St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“The Point of the Game”
Collect: O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen
One sabbath while Jesus was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” Jesus answered, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and gave some to his companions?” Then he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”
On another sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him. Even though he knew what they were thinking, he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” He got up and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?” After looking around at all of them, he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was restored. But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.
I enjoy games. Playing them is fun. Working at summer camps as long as I did I have played some crazy games, and invented some doozies along the way. The big thing about playing games which is so fun is because we have to step out of our lives, and play by the rules of that game. Games can be similar, but for a game to be unique, it has to have its own set of rules.
When you start to learn the rules of a board game, it most often comes with a set of instructions on how to play. And have you ever noticed where most rules of the game start? The Point of the Game, the Outcome, or the Goal.
The Point in Football? To score the most points in the given time by moving the ball across the goal line.
The Point in Basketball? To put the ball through the hoop scoring more points than your opposing team.
The Point in Checkers? To eliminate all your opponent’s pieces.
The Point of Chess? To take your opponent’s King.
Now surrounding the Point of the Game is the board, field, or court on which one plays, and it is set up in such a way to enable the game to be played within those rules. And then, lastly, come the rules of the game, these self-imposed restrictions that enable the game to be that game. Like I said, the rules of each and every game is unique.
The last thing you need, and I stole this from McClendon’s wonderful systematic theology Book One: Ethics. He says that we need to have a lusory attitude, from the Greek word lusos for game. Like a toddler says when we get out of character playing on the floor with them, “Play for REAL!!!” We have to be “in” the Game.
Now after that huge preamble, I think that is where Jesus is coming from. The Pharisees were very good at making sure that everyone else PLAYED BY THE RULES. And that is where Jesus comes back to them. They were so fixated on the Rules of the Sabbath that they forgot the Point of the Sabbath. The point of the Sabbath was to give Life, not to strip it or take it away.
Still to this day, observant Jews take the Sabbath rules VERY seriously. On Monday there was a fascinating article on NPR specifically about this, and the eruv that encircles much of Manhattan, giving observers a barrier to maintain household Sabbath rules instead of public Sabbath rules. Here is the article.
In every group of people, there will be people who see themselves as the maintainer of the rules, or the standards, or the legacy. Sometimes they are so needed. Sometimes they get so caught up in the rules that they miss the first item in the instructions for this “game” we are playing. The game first and foremost is to fulfill the Point of the “Game.”
Now, depending who you ask that “Point of the Game” is going to be different, but I defer to the one in whose name we gather today, Jesus. He said to the one who asked about the rules, what he should do and which was most important. He responded with “Love God with everything you’ve got, and your neighbor as much as yourself. And everything else will fall into place.” Rough paraphrase, but it gets the point across.
You can see that the Pharisees saw the Point of the Game to be different from their response. “But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.”
My hope and prayer is that we all are playing Jesus’ game, and keeping his Point of it all. May our heads be in the “Game.” Amen.