Monday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time
Art: The Man with the Withered Hand by James Tissot (1836-1902)
Reading 1 COL 1:24–2:3
I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake,
and in my flesh I am filling up
what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ
on behalf of his Body, which is the Church,
of which I am a minister
in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me
to bring to completion for you the word of God,
the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past.
But now it has been manifested to his holy ones,
to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory
of this mystery among the Gentiles;
it is Christ in you, the hope for glory.
It is he whom we proclaim,
admonishing everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.
For this I labor and struggle,
in accord with the exercise of his power working within me.For I want you to know how great a struggle I am having for you
and for those in Laodicea
and all who have not seen me face to face,
that their hearts may be encouraged
as they are brought together in love,
to have all the richness of assured understanding,
for the knowledge of the mystery of God, Christ,
in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Responsorial PsalmPS 62:6-7, 9
Only in God be at rest, my soul,
for from him comes my hope.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold; I shall not be disturbed.
R. In God is my safety and my glory.
Trust in him at all times, O my people!
Pour out your hearts before him;
God is our refuge!
R. In God is my safety and my glory.
Alleluia JN 10:27
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord;
I know them, and they follow me.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel LK 6:6-11
and there was a man there whose right hand was withered.
The scribes and the Pharisees watched him closely
to see if he would cure on the sabbath
so that they might discover a reason to accuse him.
But he realized their intentions
and said to the man with the withered hand,
“Come up and stand before us.”
And he rose and stood there.
Then Jesus said to them,
“I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the sabbath
rather than to do evil,
to save life rather than to destroy it?”
Looking around at them all, he then said to him,
“Stretch out your hand.”
He did so and his hand was restored.
But they became enraged
and discussed together what they might do to Jesus.
Peace and Freedom
Commentary on Luke 6:6-11 From Living Space
Immediately following the incident of plucking the grains in the cornfield, we have another confrontation with religious leaders also on a Sabbath day. This one is even nastier as it involves what is called in American police movies a “set up” or “entrapment”.
Jesus had gone into the local synagogue, as was his practice on the sabbath, and began to teach. Right in front of him was a man with a withered hand, no doubt something he was born with.
There were scribes and Pharisees in the congregation and, we are told, they “were watching him” to see whether he would heal the man on a Sabbath day so that they could accuse him of breaking the Law.
Medical work was forbidden on the Sabbath because it normally took time. Jesus, of course, healed with just a word but even if he did not, could one say that healing was against the spirit of the Sabbath? At the same time, it is also worth noting that the man was suffering from a chronic and probably non-painful disability. There was no need for him to be cured on the spot; it could easily have waited until the next day.
That gives further point to Jesus’ argument. The poor man had clearly been “planted”. He was being used as bait for their sinister ends. For the Pharisees and their co-conspirators the man and his plight were secondary. They had to prove their point and he was seen as a useful tool.
Jesus, of course, is fully aware of what is going on. He speaks directly to the disabled man: “Rise up and stand out in the middle!” The command to “rise up” is already an indication of what is going to take place; the man is going to be given new life. Nor is there any secrecy. What Jesus is going to do is to be seen by all.
But first he puts a question to the whole congregation, scribes and Pharisees included: “Is it lawful on the sabbath day to do good, or to do evil? to save life or to destroy it?”
It is really an unanswerable question because the answer is so obvious. But it was not the way these Pharisees were thinking. Their question would be very different: “Is it right to obey the Law or to violate it?” For them the Law, even the letter of the Law, was paramount. There is an irony in Jesus’ question because Jesus is planning to bring healing into a man’s life while they were preparing to bring about his destruction. Who was really breaking the Sabbath?
Not so with Jesus. For him the Law was relative to the true and the good. No implementation of a law can offend the true and the good. And sometimes the following of the true and the good may have to go against the letter of the law. What is legal is not always moral. It can be immoral, that is, evil, to obey a law in certain circumstances. What is moral sometimes transcends the law and may even contradict the law.
Hearing no dissenting answer, Jesus says to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so. His arm was fully restored to normal.
The scribes and Pharisees were furious and began to plot against Jesus. Their plans had been brought to nought. They showed no pleasure that a crippled man had been made whole. Their interpretation of the law had been shown to be wanting and they had to get back at Jesus.
Such situations are by no means unknown in our Christian life and in our Church. We will run into situations where doing good may be in conflict with traditional regulations and legal formulae.
We will find ourselves in situations where contemporary Pharisees will try to put the Church into a straitjacket of narrow-mindedness and fundamentalism whether it involves our understanding of the Scripture or the liturgy or morality or something else. These are people who put the letter of the laws, regulations and rubrics before love. For them it is more important to observe the externals of rules than to be a loving person.
