Scandal to the World
We are called to be in the world, but not of the world. This implies that Christians actually live differently, think differently, and look differently. It also implies that the world will not like the way we are different. A true Christian lifestyle is a scandal to the world. So how should we respond when people around us think we are crazy? Just do the right thing.
“On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely. Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, ‘Is it lawful to cure people on the Sabbath, or not?’ But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. Then he said to them, ‘If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a Sabbath day?’ And they could not reply to this” (Luke 14. 1-11). Where do we find Christ? He is dining with the social elite — the big wigs. The pharisees in Jewish culture set the standards for what was considered moral. They were the makers of society, much like DAVOS in our day. You can imagine a meeting at the World Economic Forum. Charles Schwab, Bill Gates, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Pope Francis have come together to save the world, and Jesus Christ shows up. The topic: it is not environmentalism or social distribution. It is the Sabbath.
“Is it lawful to cure people on the Sabbath, or not?”
This sounds like a silly question in our culture, but there is nothing silly about it. The Sabbath is the heart of God’s Way. God hammered this in to the psyche of His people all through the Old Testament. The sanctity of Sabbath is listed among the ten, most final commandments: “Keep the Sabbath Holy.” This moral issue still remains foremost in Christian life. Sunday and the holy days are sacred. God not only suggests, but insists, that we set them apart as days to (a) avoid work and (b) cherish God’s gifts (the two translations of Shabbat, ‘Sabbath,’ in Hebrew).
The spiritual art of ‘keeping Sabbath’ is one of the most important spiritual virtues. The Jews had lived as slaves among Egyptian tyrants. They were caught up in a world of frantic workaholism and consumerism (sounds familiar.). In a book on Sabbath, one commentator notes: “Egypt, my friends, is alive and well. We live in the thick of it. We live in a culture of more. A culture of gaping, unquenchable lust. For everything. Lust for more food, more drink, more clothes, more devices, more apps, more things…more…[Sabbath] is an act of rebellion against Pharaoh and his empire. An insurgency and insurrection against the ‘isms’ of the Western world — globalism, capitalism, materialism, all of which sound nice but quickly make slaves of the rich and the poor. Sabbath is a way to stay free and make sure you never get sucked back into slavery” (J. M. Comer).
An Orthodox saint in our own times describes growing up in Romania, before secularism set in, before consumerism. Not only did they refuse to work or shop on Sundays. They even prepared their food the day before. They spent Saturday preparing, cleaning, cooking, and praying, so as to keep Sunday free, free for giving thanks, free for contemplation.
“Is it lawful to cure people on the Sabbath, or not?”
This is a legitimate question. Far from coming to abolish Jewish law, Jesus came to fulfill it. He did not deny the importance of Sabbath. He simply demonstrated how men had misunderstood and misapplied the law.
“Jesus took [the man with dropsy] and healed him, and sent him away.”
The pharisees had twisted this spiritual law. They made it an opportunity for judgment and condemnation. The Sabbath was given us for peace and healing.
In healing the invalid, Jesus Christ taught us a further principle.
An authentic Christian will always be a scandal to the world. “They were watching him closely.” The pharisees maintained a set of ‘rights and wrongs,’ and expected Jesus to conform. He refused. St. Theophylactus of Ohrid said this:
“In doing this the Lord was not concerned to see whether He gave scandal to the Pharisees or not, but looked only to do good to one in need of His help. For it is right, when what we are doing yields great good, to pay no heed to the scandal of the foolish.”
Jesus Christ was not “concerned” whether or not he scandalized the worldly. “It is right,” when we are doing something good, “to pay no heed to the scandal of the foolish.” It does not matter what the world thinks. It does not matter what is socially acceptable in our culture. We should not give a hoot whether or not we look weird. We are here to follow God’s way. Period.
A couple years ago, I began looking more earnestly at the worldliness I have let into my life. Where do you begin? I never watched those “bad” kinds of movies, just the occassional PG-13 or R-rated films. Yes, there was violence. There was a smidgen of sexual innuendos, just a “few” indecent glimpses…but, I figured afterall, “I’m a grownup,” and “God knows, I would not want anyone to think I’m prudent.” Where is this thinking coming from? We justify. We deny. We have all let in worldliness, whether with a fire hose, or with a slow, steady trickle.
We compare ourselves not to the standards given in Holy Scripture. We most certainly do not compare ourselves to the moral expectations of Christian generations before us, to our grandparents, to the shared moral life of Christians for ages on end. We compare ourselves to our contemporaries, to the others around us, indeed, to the “imaginary other” we can always think of who, we assume, is “worse than me.” Social norms have such a magnetic pull. It is nearly impossible to break from them, but we must. We are called to be in the world, but not of the world.
“Brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).
Imagine. Imagine if we really took this verse seriously and applied it to our lives, if we used it to filter out the television shows we watch, the clothes we wear, the day to day lifestyle we embrace. Imagine if we dedicated our lives to pursuing just this, truth, goodness, and beauty.
“The Lord was not concerned to see whether He gave scandal to the Pharisees or not, but looked only to do good to one in need of His help. For it is right, when what we are doing yields great good, to pay no heed to the scandal of the foolish.”
Who are the pharisees of our times? Who is driving the culture of our world? Is it the World Economic Forum? Is it the billionare prodigies, the Bill Gates and Elon Musks? Is it the spirit of the time shaped and molded by “principalities, powers, and rulers” (Ephesians 6:12). Is it all of us?
We cannot change the world around us. We can change our own internal world, the culture of our home, the spirit of our local community. We can stop slapping the name of Jesus Christ on an otherwise secular lifestyle, and we can pursue heroically a Culture of Christ.
I will end with the words of John Senior, pioneer for Christian restoration:
“If we are to restore an authentic…Christian culture, we will have to think not just about fighting infanticide, sex education and pornography — by all means fight them to death — but for the positive work of the restoration of culture which lies wrecked in the wake of the humanist assault: we will have to think about simpler, larger, elemental things which, losing their original strength, gave access to the enemy in the first place —[we will have to think about] elemental things which are the foundation and the principle of the superstructures we must rebuild…”
We have work to do, to start repairing the foundation. What is the good life God has given us to live?