When I was a kid, my little, white-haired grandmother broke her ankle and got stuck wearing a cast that went all the way up to her hip. I remember how weird it was to see my normally-active grandma confined to a wheelchair. I also remember that, for me, the wheelchair was a novelty, and so I begged this patient woman to let me careen her around the house. She bravely endured many whiplashing moments as I accidentally banged her into things like her olive green Naugahyde loveseat and the metal legs of the freestanding mint green bathroom sink.
Her patient endurance was really confirmed back then, though, when my strong, bull-in-a-china-shop dad picked her right up and hoisted her up onto the front porch steps as she struggled to climb them with her crutches. Thinking he was doing her a favor, Dad actually broke one of her ribs in the process. Poor Grandma.
With a son-in-law and grandkids like us, she certainly didn’t need enemies.
But I’m digressing. I’m actually trying to write a post devoted to the idea of casts. I was thinking this week about a lot about them. I was also thinking a lot about the Old Testament Law, and then the two thoughts tracks converged:
A cast is a good thing as long as it’s temporary. It holds broken bones and/or tissues in place so they can heal and return to normal functioning. But, anyone who’s had to wear a cast for a significant amount of time knows that immobilization of muscles causes weakness, and encapsulation of skin areas causes itchy stinkiness. Both are correctable conditions, but inconvenient, nonetheless.
Here’s what the kidshealth.org website says to expect when one gets one’s cast removed from one’s previously broken limb:
“The muscles of your limb will likely appear smaller and weaker (what doctors call “atrophied”) because you haven’t been using them. This is normal, too, but it will take a little longer for your muscles to get back to their original state than your skin. You’ll need to take it easy and limit your activities during this time.”
I ran across this funny cast story a while back:
“My brother and I used to play outside and look for roly-poly bugs—you know those little bugs that roll into a ball once you touch them? This upset us, though, because we could never see them crawl. My dad told us they liked dark, covered places and that’s where they would crawl around. One time, my brother broke his arm and we thought it would be fun to create a habitat for the roly-polies under his cast—a perfect dark, covered environment. This experiment went pretty well until the bugs kept crawling out of his cast once we were already inside and ‘washed up’ for dinner. This would not do, because my mom would have freaked to know we were putting bugs down his newly broken arm. So, to make them stay, we made the habitat more inviting. This involved shoving dirt, leaves, other dead bugs, and anything else we could find into his cast. As you can imagine, the cast really started to smell. After many, many repeated showers, my mom brought him to the doctor to get it cut off. You can imagine their surprise (and anger) when they discovered our clever habitat.”
And I thought discovering a full-size grocery cart hidden in my daughter’s closet was bad! At least it didn’t stink. I sympathize with the above mom. These are the type of surprises that induce premature graying and anger control issues in the best of us.
Hmm. Maybe that’s why I remember Grandma’s hair as always being white and why she displayed some funny habits…
But to get back to my original point–it does appear that the sooner a cast can be removed, the better.
When Jesus walked onto the scene in ancient Judea, he was like a doctor wielding a cast saw. He came to remove the external brace, the Law, that God applied to humanity in order to immobilize the fractures caused by sin. (I know, I know–sometimes I carry it a little too far with my contrived word pictures and metaphors, but humor me please. I’m going somewhere with this…)
This Old Testament Law had kept things reined in until full healing could take place. It was bulky, limiting, and rigid, but it got the job done.
By the time Jesus arrived, however, it had been in place for so long that its followers’ motivation muscles were atrophied. They had completely lost the ability to follow God and serve people out of love. They just passively sat inside the Law, letting it do the thinking for them and became spiritually weak under it.
In addition to that, the Pharisees (thinking they could create an ideal habitat in which their buggy interpretations could thrive) had shoved a boatload of garbage in underneath it. The whole thing had ripened until it smelled.
Jesus brought power to heal people from the inside, and everyone who accepted this could rid themselves of the stinky Law exoskeleton. Then, by strengthening their atrophied motives with love exercises, they could stand upright before God, free from the legal burden under which the Pharisees kept them encased.
They were free to scratch their itches, to breathe, to air out…to run again.
They were free to connect with their loving Father.
That’s what getting free of Pharisaical externals has done for me. I’m learning that I’ve been healed from my sin and don’t need to keep wearing a cast of dos and don’ts anymore. I can operate in the realm of what is healthy and safe–physically, emotionally, and spiritually–instead of only doing things because religion says so.
It’s taken me some time, though, to rebuild the strength of my love for God and others. By performing good works only because it made me look like a Christian on the outside, my true heart motivation had become flaccid from disuse.
Jesus addressed this same problem with the Pharisees in Matthew 9:13 where he said, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.'”
He was saying that he wanted the Pharisees’ sacrifices, or offerings, to be motivated by hearts of true devotion to him, not just robotic duty. He might have been referring to the fact that they burned their sin offerings without feeling any true remorse for sin. He wanted them to own their sinfulness, not just go through the prescribed sacrificial motions. Coming to him with a humble heart would indicate that they truly wanted to please Him and that would have been an act of love, aka mercy.
Or maybe Jesus had their actual benevolence offerings in mind–their almsgiving, the money they gave to the poor. This, too, had become a compulsory act, and not one springing from true hearts of compassion (mercy) for the impoverished. God wants us to give to others because we truly feel sorry for them, not because we’re guilted into it, or because it looks impressive on our tax returns.
Whatever the case, Jesus taught that God wants people to be motivated from the inside to love , and not be constrained by religious works on the outside to merely uphold the appearance of being loving.
It was silly to keep everyone encased in the Law when it was no longer necessary.
At least it would become unnecessary to the ones whose motives had healed. Those were the ones who fulfilled the Spirit of the Law and gave their offerings freely, without coercion, from hearts of compassion.
Grandma’s ankle eventually healed and Dad eventually resolved his guilt over harming his innocent mother-in-law in a brutal act of benevolence.
I’m healing, too. My Pharisaical cast has been sawed off and I’m strengthening my motives with some of the physical therapy love exercises as instructed in the bible. Here’s the one I’m working on right now:
“You are doing right if you obey this law from the highest authority: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself’…Talk and act as people who are going to be judged by laws that bring freedom. No mercy will be shown to those who show no mercy to others. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” James 2:12-13 (GW)