Christianity from an Existential Perspective..

The New Commandment

Mark 3:
1 And he entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand.
2 And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him.
3 And he saith unto the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth.
4 And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace.
5 And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other.

Should Jesus have healed the man with the withered hand? In a law that was handed from God, to Moses, and then to the Jewish people, this was a prohibited activity for the Sabbath day. I’m sure Jesus disciples were confused; the man who proclaimed himself to be the Messiah, the son of God, was going against God’s law in a very public manner. Jesus not only healed the man on the Sabbath, he got angry at the Pharisees for even thinking of rebuking him for it.

Indeed, Jesus did similar things on a number of occasions (e.g. Matthew 12:1-13). His message was that individual action guided by compassion can supersede any holy law. Love and goodwill is far more important than heeding to religious tradition, and the laws of the land. The hypocrisy of the Pharisees was that they were doing what they saw as right, upholding the sacred Torah that Jehovah himself had given to his chosen people, but in the process committed a greater injustice. In this case it was not allowing the man with the withered hand to be healed, but more explicit examples can be found in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), where a priest passed the beaten man on the road because it would have been considered unclean to touch a dead man. And also, with the accused adulteress (John 8:1-11), the men were about to kill the woman for adultery (as the law required), before Jesus stopped them with his famous saying: “Let those who are without sin cast the first stone.” The woman was considered immoral by the law, and yet the act of stoning a person is a far more inhumane act.

All of this will probably sound like common sense to you, but while morality has arguably progressed through the centuries, hypocrisy has not. In the same vein of the Pharisees placing religious law above compassion; when are modern Christians hindered from pure love and compassion due to their religious beliefs? The Church has a terrible record of placing doctrinal purity over moral purity. The Medieval Catholic Church burnt heretics at the stake, led a crusade against the Muslims, and excommunicated anyone who did not yield to their authority. While that does not happen now, division between people of different religions or branches of religions (i.e. Protestant and Catholic) through an air of religious superiority is common. The more conservative churches have a questionable record of tolerance, with racism, sexism, and homophobia prevalent in a lot of church environments. The point is when you consider yourself more moral or religious than someone else (maybe because they are “living in sexual immorality”, or “have ignorant beliefs”), you cannot love your neighbour as yourself; at the most you can attempt to ‘save them from their unrighteousness’ out of pity.

I am reminded of Matthew 7:1-5, where Jesus rebuked the hypocrisy of moral superiority. Whatever religion someone is, whatever beliefs they hold, whatever sexual persuasion they may be, whatever personality flaws a person may have, and whatever section of society they belong to, you and I are no better. As with the case of Jesus and the adulteress, the only action worthy of real moral rebuke is that of hurting another person through anger, hate, or intolerance. We are all human, and should strive to better show our love and compassion to others (Jesus dubbed this the 'New Commandment'), and not busy ourselves with separating certain social leanings as good and evil, moral and immoral.

-- By Timothy Neal