Self Defense from a Fundamentalist Attack:
12 Scriptures No Fundamentalist Believes
(Part 3 “The Sabbath is made for humans, not humans for the Sabbath”)
Fundamentalists often attack humanism as arrogant. In today’s scripture, we will see that Jesus was a humanist. The word “Sabbath” could either refer to an actual day, or to religion in general. One way to translate the saying would be “religion was made for human beings, not human beings for religion.”
Notice that Jesus says religion was “made”. The symbol “God” is a human image for those parts of our experience that are too large, too deep and too strange to think about. We give that mystery a face, not to capture its image, but to remember we are intimately connected to it. It is our source, our foundation, our eventual home. Our human reason bears the stamp of a cosmic source, but can never plumb its depths.
Jesus is saying that religion is the lamp but never the flame. It is an artifice to illumine and enrich human life. To paraphrase the theologian Karl Barth, religion when we reach for the mystery, revelation is when we let the mystery speak to us. Religion is the vocabularies, rituals, and practices communities make in reverential gratitude to life’s mystery.
Humanism, it is true, can be arrogant. When Protagoras claimed that “humanity is the measure of all things” he projected human subjectivity upon the cosmos. But humanism can also be the very heart of humility. It can be the recognition that we can only know reality or God within our human compass.
When fundamentalists claim that humanism is arrogant they are unconsciously masking a desire to control others. When they say the word of God is not to be questioned, they unconsciously protect their own claims about that book from critical thinking as well. When they say God wants obedience, they unconsciously protect their own hierarchies of power as well.
So the humanism of the Bible says that God needs nothing and is not served by human hands. Jesus is saying we were not made as servants of some invisible being, but for freedom. He said, ”I came not to be served but to serve.”
The Sabbath is a call to take responsibility for our lives and for our world. The Sabbath was a warning label put on religion that told us that sometimes we would need to break the letter of the law to fulfill the spirit of the law. If an ox falls in a ditch on the Sabbath, we break the Sabbath to get it out. Jesus said if we are on our way to the temple and remember someone has something against you, leave the offering and make up with that person. If someone is hungry and needs food, we break the Sabbath.
In the story of the Good Samaritan pious people were on their way to perform religious duties in Jerusalem, and passed by the wounded traveler so they would not be made impure. The Good Samaritan was Christ’s positive example of choosing human need over religion. Jesus said to the fundamentalists of his day, “You do not know the seasons.” He was saying that they lived by rigid rules and were causing unnecessary suffering. The music of life cannot be captured by the black and white of scripture’s sheet music.
Long before Marx or Feuerbach., Jesus was advocating humanism when he said, “religion was made for human beings, not human beings for religion.”
Lovely post Jim. The lamp imagery made me think of one of my favorite passages from the Quran –
“Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The parable of His light is as if there were a niche and within it a lamp: the lamp enclosed in glass: the glass as it were a brilliant star: lit from a blessed tree, an olive, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil is well-nigh luminous, though fire scarce touched it: Light upon Light! Allah doth guide whom He will to His light: Allah doth set forth parables for men: and God doth know all things.”
That’s beautiful. I like the olive that’s neither from the East nor West. I’ll save that one.
So, what are the other 11?
Steven, they are on the website. jimrigby.org
I’ll put them all together at some point.
Loving the series. While it is fine in contemporary exegeses to extend the notion of sabbath as you do here, it is important not to project those reading onto or into the text. Jesus was shomer, an observant Jew. When he healed on shabbat it was to enable people to experience that soul-rest and healing you describe – along with the land (wonderful observation). We as Christians need to be very careful about readings that separate Jesus from his Judaism. I also think he would be fine with your reading, as an extension (midrash) of his torah. However midrash and p’shat (plain sense, what you’re calling an alternate translation here) are not the same, nor should they be. Looking forward to the rest.
This is wonderful. I was hoping to have Biblical scholars provide this kind of nuance. Thank you so much. I look forward to reading your other comments.