Back in the days when I was invited into schools to talk about Christianity from a personal perspective I sometimes challenged someone in the class to pay a game of noughts and crosses (I think some people call it Tic Tac Toe). The only thing was…there were no rules. It didn’t take long for moves to become increasingly creative as each player tried to outdo the opponent. It also became increasingly frustrating as the realisation dawned that no-one could ever win and the game dragged on.
Religion can be a terrible thing. Rules and laws are put in place to help us, to keep us safe and to make the world run the way it should. A world without laws would be a scary and uncertain place.
But it’s all too easy for rules to become weapons in the hands of those who seek power or of those who are too afraid to be free and allow others to be the same.
10] On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues,  and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all.  When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.”  Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.  Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”  The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water?  Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”  When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.
Luke 13:10-17 NIV
Jesus loved the scriptures and lived out the Law of God, but when it came to living he drew from his relationship with the Father and the guiding of the Holy Spirit. He knew only too well that if we cling to the laws rather than the one who gave them we swiftly run the risk of becoming set in our ways, judgemental of all who disagree, and using the very laws that God gave for our good and our freedom to enslave, label and exclude.
“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul,  and to observe the Lord ’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?”
Deuteronomy 10:12-13 NIV
“What Jesus had done for that poor woman was what he longed to do for the whole of Israel, to set her free from her rigid rules, her exclusiveness, her oppression of the poor. His message of the kingdom was the great explosion Israel needed to free her from her slavery to conservatism.”
John Pritchard, “The Journey” p 36
Today Jesus still longs for Israel’s freedom, so that they may truly represent the God who loves them…and I suspect that may have extended to the church and the whole world too!