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.
O praise the Lord, Jerusalem!
Zion, praise your God!
He has strengthened the bars of your gates,
he has blessed the children within you. (R./)
He established peace on your borders,
he feeds you with finest wheat.
He sends out his word to the earth
and swiftly runs his command. (R./)
He makes his word known to Jacob,
to Israel his laws and decrees.
He has not dealt thus with other nations;
he has not taught them his decrees. (R./)
Jesus went 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.
It's another Sabbath day encounter, with Jesus doing his usual service of teaching, healing, and getting himself into trouble! This marvelous story has many of the elements we love in the Gospel. He was spreading joy and breaking down barriers while the Pharisees fuss about, exasperated and fumbling to accuse him of something. But wasn't this covered in last Monday's reading? Indeed yes, for that sabbath healing was similar to today's. Both episodes show Jesus healing and both cures took place on the Sabbath. Both cures provoke an argument with the authorities about what is forbidden on the Sabbath, and in both cases Jesus has the last word.
But the stories are not identical. One story is set in a synagogue, and today's is in the house of a Pharisee. In last week's story, it was an arthritic woman that was healed; today it is a man with 'dropsy', which means that his limbs were swollen up with fluid. Jesus heals them both, and there is much rejoicing on the part of all, except for a rigid minority. His critics just can't accept how he apparently flouted the law of God by disobeying the commandment to remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.
One senses a similar clash of views during episcopal gatherings in Rome. What seems to some an act of mercy is regarded by others as disobeying the will of God. That's the Pharisees' charge, and it's a serious one, and it's the sort of accusation they often made against Jesus. Although Jesus says that he came "not to abolish God's law but to fulfill it" (Matthew 5:17) he clearly did not interpret the divine law literally, as the religious leaders did. They had clearly defined rules about what may and may not be done on the Sabbath; but Jesus claimed a freedom to discern when mercy must override the rules.
Jesus didn't speak the same theological language as his critics. But didn't appeal to theology at all in these two sabbath stories. He answered their objections at an entirely secular level. His opponents are talking about the law of God what it forbids us to do. Jesus is focused on the women and men around him, and how to help them, even on the sabbath, as a farmer would tend his livestock on the sabbath. Clearly Jesus rebelled, whenever God's law was quoted in a way that was not life-affirming.
It seems that the man with dropsy was deliberately brought into the Pharisee's house, to set a trap for Jesus. This man suffering from an ugly sickness would not normally have been invited to such a meal. He was there simply as a bait to trap Jesus, to test if he acknowledged the sabbath law. His enemies wanted to see if he would heal this man on the Sabbath. Jesus seems more than happy to fall into their trap, for he healed the man and sent him on his way. Whereas the Pharisees showed scant respect for the sick man by using him as bait, Jesus showed total respect for him by restoring him to a healthy life.
Claiming to be defenders of God's law, religious leaders sometimes show little respect for the needy individual. Jesus shows an authentic form of religion that treats others with respect for 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 love and respect. As followers of Jesus we try to judge situations as he would. His way of relating to others is to be ours, and in this we have the help of the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts. When with the help of the Spirit we act in this way, then we will reach the full image of Christ, as children of God.