About twelve days before my due date I suddenly began having contractions. This was surely it, I thought. I told Keith and we waited it out for a couple of hours as they gradually faded, never having hurt at all. Yes, they were the old Braxton Hicks contractions, so named for the English doctor John Braxton Hicks, who finally figured them out. Some people call them “practice labor,” but that practice did not help me a bit.
Four nights later I sat at the table trying to finish up a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle. We lived in Illinois and I had been stuck inside most of the winter because I did not have a coat that would fit around me, so I wiled away some of the long hours with puzzles.
I had come close to finishing that night, when about 10 pm I noticed a little twinge in my back. Pregnant women have backaches all the time so I thought nothing of it. But about 2:00, when I had still not been able to get to sleep, that twinge suddenly became stronger. “But this can’t be labor,” I thought. “It’s just a bad backache.” Then my water broke. Good thing because that was my only clue that it was indeed labor, a labor that, counting the time from 10:00, only lasted six and a half hours, and never found its way around front. I might not have made it to the hospital on time if I had not suddenly found myself awash with the evidence. At 4:45, I had a posterior birth, sunny-side-up the nurses call it, a nine plus pounder, twenty two inches long who, because of my anatomy and his size, could not make the final turn. When that happens you get “back labor,” which is why I did not recognize it.
Two years and one week later, a day before my due date, I was in the front yard weeding my flowers. We were in South Carolina this time so that early in May my plants were already blooming. Suddenly I felt a little twinge in my back. This time, because of my previous experience, I paid attention. A half hour later I felt another. Five hours later another sunny-side-up nine plus pounder entered the world. This time I was ready for it because I could now tell the difference between false labor, a pregnant backache, and back labor.
The Hebrew writer tells us, But solid food is for fullgrown men, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil, 5:14. That tells me that sometimes deciding what I need to do in a given situation is not always a simple matter. Just like I had to learn from experience what was and wasn’t labor, sometimes I need to “discern” the Word to decide between good and evil, or maybe between good and better. In fact, “discern” is translated “decide” in 1 Cor 6:5 ASV, “weigh what is said” in 1 Cor 14:29 ESV, and determining what makes things “differ” in 1 Cor 4:7 ASV. God gives us guidelines and we must determine the best course of action, always following those guidelines.
The Pharisees had a difficult time with this. They took the easy way out and simply followed a set of rules without weighing the circumstances, and where there were no rules, they made some up. Their guideline was often their own best interests. “Instead of taking care of your aging parents, you must give to the Temple treasury,” they preached, Mark 7:11. In other words, God always trumps people. And even if that money never was given, as long as it was declared “dedicated to God” (Corban) they could keep it for their own use and not be counted guilty for not honoring their parents.
Though it was told as a story, one can easily imagine the priest and the Levite saying, “Going to the temple services is more important than stopping to help this poor man because God must always come first,” in Jesus’ narrative of the Good Samaritan. It perfectly fit their little formula for how to determine the “right” course of action. What they forgot was that serving his children is one way we serve God—“inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these my brethren you have done it unto me.” They would pull their oxen out of the ditch, but castigate our Lord for healing on the Sabbath. Their pious formula, “God trumps people” was an out that served only to make him angry, Mark 3:5.
Jesus said, Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye tithe mint and anise and cummin, and have left undone the weightier matters of the law, justice, and mercy, and faith: but these ye ought to have done, and not to have left the other undone, Matt 23:23. They had forgotten the obligation to “discern,” to “weigh things out,” and make a decision based on years of experience with God. And maybe that is our problem, too—we don’t have enough experience with God in his word.
Over and over Jesus reminded those people that it was not simply a matter of a rote following of the Law. Sometimes you have to think, “What is the greater good here?” That “good” must always be lawful, which should go without saying or it would not be “good,” but when our decisions always ignore grace and mercy, we are forgetting the very thing that caused our Savior to die for us. How can we possibly think we will receive those things from him?
And if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless, Matt 12:7.