george_hancockstefanIn the Gospel of Mark, we are introduced to one of the first conflicts that Jesus had with the Pharisees.  It has to do with the keeping of Sabbath. In the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) we read, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.”  The commandment is the most explicit and it shows how the day should be kept for rest and worship, remembering God who created the whole universe Because He rested on the 7th day, the Israelites were to do likewise.  Then Jesus comes along and He starts doing healings on the Sabbath day. The Pharisee are purists – if Jesus must heal, He could do it on any of the six days of the week, but not on the seventh.  To do healing on the seventh day, according to the Pharisees, was to pollute the day and disobey the commandment. Mark concludes the encounter with these words, “Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.” (Mark 3:6)

The irony could not be greater – they were against Jesus for doing good deeds on the Sabbath day, but they did not see anything wrong with plotting to kill him.  They were defending one symbol of commitment to God but, if someone did not agree with them, they were willing to commit a greater sin and murder the person that opposed them. They saw no conflict in breaking the 6th commandment, which says you shall not murder, to punish someone who (by their interpretation) broke the 4th commandment regarding the Sabbath.

In the book of 1st Samuel, we read that King Saul wanted to murder the youngster David. During the New Moon festival, he invited all his leaders to be at the table.  However, he was not interested in the New Moon – he wanted David at the table so that he could murder him.  When Saul’s own son defended David’s absence, Saul wanted to kill his own son.  The conclusion of the celebration is described by Samuel, “Why should he (David) be put to death? What has he done? Jonathan asked his father.  But Saul hurled his spear at him to kill him. Then Jonathan knew that his father intended to kill David.  Jonathan got up from the table in fierce anger; on the second day of the month he did not eat, because he was grieved at his father’s shameful treatment of David.” (1 Sam. 20:32-34)

Saul used the religious event as a pretext.  He was not interested in the celebration of the New Moon Festival.  He took a religious symbol – a gathering of thanksgiving – as a pretext to kill of the people that he did not like at his own table.

While Saul did not succeed in killing David, another king by the name of Ahab succeeded in killing Naboth.  Ahab’s wife Jezebel knew that her husband wanted the vineyard that Naboth had. Naboth said that he could not sell it to the king because it was a part of his inheritance from generations ago.   Therefore, Jezebel wrote a deceptive note combining a holy celebration with a plot to kill Naboth. Here is the text written by Jezebel to the elders of the city, “Proclaim a day of fasting and seat Naboth in a prominent place among the people.  But seat two scoundrels opposite him and have them testify that he has cursed both God and the king.  Then take him out and stone him to death.” (1 Kings 21)

The elders of the city took the order, proclaimed a day of fasting, brought the two scoundrels to testify against Naboth and killed him. When Naboth was dead, Ahab went to take possession of his newly acquired property.  As he was visiting the vineyard, God sent the prophet Elijah to prophesy that the blood of Ahab and Jezebel will be spilled in the same place because they have killed the innocent, thinking that no one will see them or seek justice.

Probably the perversion of religious symbolism is portrayed best in the conversation between Jesus and Judas when Jesus asks him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:48)  Judas perverted the symbolism of love and affection and transformed it into a sign of betrayal.

Christian history has numerous abuses and perversions of religious symbolism.  Probably at the top is what is known as the Night of Saint Bartholomew in 1571 when a wedding celebration became the slaughter of over 3,000 Huguenots.

God, who saw the injustice done to Naboth, is still on the throne and He watches how often injustice is done by using sacred symbolisms – sacred holidays, weddings and kisses. He weeps when He sees iniquity and He will bring justice in His own time – if not now, then at the Last Judgment when everyone will stand before Him to receive the reward for the good or evil that they have done in this life.

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Rev. Dr. George Hancock-Stefan

George Hancock-Stefan

Pastor George Hancock-Stefan completed 30 years as the pastor of the great congregation at Central Baptist Church in Atlantic Highlands in 2020. Those 30 years have been a blessed time for him, his wife...