Living in the Gray

Nehemiah 13:4–22, Matthew 12:1–8

Nehemiah was “just” a layperson. He probably had no formal religious or other education. He wasn’t a “leader” of the people. He did, however, have an important position of trust with King Artaxerxes. To be the cupbearer meant that you were trusted with the king’s life and even the life of his royal guests. Nehemiah had an important place of trust and service. Since it was such a trust-based position, it is telling that King Artaxerxes valued Nehemiah enough to be willing to have another take the place of the cupbearer while Nehemiah was away.

Nehemiah had a hard task of restoring the city of Jerusalem while politicians in the surrounding area jockeyed for position and control of Jerusalem. No doubt it was hard and trying. However, the harder task was fixing what started the mess…the hearts of the People of God. The temple became the place to stay. The Sabbath was a day like any other. The Levites were landless and in dire straits. The remnants of Israel had lost their center. They had lost their God. Nehemiah threw out the “guest” in the temple, so the Levites would have their (appropriate) space. Nehemiah restored the tithe so that the Levites could do their job. Then Nehemiah added to their tasks, making them the preservers of the Sabbath (by force of arms if needed).

By the time of Jesus, the Sabbath was being followed religiously. The Levites were receiving their tithe. The Levites had a place to stay. If just looking at these things in the time of Jesus, one could be convinced that Nehemiah was very successful. Outward appearances can be deceiving. The rituals were all in place. The rules were all in place. Even more, were added, just to make sure. The rules, however, became oppressive. You might be aware of a phrase, “they love Jesus, but not the church.” That’s where many people were. They loved God, but they wanted nothing to do with the religious leaders.

Between Nehemiah (rules needed) and Jesus (rules are too much), there has to be a middle-ground. The problem with the middle-ground is that it is hard and often undefined. We like our nice and neat categories. We want black and white; no gray. That is not life.

1) Where do you see more rules being needed?

2) Where do you see fewer rules being needed?

3) Where do you see a balance being needed?