2 Corinthians 4:5-12
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who chooses abundant life over safety. Amen
Jesus right from the beginning of his ministry
chooses abundant life over safety.
We have two prime examples in our gospel for today.
In the first story
Jesus’ disciples are hungry,
and so as they walk through a field
they pluck heads of grain to eat.
Some Pharisees see this
and complain to Jesus.
The grain was not the problem
they were not stealing it,
Jewish law demands that farmers
leave a certain portion of their crops in the fields
for the poor, widowed and orphaned to glean,
and that is what the disciples were doing.
The problem was that the day happened to be the sabbath,
the seventh day of the week
given by God to the people to rest,
therefore, also in Jewish law
work is forbidden on the Sabbath
and that is what concerned the pharisees.
Jesus responds to this legal question
with a legal answer
- rabbis love to debate the law so this is not unusual,
he gives them a precedent example
of when a law was broken
because someone was hungry, in need,
and there was a higher purpose at stake.
It was not legal for David to eat the bread of the presence,
but doing so allowed him to fulfill his God given call
to become King of Israel.
According to biblical scholar Matt Skinner,
none of these arguments would have been new
or even unreasonable to the Pharisees
and even though the story doesn’t tell it
I can just imagine a debate ensuing
about how hungry someone must be
to justify breaking the law.
But we don’t get that,
the story ends when Jesus reminds the Pharisees
that the sabbath was given as a gift to humans,
and claims power over the Sabbath
“So the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath”
of course the pharisees don’t like that claim of authority but that’s a whole other sermon.
In entering into this debate,
in effect the pharisees are valuing the law over quality of life
while Jesus is valuing quality of life over the law.
His point is
what good is keeping the law
if it takes away life rather than gives it?
Now I don’t want to portray the pharisees as the bad guys
as so often happens,
they are deeply religious and sincere leaders
who want the best for their community,
the problem is that they have gotten caught up
in following the letter of the law
rather than the spirit of the law.
And if we’re honest with ourselves
we can probably think of a time
when we were guilty of the same thing,
focusing so much on something supposed to give life
that it actually took life away.
But Jesus is clear,
if it comes down to a decision between following the rules or abundant life,
he will choose abundant life.
This choice is reinforced in the next story.
Jesus enters the synagogue on the Sabbath
where there is a man with a withered hand
and now the pharisees are on the lookout for Jesus
and his sabbath breaking ways,
they’re waiting for him to break the Sabbath
by healing the man so they can go tell on him.
And Jesus knows this,
so he tries to enter into a legal debate with them again
offering them the familiar argument
that it is lawful to save a life on the sabbath
but this time they refuse to respond,
they have passed the point of reason
and this makes Jesus angry and sad at the hardness of their hearts,
that they are so intent on catching him doing something wrong
that they refuse to celebrate the life giving intent of the sabbath with giving life.
So Jesus heals the man,
restores his ability to work
and provide for his family
and raises up the whole community along with the man.
At this the pharisees and the Herodians,
presumably people with the ear of King Herod,
begin conspiring against Jesus,
working on a way to destroy him.
Already at the beginning of chapter 3 of the gospel of Mark
Jesus has begun walking toward the cross
by choosing abundant life,
putting his own safety at risk
by defying the definition of how he is supposed to act
as defined by people with some measure of power.
Choosing life sets Jesus on a path to his death,
a death which leads to abundant life for all
because even in death
Jesus defies what’s supposed to happen
when God raises him from the dead to abundant life.
This abundant life Jesus offers to us,
freely as a gift.
And out of joy we proclaim Jesus Christ to others
and offer our lives in service following Jesus’ call
to live in the same way he did,
choosing abundant life over safety.
Paul, in our reading from 2 Corinthians
speaks to what happens when we live lives of service to Jesus.
Paul notes that we have a tendency
to forget while doing ministry
that the power comes from God and not from ourselves-
like the pharisees we end up focusing on the wrong thing
forgetting that God is the creator of the universe
and that we are creation.
This, is why, Paul says,
we have the treasure of life in clay jars,
our bodies are impermanent
prone to breaking,
a reminder that only God is forever.
And with our fragile impermanent bodies
we are to follow Jesus
which means choosing abundant life over safety.
Paul goes into great detail about just what this looks like
“We are afflicted in every way but not crushed perplexed but not driven to despair,
persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.”
In contradiction to the ways of the world
in Jesus death is followed by new life.
The world around us tries to tell us differently,
playing on our need for safety and security
to bring out fears
and pit us against one another.
But we have the antidote to those fears,
Because when we have Jesus
we have all we need,
we have abundant life
and nothing, not even death,
can separate us from the love of God. Amen