A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - Means and Ends

29Sep

Below is a new devotion I just left on the Cove Presbyterian Church prayer line. You can find a recording of this devotion on the prayer line (1-304-748-7900) You can find other devotions, sermons, essays, articles, and announcements on The Cove Community blog. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

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Luke 6:1-11

One sabbath while Jesus was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them. But some of the Pharisees said, "Why are you doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?" Jesus answered, "Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and gave some to his companions?" Then he said to them, "The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath."

On another sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him. Even though he knew what they were thinking, he said to the man who had the withered hand, "Come and stand here." He got up and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, "I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?" After looking around at all of them, he said to him, "Stretch out your hand." He did so, and his hand was restored. But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.

Means and Ends

I think religious systems are tailor-made to lead people to focus on the means rather than the end. Let me explain. I think it’s really easy for good, dedicated religious people to become almost obsessed by the form their religion might take rather than the good they might actually accomplish. For example, detailed elements of theology and worship can acquire an importance that may seem, at best, confusing to the less-than religious and may result in little beyond disagreements and divisions. And since there’s a sincere desire to please God, these religious folks are susceptible to all kinds of rules and laws, some of which have a better grounding in the Bible than others. But if we’re not careful, even the ones that are well-grounded, they can take on a life of their own, becoming the definition, even the goal of faith and dedication. And when that happens, serving God is defined by following the rules. And I’ll tell you, if that’s the case, the means have become far more important than the ends.

But before we drift in that direction, I think it’s important to remember that this doesn’t reflect Jesus’s understanding of walking with God. As he reminded those scribes and pharisees, if the ends don’t reflect goodness, than the means are not relevant. And that’s why it was appropriate to heal on the Sabbath, even though the law said no, and he could have surely waited one more day to restore a withered hand.  For him, it was simple: it’s lawful to do good on the sabbath, save life and not to destroy it. And that just makes sense. I mean, he’ll later say that the entire law can be summed up a dual command: to love God and to love neighbor. And to love, well, that should be the end to which all Christians aspire.
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