From Lectio Divina From The Carmelites
• Context: This passage presents Jesus who cures a man with a withered hand. Different from the context of chapters 3 and 4 in which Jesus is alone, now here he is surrounded by his disciples and the women who go around with him. Therefore, here we have Jesus always moving.
• The dynamic of the miracle. Luke places before Jesus a man who has a withered hand, dry, paralyzed. Nobody is interested in asking for his cure and much less the one concerned. And just the same, the sickness was not only an individual problem but its effects have repercussion on the whole community. But in our account we do not have so much the problem of the sickness as that of the aspect that it was done on Saturday. Jesus is criticized because he cured on Saturday.
The Pharisees feel provoked and this causes aggressiveness in them. But it is evident that the intention of Jesus in curing on Saturday is for the good of man and in the first place, for the one who is sick. This motivation of love invites us to reflect on our behaviour and to found it on that of Jesus who saves. Jesus is not only attentive to cure the sick person but is interested also in the cure of his enemies: to cure them from their distorted attitude in their observance of the Law; to observe Saturday without freeing their neighbour from their misery and sickness is not in accordance with the will of God. According to the Evangelist, the function of Saturday is to do good, to save, like Jesus has done during his earthly life.
• Do you feel involved in the words of Jesus: how do you commit yourself in your service to life? Do you know how to create the necessary conditions so that others may live better?
• Do you know how to place at the centre of your attention and of your commitment every person and all their requirements?
Joy for all who take refuge in you,
endless songs of gladness!
You shelter them, they rejoice in you,
those who love your name. (Ps 5,11)
God, I offer myself to Thee-
To build with me
and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!
Thank you, God, Amen!
“Is it against the law on the sabbath to do good, or to do evil; to save life, or to destroy it?” Not only is the answer obvious, but it must also be clear and decisive. By telling the man with the withered hand to “’Stand up! Come out into the middle”, Jesus is asking His audience and all of us to be clear about our stand; “Is it against the law on the sabbath to do good, or to do evil; to save life, or to destroy it?”
Do laws save or destroy life? In other words, does the observance of laws empower human life, or does it rob us of our dignity, freedom and capacity to love? Of course, laws are meant for the good of all, and to protect lives. They are necessary for harmonious living and for the proper exercise of freedom. Every institution, regardless of whether it is a social or religious institution, needs to have laws to govern community life.
Indeed, the laws must serve the good of man and empower life, not rob man of life and love. So the solution with regard to the balance between the observance of the laws and the rule of love is to know the intent and spirit of the laws. In asking the question if it is against the law to do good on the Sabbath, Jesus was asking whether they knew the intention of the law of Sabbath. If the scribes and Pharisees had understood the real purpose of the Sabbath law, then they would have gone beyond legalism. For the objective of the Sabbath law is to ensure that man recognizes that everything comes from God, and that he is called to protect his health by resting on the Sabbath and at the same time, to use that rest for the service of love and compassion.
Yet, there is always the danger of falling into legalism, just as the scribes and Pharisees did. When that happens, life is destroyed. For those who can observe the laws, they become proud of their achievements and despise those who are unable to. If such observances are concerned with the religious laws instead of exalting God, the consequence is that we end up exalting ourselves. We boast, not of the grace of God at work, but of how diligent we are. We tend to focus on ourselves and our strength.
Having exalted ourselves, we become fault-finding because we tend to compare others with ourselves. We make ourselves the benchmark for holiness. Wasn’t this exactly what the scribes and Pharisees were doing? They were “watching him to see if he would cure a man on the Sabbath, hoping to find something against him”. Some of us are so obsessed with the right observation of the rubrics and rituals that our focus, like the scribes and Pharisees, is not so much on the experience of the worship during Mass, but in wait to witness the priest or one of the ministers flout the liturgical law, either consciously or unconsciously. If that is the case, we will never be able to get the most out of the worship experience.
This is not to say that the observation of the rubrics of the Mass is not important. Indeed, some quarters of the Church are not happy with the New Mass Rite. They question the wisdom and effectiveness of the changes in the translation made in the English version of the Order of the Mass and the Sacramentary. Yet it is necessary for us to observe the Revised Mass Texts, not blindly but intelligently, seeking to understand the meaning and the spirit of the Church in desiring to have a more precise translation, one that will not lose its original meaning, theological and liturgical, as in the Latin text. This is where the religious leaders during the time of Jesus failed. They were more concerned with the observance of the laws rather than applying the laws intelligently in specific and practical situations where, ironically, to keep the laws, one might have to break them sometimes.
