Having finished Matthew, it’s time to do something I should have done as soon as I finished Luke: start reading Acts. The second of Luke’s two books in the Bible, Acts picks up where Luke’s gospel left off, detailing the development of the early church. And by the time it occurred to me to go from Luke to Acts, I was already in the middle of Matthew. Hindsight is 20/20, better late than never, and other overused adages. It’s Acts time.
We have a buffet of passages within this chapter to examine, and many of them are cans teeming with worms eager to be released. We could talk about miracles, the implications of Jesus’ statement that mustard-seed-sized faith is sufficient to make trees uproot themselves, and the historicity of Jesus’ own miraculous healings. We could talk about how after nearly two millennia, Jesus has not returned. We could talk about how Jesus’ parable in verses 7-10 apparently suggests that our posture toward God should be that of slaves. If we opened up any one of these cans, could we get all the worms back in the can by the end of the post? This is the risk you run when you open cans.
Today’s chapter, though. There are a few better-known passages in here, between the secret vision of the man caught up into the third heaven (vv.1-6) and Paul’s thorn in the flesh (vv.7-10). That famous saying “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (9) used to trouble me in high school; the paradox frustrated me. How can power be perfected in weakness? That’s like saying light is perfected in darkness, or good is perfected in evil! But it’s God’s power that shows itself as perfect in our weakness. Simply put, he does the good that we can’t. He saves us when we can’t save ourselves, and he gives us the strength to endure suffering that would otherwise overwhelm us. And he looks good doing it.
So, yesterday I concluded by saying that Paul uses the word “judge” throughout 1 Corinthians 5. And I suppose that’s true, if by “throughout” I meant “once at the beginning of the chapter in verse three, and twice more in the final verses,” which is not “throughout” in any sense of the word. But today’s chapter continues talking about judgment, so it’s fair to say that this middle portion of his letter uses the word “judge” throughout. And since Paul is discussing judgment, we will too. All the Paul!
We need to tie up a loose end from yesterday before we get into today’s passage. Yesterday, while driving to my evening job right after finishing up the day’s post, it hit me: what if Jesus has been arguing from his opponents’ perspective in these problematic passages from John, in order to point out the flaws in their reasoning? What if he’s in essence saying, “If you think my healings qualify as ‘work,’ you’d better be prepared to admit a whole host of other lesser things into the can’t-do-it-on-Sabbath club–including the stuff you do for your animals and sons, and even the stuff the Law requires you to do?”
What is work, anyway? The Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ time think they’ve got a handle on what work is and isn’t. Carrying a pallet? Work. Fishing your ox or son out of the well he’s fallen into? Not work. Miraculous healings? Definitely work. But the fourth commandment simply says, “You shall not do any work on the Sabbath…”
Of course Jesus heals on the other six days of the week. But those healings don’t draw heat like the Sabbath healings do.
The epigraph of Psalm 59 tells us which time that evil men sought David’s life and meant to kill him that he’s writing songs about today. It reads, “when Saul sent men and they watched the house in order to kill him,” an incident which you can review in further detail in 1 Samuel 19:8-18. And artists, writers, poets: remember that, like David, your life experiences can enrich your work with the manifold abundance of inspiration drawn from reality. So if your stuff is boring–like mine–then try drawing the ire of a demon-haunted king and going on the run while your country is beset with violent national enemies.