I’ve always had a bit of difficulty studying the Gospels because of their unique structure. The often summarized stories don’t make sense to me, because I look for continuity and structure, and it’s not always clear how one event flows to the next. And so, this time around, instead of doing a methodical study of everything, I’m instead skipping to sections that do make sense to me, and reading those and thinking for them a few days at a time. It’s mostly parables and short sequences where the Lord interacts with one person or a group of people. Those seem to make more sense to me, and I’ve been able to learn some cool lessons.
This last one that I’ve been looking it is the story in Luke 6 about how some of the scribes and Pharisees were watching Jesus and his disciples for infractions in the law, and then criticizing them. In verses 1 to 11, there are two events: first, Jesus and his disciples are walking through corn fields, and eat some of the corn as they are going through. The second, he is being scrutinized to see if he will heal on the Sabbath day.
For full context, I’ll quote them here:
1. AND it came to pass on the second sabbath after the first, that he went through the corn fields; and his disciples plucked the ears of corn, and did eat, rubbing them in their hands.
2. And certain of the Pharisees said unto them, Why do ye that which is not lawful to do on the sabbath days?
3. And Jesus answering them said, Have ye not read so much as this, what David did, when himself was an hungred, and they which were with him;
4. How he went into the house of God, and did take and eat the shewbread, and gave also to them that were with him; which it is not lawful to eat but for the priests alone?
5. And he said unto them, That the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.
6. And it came to pass also on another sabbath, that he entered into the synagogue and taught: and there was a man whose right hand was withered.
7. And the scribes and Pharisees watched him, whether he would heal on the sabbath day; that they might find an accusation against him.
8. But he knew their thoughts, and said to the man which had the withered hand, Rise up, and stand forth in the midst. And he arose and stood forth.
9. Then said Jesus unto them, I will ask you one thing; Is it lawful on the sabbath days to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or to destroy it?
10. And looking round about upon them all, he said unto the man, Stretch forth thy hand. And he did so: and his hand was restored whole as the other.
11. And they were filled with madness; and communed one with another what they might do to Jesus.
It occurs to me that in the first example, that “certain of the Pharisees” must have been watching him very closely, to notice that what they were doing. Their hatred and dislike of the Master had driven them to a level of pettiness, where they are intent to watch his every move and criticize at the first chance of possible disagreement with their interpretation of the law.
They knew of his miraculous healing power, and instead of being healed themselves, they devised a trap wherewith he could use his own powers to do good, and turn it against him. Their strict interpretation of the law of the Sabbath completely overlooked the principle of doing good, and focused on the minutia instead.
The Lord looked over the audience, knowing their thoughts, and posed the rhetorical question as to what was the greater law, hoping to teach them. I also have to wonder what the story of the poor man with the withered hand was. Was he invited there by Jesus’ accusers, or was it known that he was a regular member of the synagogue? The verses don’t say, so I won’t speculate. Either way, Jesus healed him. “And they,” his accusers, “were filled with madness.” (Luke 6:11)
I wonder sometimes why I “enjoy” hating things some times. In using social media, I’ve noticed that I often have the temptation to let everyone know as soon as I find something wrong that needs to be vocalized, exposed, and made aware of. In trying to correct this attitude, I’ve noticed that there’s a certain rush in finding something that can be thrown out there, with my own words of criticism, sarcasm, and glee, as I’m glad to be pointing out someone’s mistakes or errors. I see past all the good that a person or project is accomplishing, and instead focus on the small things, and loudly vocalize them.
It makes me think about how I want to be remembered years from now, if the only memorial to my name is “he was filled with anger.” I really don’t want that, of course, and so I’ve been thinking a lot about how I can change that. Why is there so much drive to hold onto something that hurts so much? I really can’t understand it. The negative energy that it requires to tear others down is ultimately destroying me instead.
I like the hymn “Did You Think to Pray?” One part in particular asks “When your heart was filled with anger, did you think to pray?” I ask myself that sometimes and my answer is usually “Well … no …”, because praying doesn’t really seem like the obvious thing to do at that time, and it doesn’t really fit in with what my train of thought was that time anyway. Generally, thinking of it stops me in my tracks, and at least resets me a bit. It’s okay to get upset and frustrated at someone or something, but I’d rather work towards making things better, and one way is to learn how to deal with things that are out of my control.
The amount of things that I can control or be certain of are infinitely small in comparison to what I can’t. And so, in choosing my battles of what to change and what not to, I cede the fight where reasonable, and try to use some positive energy to work around some things. It’s not really that hard, I’m finding, once I let go of the anger. I’m learning lately to label the situation instead of working it up in my mind. “That is irritating.” “That seems unethical and wrong.” And so on. Labeling it as something bad helps me categorize the situation instead of attacking the person. Accepting that things are not right is often enough to satisfy my desire of “something must be done.” I can internally observe and interpret, without publicly highlighting and criticizing.
I suppose some examples are in order, but they are all such minor things that it doesn’t matter. My hair gel smells weird. The price tag on the shirt at the store is missing. Someone left a glass bottle in the parking lot. Small things, really, that are anything between annoyances to someone else’s poor decisions. It matters, yes, but it doesn’t need to matter a lot. And that’s the hard part, is letting go of the desire to fan any flames of disagreement and dislike.
I wish I could say I had a real solution to the problem, but for me it’s a combination of observation and re-evaluation. Lately I’ve been trying to backtrack why there are some things I get so aggravated about, and wonder what the source of them was. There are wounds that I’ve carried for so many years, that I don’t even know what dealt the first blow.
I have found one thing, though, that works well, but it is really hard to honestly do. I go to the Lord, and I say that I am willing to drop all the baggage that I bring with me, and simply obey whatever he wants me to do. It’s really, really, really hard to honestly do that, and I can say I’ve only been able to actually do it about twice. There’s a certain fear that comes with it, that by being so open and vulnerable that I’ll be exposed to scrutiny by the Lord. That doesn’t happen, though. I don’t really feel much as a response to what he would say to me, but I do feel like I’m making good progress in that I can try to let more things go, and let him replace them with something else. It’s a difficult experience to describe, and I’m probably not doing it justice in trying to here. Regardless, I do know it’s the direction I want to go.
What I *can* do right now, though, is let go of the pettiness, the small things, the ones I like to get annoyed about. It’s so easy to hate, and so hard to let go, but it does get easier each time I do it, and I’m grateful for that.