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God’s Word for You

Luke 14:5-6 love is the rule that trumps the law

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, September 18, 2018

5 Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?”  6 And they could not reply to this.

Bible readers today might have trouble understanding these incidents when Jesus rebukes the Pharisees and others for doing everything they could possibly do to keep a vow. Today, fewer and fewer people care about a vow, or keeping their word, or preserving their reputation. To most (not all), seriously making and keeping a vow or an oath would be unthinkable. An oath of office, a marriage vow—for most, these are things to be made because they are a means to an end.

For example, the marriage vow is abused so much that some couples would like it to be dispensed with. Some want to write their own, and in certain circumstances that might be acceptable. But in truth, the marriage vow is the entire marriage ceremony. A marriage can be made without a lavish ceremony, but not without the vow. In the same way, a President can be sworn into office with very little ceremony, the way Lyndon Johnson was sworn in, but without the vow he or she is not really President.

But let’s come back to the text. The Pharisees had gone far, far, too far, in the other direction. The Pharisees were making vows and keeping them at the expense of the needs of other people. A Pharisee might make a pledge of a gift to the temple, known as Corban (Mark 7:11), which meant that when he died, his estate would go to the church. But if his elderly parents needed care, he could say, “No, mom and dad, my money is pledged to the temple, and so I can’t give you anything to eat or drink, and you will have to starve for the sake of my vow.”

The Pharisees wanted to make a great show of their piety and faith, but it made them cruel and devious, and the irony was lost to them. So when they were attempting to catch Jesus breaking a commandment by doing work on a Sabbath day, Jesus exposed their hypocrisy by asking: “Don’t you rescue your child or ox if it falls into a pit on a Sabbath day?” They were willing to work on a Sabbath day when it suited them. Saving an ox might be an act of compassion, or it might be the case of a miserly man wanting to preserve his expensive animal so that it did not lose any of its value. But saving one’s son was more likely to be an act of compassion and even love. And love is the rule that trumps the law.

This left them speechless. They had been caught in a loveless, self-righteous argument, but we can’t help but remember that they were trying to argue about the law with the very God who gave the law in the first place. And before anything else is said on the matter, we must immediately recognize that Jesus did not come into the world to make new laws, to do away with the laws, or to change them in any way (Matthew 5:17). He came to atone for our sins, our failure to obey. That is truly the difference between Christianity and every other religion in the world—Muslim, Jew, Zoroastrian, Scientologist, Unitarian, Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, or otherwise. The law has been broken, and this has been forgiven by Christ. That proclamation is the core of the gospel. That message is the good news that means eternal life for all who believe. This is most certainly true.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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