesus points out that the Jewish leaders were quite okay with "mutiliating" babies (AKA circumcision) on the Sabbath Day but declared Jesus a sabbath breaker when he healed someone on the Sabbath. It should be noted that pre-born babies do not have a functioning immune system, but derive protection from their mother's antibodies. At birth, their immune system kicks into action and starts making antibodies. At the same time, the antibodies from the mother are burned off and not replenished because the umbilical cord has been cut. The total inventory of antibodies in the baby, both from mother and child, starts going up because the infants production rate more than makes up for the burnoff rate of the mother's antibodies. Measurements show that the inventory of antibodies in the baby as a percent of blood volume reaches its peak on the 8th day after birth, never to be equalled naturally during the rest of the baby's lifetime. Thus, NOT following the Law of Moses would actually have been disadvantageous to the baby because at no other time than at the divinely appointed time would the potential harm to the baby from the circumcision would have been minimised..
Jesus' complaint was not that the Sabbath was being broken in order to keep the Law of Moses (for doing so was advantageous to the baby), but that the leaders were angry with Jesus for making a man whole on the Sabbath Day (which was advantageous to the healed man). Here's where things get interesting, for there is no commandment in the Law of Moses that prohibited healing people on the Sabbath Day. Rather, the religious leaders were condemning Jesus for violating a rule that they had derived from the Scriptures and consequently treated as equivalent to Scripture. In the Torah, God left the definition of "work" open, only distinguishing between "work" and "laborous work" without defining the difference in that case either. Feeling the need to define it for the people (so as to tell whem what was acceptable and what was not), the religious leaders took a verse from the Torah that stated that the people worked on the Tabernacle and used that as a justification to enumerate all the tasks that were involved in building the Tabernacle. It was by that definition that patching people up after workplace accidents was counted as work.
Although done for religious purposes, that determination was purely a human-originated effort with no divine support or sanction. Contrast this unsupported effort to enumerate what God, by His silence, left up to the individual to the definition of clean and unclean meats. God not only gave an effective definition that would apply outside of the Middle East, but also went further by giving a list of animals and insects that were prohibited and permitted for consumption. The existence of such a list meant that God was not adverse to generating lists if doing so eliminated doubts and questions about His requirements. The fact that He chose not to give a list when it came to defining "work not to be done on the Sabbath" meant that He had chosen to delegate that determination to the individual. For the religious leaders to perform that determination and present the result of their own work and effort as a religious requirement mandated by God whose violation merited divine and human punishment was an unjustified usurpation made under false pretenses that Jesus fought against throughout his ministry.
Stoned on a Technicality?
In emphasizing that prophets should be judged by their fruit rather than their conformance to previously established doctrine, Jesus was not being radical or rebellious, but following the example set by His Father's actions in the Old Testament. I refer to the experience of Jonah the Prophet.
It does not matter if you, my reader, do not happen to believe that there was an individual named Jonah, or believe that he was swallowed by a fish in response to a storm sent by God or who turned the entire City of Nineveh to God. What matters is that Jesus believed that Jonah existed as demonstrated in these Scriptures here, here, and here. This belief in Jonah's reality is essential because the story is not only about Jonah and the Ninevites, but also about God, for a fairy tale would not be taken as authoritative in its take on God's behavior. The part of the narrative that interests us starts in Jonah 3:
1 And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time, saying, 2 Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee. 3 So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days' journey. 4 And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.
I am aware of a considerable number of Pastors and Seminary professors who would strongly disapprove of the message Jonah gave and the manner it was given. Except...
5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. 6 For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. 9 Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?
How bad was Nineveh? So bad, that they felt the necessity to have even their animals participate in the mourning and the fasting! I have no idea what they had to have done to their animals (or with their animals) to make them think they had to do that, but it had to be BAD.
10 And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.
Apparently, not bad enough to keep God from noting their repentance and extending mercy to them.
At this point, one would think that everything was hunky-dory: The Ninevites are spared, God is happy, and a wonderful portrait of God's Judgement tempered by His mercy is painted. Everybody is happy, right?
1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. 2 And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil. 3 Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live. 4 Then said the LORD, Doest thou well to be angry?
5 So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city.
I shall leave Jonah under his booth, refrain from the usual criticism people with less sense and a desire to show an outward piety would say, and ask why the man was so visibly upset. Note that he gave, as his reason for running away, not that he was sure of failure, but that he was sure of success. The man knew himself. He knew he would succeed. He was so successful in converting people that, even the people who threw him overboard while he tried to run away from God afterwards swore allegiance to the God of Israel.
Jonah was also sure of His God, for he knew that God would spare the Ninevites because he knew God personally. Notice that all the miracles in the book of Jonah are nature miracles, demonstrating the power that God has over his creation. But also note that each and all of them was worked for the exclusive and personal benefit of Jonah himself. The relationship between Jonah and God had to be incredible for God to be so motivated to work with Jonah like this!
We have to comprehend the enormity of what Jonah had accomplished through God's help to comprehend the incredible stupidity of the threat that hung over the prophet. The last time a man of God totally upset the geo-politics of the Ancient Middle East was Abraham. Single-handedly, Jonah had taken the region's superpower and turned it into a potential ally of Judah based on religious affiliation. There would have been two nations following Yahweh, one of them the political and military 800 pound gorilla of the day. To really appreciate what Jonah had done, we would be hearing modern day Israelis referring to the United States as their "modern day Nineveh", and we would be proud of it. All that was necessary to forever alter the future history of the Middle East were a few Levites and a few copies of the Torah to move into Nineveh and solidify the revival.
So why was he upset? Perhaps it was because the man knew his people as well, and he knew that the pinhead ancestors of the Sadducees and Pharisees would quote this passage from Deuteronomy 18:20-22:
20 But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die. 21 And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken? 22 When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.
The most successful revivalist prophet of the entire Old Testament would be stoned on a technicality with the full approval of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and any other modern day monitor of doctrinal purity that would judge him by appearances and not by his fruit. Jonah begged for death at the Hand of God, because that death would have been swifter and more merciful than the stoning he would have received from the hands of his own, doubtlessly very "pious", countrymen.
The story of Jonah is left hanging. We do not know what Jonah's response was to God's personal object lesson recounted in Jonah 4, but I am sure the purpose was to make the hearers of this story think about the possibilities that were lost. Keep in mind that the culture in which this account arose was the same culture that judged its prophets by Deuteronomy 18:20-22, so I think they would have been thinking about their response to this extraordinary prophet's dilemma. In hopes that we will also, I will not comment further on it either.
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