Formations 03.11.2018: Mayor Chooses Students over Derelict House

Matthew 12:1-14

After nearly eighteen months, an abandoned, fire-damaged house in Salt Lake City is slated to be demolished after Mayor Jackie Biskupski overruled city planners and landmarks commissioners to approve the permit.

The move makes room for a planned expansion of The Other Side Academy, a school providing vocational education for people moving past addiction problems, criminal records, and incarceration.

Photo by Trent Nelson, The Salt Lake Tribune

The property was deemed “derelict, abandoned and hazardous.” Nevertheless, since it was built in 1911, it was classified as historic. In the end, the Landmarks Commission was able to move past every bureaucratic roadblock—but one. There still existed a technicality over whether the site’s zoning permitted what the Academy had in mind for it.

Joseph Grenny, the Academy’s board chairman, insisted that was a moot point. “It’s not zoned for a collapsing, dangerous building,” he noted.

In the end, Mayor Biskupski sided with the Academy, commenting that the Landmarks Commission had focused on the zoning “rather than on the structure itself.” No one disputed that reusing the existing building would be “realistically impossible.”

The Academy finally got the permit to demolish the building on February 13th. They hope to have it down in another two months.

Society needs laws, but what happens when upholding the letter of the law prevents an even greater good? In today’s lesson, Jesus places human need above religious rules. Hungry people should be allowed to gather food and sick people deserve to be healed—even on the Sabbath.

Bill Dentzer, “But It’s Historic: Derelict House, Propped Up by Red Tape, Now Can Come Down to Make Way for Students,” The Salt Lake Tribune, 16 Feb 2018 https://www.sltrib.com/news/2018/02/16/but-its-historic-derelict-house-propped-up-by-red-tape-now-can-come-down-to-make-way-for-students/.

Discussion

• What “derelict buildings” do people seek to preserve? Why?
• When have you observed good things twisted from their original intent?
• The mayor claimed that the debate in Salt Lake City focused on the “zoning” rather than “the structure itself.” How might reframing a problem provide a productive way to resolve it?
• What does it mean when Jesus declares himself to be “lord of the sabbath”?
• What might this declaration imply for Jesus’ followers?

Reference Shelf

The Sabbath

Concern for faithfulness to Torah (teaching) marked the postexilic Jewish community. As teachers, it was the rabbis’ responsibility to interpret the meaning of Torah for the community. The focus for the interpretation of the fourth commandment was on a definition of “work.” Because Exod 31 discussed building a sanctuary and keeping the Sabbath, the rabbis reasoned that the kinds of work involved in building a sanctuary were the kinds of work that were forbidden on the Sabbath. The Mishnah, a compendium of rabbinic teaching, lists thirty-nine main classes of work but numerous others are described as being derived from the main classes….

Despite the seriousness with which the rabbis viewed the Sabbath, it was in many ways a festive occasion. Before the Sabbath began at sundown on Friday, marked by the blowing of the trumpet, lights were lit, since kindling a fire was forbidden after Sabbath began. The celebration began with a blessing (Kiddush). It involved synagogue services on Friday evening and on Saturday morning…. Two rabbinic teachings illustrate the importance the rabbis attached to the Sabbath: (1) one who observed the Sabbath properly could be an idolater (violate the first commandment) and yet have his sins forgiven; and (2) in the rabbinic teaching that “if Israel keeps one sabbath as it should be kept, the Messiah will come. The sabbath is equal to all the other precepts of the Torah” (Exodus Rabbah 25:12).

John H. Tullock, “Sabbath,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 780.

Jesus Heals a Man

Verses 9-14 tell the tale of the healing of a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath and in the synagogue, a double offense. Here again the First Evangelist is relying on Mark, in this case Mark 3:1- 6, but he has significantly abbreviated the story, omitting all of Mark 3:3, all but one clause of 3:4, and about half of 3:5. Partly this follows the trend of the First Evangelist’s omission of emotional language, especially as predicated of Jesus. Instead, he inserts into his Markan story vv. 11-12a that provide a justifying illustration. Notice that the man with the shriveled hand was already in the synagogue. The Pharisees present are said to be looking for an opportunity to accuse Jesus of something (v. 10), so they ask the question if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath. Notice that the initiation of the healing process is begun before this question in Mark.

Typically, Jesus responds to a question with a question (v. 11). He asks them if they would not rescue a sheep if it fell into a pit on the Sabbath. This was a common enough problem in Israel. The truth was that most Pharisees would allow for rescuing an animal on the Sabbath. But the difference is, it could be argued, that the man with the shriveled hand was not in some extreme situation. His healing could have waited until sundown, surely. It was not an emergency situation, and emergencies were what warranted making exceptions to the rule of no work on the Sabbath. Jesus however believed it was always lawful to do good on the Sabbath (v. 12). He believed the Sabbath was the perfect day to give a person rest from that which plagued him or her.

After all, the essential meaning of Shabbat was to cease or to rest. So Jesus has the man stretch out his hand, and it is instantly and completely restored. Let us be clear that Jesus is not here arguing for doing just any and every kind of work (or recreational activity) on the Sabbath; rather his reasoning seems to be rather like that found in Jubilees 50:10-11. Things that amounted to good deeds that could be seen as a fulfillment of the intent of the Sabbath to give rest, restoration, refreshment were appropriate. According to v. 14 this action prompted the Pharisees to go out and start plotting to do away with Jesus. Both Matthew and Mark report that this caused Jesus to withdraw, though he was followed by the ill and injured.

Ben Witherington III, Matthew, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2006), 310–12.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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