It has been a lot of years ago, but the lesson is still vivid. I was playing summer baseball along with my brothers. For some reason the team was playing and I was not old enough to be on the team. Evidently I was just there to be where my brothers were. But they needed another player and I was the only one available. The coach of the team took me aside before putting me in right field as the game was ready to begin. He gave me specific instructions on what to do in different situations. If someone was trying to get home and the ball was hit to me I was to throw it to the second baseman to have it relayed on home. In the midst of his instructions he said, if someone hits a ground ball to you, don’t try to throw him out at first but throw the ball to the second baseman for him to get the ball where it is needed. The ballgame went all right and I hadn’t made any bad mistakes. It was now the bottom of the ninth inning and we were one run ahead. All we had to do was get the team out to win the game. We got two outs pretty quickly. But then the pitcher walked the batter. The next guy hit a single into left field and got the runner onto second. The pitcher walked the next batter and the bases were loaded. The coach yelled at me and said remember if it is hit to you to throw it to second. If we could just get this one out we would win the game. As fate would have it, the batter hit the first pitch, a line drive into right field. I caught the hit on the first bounce and had the golden opportunity to throw the batter out on first. He wasn’t moving swiftly and I could easily have thrown him out.
Can you guess what happened? I felt the urge to fire the ball to first and have the man out. The team was yelling at me to throw him out at first. But I could remember clearly what the coach had said. If he hits the ball to you throw it to the second baseman. If you throw it to the first baseman and he misses it or it is off target it might let more than one man score. I threw it to the second baseman. He tried to fire it to first in time to get the batter, but it was too late. He was safe, the runner on third scored. We lost the game.
I was obedient to what the coach had instructed. But he wasn’t happy. The team wasn’t happy. My brothers weren’t happy. I tried to defend myself by saying I had done what I was told to do. I don’t remember who said it, but someone said, “You can’t just do what is said, you have to think.” We could have won the game but I lost it for the team by doing exactly what I was told.
There is a principle to be gained from this whole event. Even laws of God demand application. During Jesus’ time on earth the Pharisees were a lot like I was as a baseball player. They saw it all it terms obedience. The Sabbath Day was for keeping the rules and doing only what wasn’t considered work. Jesus knew the law and the purpose of the law. When a person was hurting and it was the Sabbath, He never even hesitated to reach out to the hurting person with healing. He knew that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. The Pharisees would have felt much better if Jesus had come to the Synagogue, sit quietly to worship and maybe have read a few verses from the Law. He could even have visited with the man who was hurting and perhaps have made an appointment to meet with him at 6:15 after the Sabbath had ended. He would have been obedient to the law and still have cared for the hurting.
But they, with their effort to follow the letter of the law, missed the heart of God completely. Obedience can be just plain dumb. It can be following the rules while missing the point. No one ever was more obedient to the Father than Jesus. He even declared, “He came not to do his own will, but the will of the Father in heaven.” But He knew what the point was of each law and applied it with heart.