How Much More: A Sheep or a Person?

How Much More: A Sheep or a Person?

How Much More: A Sheep or a Person?

“Jesus said to them, ‘What if one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a deep ditch on the Sabbath? Will you not take hold of it and lift it out? Of course you would! How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Surely kindness to people is as legal as kindness to an animal! For this reason, the Law allows a person to do what is good on the Sabbath.’” (Matthew 12:11-12).

It is fascinating that the teacher Jesus we find in the gospels nonetheless remained in the historic flow of Jewish tradition. He taught and preached and demonstrated and told His stories in ways that were accepted in rabbinic circles. Jesus taught like a Jew, He argued like a Jew, He reasoned like a Jew.

One classic method of rabbinic teaching was called the “Kal v’Chomer (pronounced as it looks, except the c is silent).” This was a commonly used strategy of reasoning and persuasion used throughout the Hebrew Bible and Jewish tradition. Breaking down that Hebrew phrase, “kal” means “Of course, obviously Yes.” And “v’chomer” means “all the more so.” The Hebrew understating of this teaching strategy can be described in many ways: light to heavy; lesser to greater; simple to complex; minor to major; lenient to strict. The kal v’chomer is a strictly logical process used everywhere in Jewish culture, from the courtrooms to the corner conversations to the synagogues. It is used by a speaker when he or she wants the listener to logically arrive at an inescapable conclusion. If is obviously true, then it stands to reason that B is true as well. This process is often spoken of as the “How much more” argument. If A is commonly accepted, then how much more is it likely that B should be accepted as well?

Like all effective rabbis, Jesus used this traditional strategy of argument when He read the room and believed that His audience was up to a logical argument. He would say, ‘If something is true in a minor matter, then how much more true will this major matter be?’ Jesus made successful use of Kal v’Chomer in His public ministry. ‘If this is obviously good, then that must be good as well.’ This is a commonsense type of reasoning that Jesus used many times in His speaking. There are at least eight different times He used this ‘lesser to greater’ approach to persuasion. In fact, because St. Paul loved to use this type of argument, and was probably taught it by the Master Rabbi Gamaliel, the New Testament has well over twenty different passages that include Kal v’Chomer reasoning.

“As an observant Jew, Jesus loved the Sabbath. Nowhere did He teach that Sabbath was to be broken. He encouraged the people to have biblical balance, to bypass only those rules that were the traditions of the religious folk and not of God. Jesus affirmed the keeping of the Sabbath. He desired that His people get past the traditions that had obscured the true meaning of Sabbath. Jesus wanted them to experience the blessing of rest, the remembrance of the Creation, the reflection of the covenant God had made with Israel, and the realization that Sabbath was a picture of eternity.” (David Stern).

Seven. Jesus did not hesitate to show mercy through healing on the Sabbath. In fact, He engaged in seven Sabbath healings. Seven, God’s favorite number in the Scripture; seven to show that He desires the sick to return to Edenic wholeness; seven to show He healed in the spirit of Creation; seven to show He wanted to honor Creator Father on the Day set apart to honor Him; seven to continue Creation through human renewal and  flourishing; seven to show that doing good on the Sabbath is acceptable to the Lord of the Sabbath; seven to remind all people that mankind was made in the image of God and deserves the dignity of good health.

The Sabbath healings reveal Someone who can be utterly tender and compassionate to those who are hurting in some way, and totally confrontational to those who think He is breaking the Sabbath. Tender and tough. The incident in the synagogue with the man who had a crippled hand is one of those seven healings on the Sabbath:

