There raged a debate in Jesus’ day among those who enjoyed discussing Scripture. One day, as we might have guessed, someone asked the question of him. His answer is something that should school and inform our understanding of God.
Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law? Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus answers and sets the matter to rest. However, he follows this statement with one that illuminates all of Scripture. On these two commandments hang all of the Law and the Prophets.
That is a new statement, and in it we discover the hermeneutic (process for interpreting Scripture) that Jesus used. There were many who believed that one command was just as important as another. But that is not the case according to Jesus, and we see it applied throughout Scripture.
Keeping the Sabbath was a command that many used to their own hurt. As Jesus preached throughout his ministry and healed different ones, some laid in wait wondering if he would do good on the Sabbath. Work was forbidden, so people who were ill would just have to suffer, would they not?
Jesus describes the intent of the Law, man was not made to observe the Sabbath, rather the Sabbath was made to benefit man. It was easy, once you saw the purpose. It is God honoring to assist one made in God’s image by acting in kindness toward them. Loving them by caring for them, healing them, was in perfect accord with all of the Law and the Prophets.
Arguing about what could be done, how much was too much, or how far the sun was down on the mountain was missing the point of all that God had revealed about himself. It isn’t hard to see when one has the vision of God’s intent.
Mindless enforcement of commandments, moving away from God’s intent, or worse yet, blocking God’s intention becomes sinful. Feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, or aiding the sick is not contrary to God’s law, even on the Sabbath.