Wednesday, January 20, 2021
Today is the fifth straight “weekday” Gospel reading where Jesus faces conflict with the religious authority of the Law. But unlike past days, today Jesus takes the initiative to create the conflict, which also concerns what can and cannot be done on the Sabbath.
The first thing Jesus does is call the man with the withered hand to a place in front of everyone. A physically disabled person could not participate fully, because he was considered impure. Even if he was present in the community, he was marginalized. He had to remain far away from the rest.
The Pharisees said that to cure a sick person was the same as working. And for this reason, they taught: “It is prohibited to cure on the Sabbath!” They placed the law above the well-being of persons. Jesus was an uncomfortable person for them because he placed the well-being of persons above the norms and the laws.
Jesus isn’t concerned with the letter of the law. He knew the motive behind their watchful eyes. Jesus changed the question. For him, in that concrete case, “to cure” was the same as “to do good” or “to save a life,” and not “to kill!” With his question Jesus put the finger on the wound. He denounced the prohibition of curing on the Sabbath considering this to be a system of death. A wise question! The enemies remain without knowing what to answer.
Jesus reacts with indignation and sadness before the attitude of the Pharisees. By curing the disabled man, Jesus shows that he does not agree with the system which places the law above life. In response to the action of Jesus, the Pharisees and the Herodians decide to kill him. With this decision they confirm that, in fact, they are defenders of a system of death! They are not afraid to kill in order to defend the system against Jesus who attacks and criticizes it in the name of life.
The culture of death portrayed in today’s Gospel is not unlike the culture of death in our society today. Issues like legal abortion and assisted suicide can all be boiled down to the question Jesus asked the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” Jesus reminds us that putting our needs first hurts others; putting the needs of others first cures and protects life.
On a smaller scale, we face this same question every day. Whose needs will we put first?
Today’s Question for Prayer and Reflection:
When have I put my needs and desires in the position of authority in my life instead of obeying Jesus’ law of love and mercy toward others?