Matthew 12:9-13 = The Man with the Withered Hand. (also in Mark 3:1-6 and Luke 6:6-11)Just before this incident, Jesus said this to the Pharisees: “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!” (NLT).  Jesus declared to the Pharisees that He is in charge of that special holy day, that He has authority as to how the Sabbath is used. Once again, Jesus is determined to test the petty rules of the religious leaders with them in the audience. According to Jewish tradition, one cannot practice medicine unless it’s a matter of life and death for the patient. All eyes were on Jesus in the synagogue on the Sabbath one day, because if the Pharisees could catch Jesus breaking the Sabbath law, perhaps they could sway popular opinion against Him. Jesus was not naïve to His opposition, He had His eyes wide open wherever He went. So here He is in the synagogue and He observed a man with a paralyzed hand. Since it was his right hand (Luke 6:6), he was unable to find work in a meaningful and self-supporting way. This man needed both hands to function in order to support a family. So Jesus wanted to help him, as if this man were the only man in the world, “His one sheep, helpless in a ditch.” Jesus brought the man with the crippled hand to the front of the crowd, front and center. He wasn’t afraid to confront the religious leaders. He asked the leaders, “So, is it okay to do a good deed on the Sabbath? Or would you rather have me do something evil? Should I be helping people or leaving them helpless? Does it make sense to you that a common sheep is valuable enough to be rescued on the Sabbath but not a human being?” The leaders would not answer Jesus’ question. Jesus was clearly put out with these leaders. He was downright angry with them. They showed no concern about this crippled man or his daily needs. They were hard-hearted rule-keepers, not life-giving God followers. Jesus was angry, but He was also sad… Why can’t they see the emptiness of these traditions? Why can’t they put mercy ahead of tradition. So, right in front of everybody, the man held his hand out and Jesus healed him, right there in the synagogue for all to see. Now it’s the Pharisees’ turn to get angry. They were outraged that Jesus showed them up, embarrassed them to the crowd. Their anger, unlike Christ’s, is not righteous, however. They wanted to use their anger to kill Jesus. “The Pharisees went out and immediately began plotting how they might do away with Jesus” (Matthew 12:14).

This healing in the synagogue on the Sabbath was quite the object lesson. Jesus is offering those in the synagogue audience a reminder of the profound value of a human being. The fact is, people are worth much more than any animal because God made human beings in His image. Every human person carries God’s holy fingerprint. Therefore, all of human life is sacred, and we all participate one way or another in the sanctity of human life. Every person we see is sacred, set apart to represent and reflect a holy God. In their quest to obey all their traditions, the Pharisees forgot something crucial to Scripture… that man with the crippled hand is sacred. They overlooked this man, and forgot he was an image-bearer, and therefore had a sacred center that can never be fully erased.

Since we are all image-bearers, let us recognize each human being’s central identity, the fact that each person is created to resemble God. Every image-bearer is worthy of respect, empathy and compassion. God is saying to each of us… Every person is sacred to me, you are not to despise, disrespect or mistreat my handiwork! Every person on the face of the earth is a hand-crafted original, breathing with the very breath of the Creator, possessing a dignity above the rest of creation; Each person is individually loved by a personal God, who in fact died for that person. God in the flesh would have sacrificed himself for that person if s/he was the only living person on earth.

Believe it or not, God continues to identify with every individual, taking it personally if an image-bearer is mistreated in any way. When we disrespect someone else, God objects and is personally offended. “Whoever mocks poor people insults their Creator.” (Proverbs 17:5). Likewise, when we show compassion, we reflect God’s character and honor our Maker. Loving others is a primary way we show our love for God. When we love other people, we are respecting the handiwork of God and representing the essence of Creator God.

When we forget that a person is an image-bearer, we essentially are dehumanizing and dishonoring that person. Instead, let us humanize every person before we ignore, demean or judge them.  Let us embrace the sublime humanity of each person we meet. To honor the image of God in a person doesn’t mean we endorse what they are doing or not doing.  Each and every person is sacred: gay or straight; law-breaking or law-abiding; rich or poor; all races, all religions, all ethnic groups; each gender; every age, old or young; disabled or able-bodied; undereducated or well-schooled; rural or urban; mentally impaired or not; homeless or not; emotionally troubled or at peace; progressive or traditional; promiscuous or chaste; dreamer or realist; weak or strong. Everyone we see is sacred and deserves our honor and respect. Let us learn to identify each other with humanity’s common identity, made in the image of God, and thus of priceless value.