But the non-observation of the laws can also occur if we do not understand the original intent of the laws and as a result, fall into self-condemnation, and perhaps even despair. A person who tries to obey the commandments but fails again and again will, after some time, give up all hope and be resigned to his sinful situation. And since he is unable to observe the laws perfectly, the conclusion is that he might as well break all of them. Naturally, this way of thinking of the common man is not what the Church teaches. The Church does not expect us to be perfect overnight. We must be compassionate with ourselves. Sometimes, just because we fail in our responsibilities or in keeping the high dignity of our office, we want to resign or abdicate our position. More often than not, we give up trying because we think that just because we cannot reach the mark, then we should just not only stay where we are but allow ourselves to rot further. Those who are impatient with their own growth and are unable to accept their human frailties will only condemn themselves.
Even St Paul urges us to be patient in our spiritual life and spiritual growth. He wrote, “Yes, I want you to know that I do struggle hard for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for so many others who have never seen me face to face. It is all to bind you together in love and to stir your minds, so that your understanding may come to full development, until you really know God’s secret in which all the jewels of wisdom and knowledge are hidden.” Truly, growing up physically or spiritually takes time, often a whole life time. God is more patient and merciful with us than we with ourselves.
Others become over scrupulous and they live in constant guilt and fear. They find no peace for every trivia that worries them. They are so meticulous and careful in making themselves perfect that they are paralyzed by fear. They become so prudish that they take out every fun from life. Such people take themselves too seriously. They want to live an impeccable life so that they can be honoured by man’s praises and be confident to claim from God the reward of eternal life for all the sacrifices they have made. But such people are nervous wrecks and cause others around them to be nervous as well. Such a robotic life is neither human nor holy!
There is also the danger of falling into minimalism. Laws make us complacent because we measure ourselves against the laws. Yet laws are precisely instituted for those who are lazy and mediocre. If we never go beyond the laws, it is a sign that we are minimalists and living in false security, thinking that we can justify ourselves before God and before man. Minimalists are those who are being driven not by passion for anything in life, but simply to escape punishment. Such people are lukewarm, neither dead nor alive, neither passionate nor dead, neither here or there. They look more like zombies living the state of Sheol, of non-existence on earth.
In contrast, we have Jesus who showed He was ruled by love and compassion for the needy. Isn’t this the reason for St Paul’s motivation in suffering for the Church? He wrote, “It makes me happy to suffer for you, as I am suffering now, and in my own body to do what I can to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church. I became the servant of the Church when God made me responsible for delivering God’s message to you, the message which was a mystery hidden for generations and centuries and has now been revealed to his saints.” Love goes beyond the laws. Love has no end or limits. For love knows no rest since love is dynamic. Love conquers fear that comes from the laws. Love would require us to break the laws at times in order to preserve the laws! The irony is that the only way to keep the spirit of the law at times is to break the law as an exception, because of the change in circumstances. By observing the laws rigidly when the situation has changed is actually breaking the spirit of the law. Indeed, we must never forget that laws are means and not ends in themselves.
The sad truth is that when we are ruled by laws, we have lost our focus. Instead of focusing on the person and how the law can help him, we are more concerned about protecting the laws. Then the consequence is that the laws, which are supposedly man’s friend, become his enemy. Laws, instead of promoting life, become destructive to man. Such was the case of the Pharisees in today’s gospel. So low did they reduce themselves, that they would even make use of a suffering man to kill Jesus! They had lost their focus totally.
Today, St Paul gives us the example of what it means to be ruled by love and not by laws. He speaks of his suffering for the Church because of his love for Christ and the Church. Indeed, the only authority ultimately, is that of love. St Paul appealed to his suffering and love for the Church as the basis for his authority to write to them. For love, God has “broken” His laws to save Paul from his ignorance and self-righteousness. It is not laws that will save us, but God’s grace. That is why St Paul says, “The mystery is Christ among you, your hope of glory: this is the Christ we proclaim, this is the wisdom in which we thoroughly train everyone and instruct everyone, to make them all perfect in Christ. It is for this I struggle wearily on, helped only by his power driving me irresistibly”.
Tags: Christ in you, Col 1:24–2:3, confession, conversion, do not be afraid, forgiveness, God’s stewardship, Holy Spirit, In God is my safety and my glory, Jesus cures a man with a withered hand, Jn 10:27, Joy for all who take refuge in you, knowledge of the mystery of God, Lk 6:6-11, Prayer and Meditation, Prodigal Son, Psalm 62, Reconciliation, renounce Satan, Return of the Prodigal Son, sanctity and holiness, September 7 2015, their hearts may be encouraged, without anxiety or fear or worry, Word Of God