Wednesday of week 2 of Ordinary Time – Gospel

Commentary on Mark 3:1-6

Once again we see Jesus in confrontation with the religious leaders. It follows the same pattern as before between him and his critics, here simply referred to as “they”. It is quite clear who “they” are.

The scene is in the local synagogue. Once again “they” were looking for evidence with which to convict Jesus. They were watching to see if Jesus would cure a man with a withered hand on a sabbath day. There is every likelihood that the man was “planted” in what the Americans call a “set up”. To use a sick person in this way was really despicable.

There is no doubt that Jesus is fully aware of what is happening. Unhesitatingly, he tells the man to come out and stand in the middle of the assembly. Then he puts his question: “Is it against the law on the sabbath to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill?”

His opponents are reduced to silence. They have neither the honesty nor the integrity to give the obvious answer to the question.

In another example of how Jesus shows his feelings, we are told that he was both grieved and angry at their stubborn attitude. Grieved because their attitude was so inappropriate for people who believed they were close to God. Angry because of the terrible injustice they were prepared to impose on this man. In their book, no suffering justified breaking the Law. But for Jesus it is not a matter of keeping or breaking laws but of doing good.

He tells the man to stretch out his withered arm and it is completely cured. The Pharisees – humiliated – immediately went out and began to plot with the Herodians to get rid of Jesus. The Pharisees needed the help of the Herodians, who were supporters of Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, if they were to take action against Jesus. This strange alliance shows the extent of the Pharisees’ anger and blinding hatred. The Herodians represented everything the Pharisees despised. It would be like an alliance between Margaret Thatcher and Fidel Castro!

The story once again highlights the difference between morality and law. It was against the Law to do healing work on the sabbath (and even in our society doctors do not normally work on Sundays). This was because, in normal circumstances, the attention of a doctor might involve extensive treatment. But here the healing is done in a moment. Can it be called work? Can it be seen as a violation of the spirit of the sabbath?

In this particular case, where the situation was chronic and causing no immediate distress to the man, it is worth noting that the healing could easily have taken place on another day. But Jesus uttered a principle that transcends all positive law: It is always justified to go what is good, provided no greater good is denied. Similarly, no truly loving act can ever be sinful even though it may violate a law. All laws, except for the law of love, are relative.

The Law about healing on the sabbath had good intentions and was part of the observance of the Lord’s day but it was being absolutised by the Pharisees. It is a tendency in our Christian life which we must also avoid. Even the law about being at Mass on Sunday can be absolutised. Sometimes there are pressing needs e.g. the care of a sick person or a child which can override the law about Sunday Mass.

Christianity is about loving relationships not about conformity to laws. “If I have not love, I am nothing” says St Paul.

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