Comparison and competition are rampant in on our society. In fact, I believe they are rampant across all humanity.
Noah and Leah love, and hate, competitions. They race up the stairs when we get home, they race to see who can eat the fastest, they constantly talk about who is bigger or who is stronger or who is "the boss." They fight over who is the best writer, who is smarter, who can jump farther, who can swim better, who isn't afraid of what, who has better toys, who has prettier toys, who has less toys broken, who is the prettiest princess, who is the worst bad guy… and it could go on for quite a while.
This is normal. We grow up, for some reason, with our brothers and sisters and even friends and parents as natural barriers or enemies to us. If I share my toy, that means I get to play with it less, which=bad news for me. Yes, there are times in which parents, siblings, and friends are caring and nurturing and uplifting, but the fact remains that virtually every 2/3 year-olds favorite words are mine and no. We all have our way of doing things, and if you cross me and my way, then you are naturally my adversary.
Since others are naturally our enemies, we tend to build up a belief that we are better, or smarter, or purer, or cleaner, or Christian-er, or whatever. This is normal too. I want to believe deep down that I am doing better than you, and in doing so I put you down.
This fleshes out in different ways: We are the real Christians, or I read the way reading is supposed to be done, or only the good guys root for the Cleveland Browns, or I dress more appropriately (or better) than others, or we celebrate Christmas the way it was meant to be celebrated, or I am a better girlfriend than my friends, or whatever other twisted ways we seem to simultaneously put others down while elevating ourselves.
These are the reasons this passage seemed to strike a cord for me this morning:
Mark 3:1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2 And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 4 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
Contrary to what you have probably heard hundreds of times, the Pharisees were not completely some group of legalists that were just trying to earn their way into heaven.
Sabbath was what they did because to earnestly seek God was to seriously consider what he desired for His people. Sabbath was a reminder of Exodus; it was an identity marker of what it meant to be Jewish. It was a signal of hope, that God would fulfill his promises; it looked back to creation, and it marked out who God's special people were, those he would one-day redeem.
To be Jewish and faithful meant to observe Sabbath. Jesus' problem with the Sabbath wasn't a march against legalistic behavior, but it was that the Pharisees had begun to use Sabbath as a weapon. The commitment to Sabbath meant that we were the right kind of Jews and you were not. We were the holier group of God's people and you were the lesser. The Pharisees use of the Sabbath divided and split God's people rather than united and healed and redeemed and created rest.
Combine this holier-than-thou attitude with a nationalistic fervor and you understand many of the problems of both the first century Jews and many religions, including Christianity, thereafter.
This makes me think. What are the markers or signs we demand of "real" Christians? Who do we identify as the "better" believers? Those that share their faith? Those that study the Bible? Those that serve the poor? Those that hold to our specific theology?
We should probably exercise caution in over-trumpeting our specific action/belief for fear of marginalizing, even if just in our hearts, those others that God holds dear. Let's put the peace, healing, and right reign of God in it's primary position once more.