03 November. Friday, Week 30
I am speaking the truth in Christ; I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit. I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, and they were watching him closely. Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, "Is it lawful to cure people on the Sabbath, or not?" But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. Then he said to them, "If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a Sabbath day?" And they could not reply to this.
Once again it was the Jewish Sabbath and Jesus was doing what he does best: teaching, healing, and getting himself into trouble! This marvelous story has two very recognisable elements: Jesus spreading joy and breaking down barriers while the grumbling Pharisees fuss about, exasperated. We may wonder, "Wasn't that story told a few days ago?" Indeed yes, for St Luke tells us two versions of that sabbath cure. Or rather, both cures took place on the Sabbath; both lead to an argument with the religious authorities about what the Sabbath requires, and in both cases Jesus comes out on top.
But the two stories are not identical. One is set in a synagogue, and the objector was the synagogue overseer. Today's is in the house of a Pharisee, with no mention of a synagogue. In other story, it was an arthritic woman that was healed; today it is a man with 'dropsy', for his limbs were swollen up with fluid. The link is that the cure caused much rejoicing on the part of all, except for a rigid minority. These critics just can't accept the way that Jesus, a teacher of religion, could apparently flout the law of God, breaking the commandment to do no work on the Sabbath Day.
One can almost sense a similar clash of views at episcopal meetings in Rome. Any relaxation of moral prohibition is seen by some as disobedience to the clear law of God. Tht's the sort of thing Jesus was accused of all the time. Of course the Gospel also says that he came "not to abolish God's law but to fulfill it" and yet St Matthew tacitly admits that Jesus did not deal with the divine law in the way other religious leaders did. They had clear rules about what you could and could not do on a Sabbath; but Jesus showed a freedom to discern when mercy must override the rules.
We could go so far as to say that Jesus didn't appeal to theology at all in these two sabbath stories. He answered their objections at an entirely human level. His opponents talk about what the law of God forbids us to do. Jesus looked at the women and men around him. Should we not help them, as we would help needy oxen and donkeys! Indeed there is something secular and rebellious about Jesus, whenever God's law is being quoted in a way that is not life-affirming.
It seems that the man with dropsy was deliberately brought into that mealtime setting, as a way of setting a trap for Jesus. This clearly unwell man would not normally have been invited to such a meal. He was there simply as a kind of bait to trap Jesus, to see if he would heal this man on the Sabbath. Jesus seems more than happy to fall into the trap set for him, for he immediately healed the man and sent him on his way. Whereas the Pharisees showed scant respect for the clearly unwell man, Jesus showed total respect for him by responding to his need and leading him towards a fuller life.
In the name of defence of God's law, religious people sometimes show little respect for persons in need. Jesus bears witness to an authentic form of religion that treats others with the respect that is worthy of their dignity as people made in God's image and precious in God's sight. Pope Francis regularly speaks about our need to treat others with the respect which is due to them a people made in the image and likeness of God. As followers of Jesus we are called to keep taking our lead from him; his way of relating to others is to be ours, and his way can be ours with the help of the Holy Spirit that he pours into our hearts. When Jesus' way becomes ours, through the power of the Spirit, then, in the words of Paul in the first reading, we "will reach the perfect goodness which Christ Jesus produces in us for the glory and praise of God."