Friday of week 30 of Ordinary Time – Gospel

Commentary on Luke 14:1-6

Today we enter a series of four teachings from Jesus, all connected with meals. It begins with another example of a confrontation between Jesus and some religious leaders on a sabbath. Altogether there are seven sabbath healings recorded in the Gospels, of which Luke mentions five. The other two are in John – the healing of the paralysed man at the Sheep Gate (see Luke 5:10 and following) and the healing of the man born blind (Luke 9:14 and following).

Jesus had apparently been invited to have a meal in a Pharisee’s house on a sabbath day. We have mentioned before that the word ‘Pharisee’ means ‘separated one’. They numbered about 6,000 and were found all over Palestine. They taught in synagogues, saw themselves as religious paragons, and were self-appointed guardians of the Law and its observance. They regarded their interpretations of traditions to be virtually as authoritative as Scripture (see Mark 7:8-13). The Scribes studied, interpreted and taught the Law, both written and oral. Most of them were also Pharisees and hence they are often paired in the Gospel.

It certainly looks as if the invitation was what is known as a ‘set up’ because, we are told, “they were watching him closely”. And there right in front of him (what a coincidence!) was a man suffering from edema, an accumulation of fluid in the body caused by some other illness (this is the only place in the original Greek of the New Testament where the term Luke uses for this sickness is found).

Far from being put on the defensive, Jesus immediately throws down a challenge:

Is it lawful to cure people on the Sabbath or not?

Strictly speaking, according to the letter of the Law as interpreted by the scribes and Pharisees present, it was not lawful. Because “curing” involved “medical work” and it could take time and energy. By asking them his question before the healing, Jesus made it difficult for them to protest afterwards. And in fact they dared not give him an answer. To say ‘Yes’ could make them seem lax in their interpretation; to say ‘No’ would seem cruel to the man.

So Jesus took the man, healed him on the spot and sent him off. He then turns to his critics with another question:

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?

They had no answer because no answer was necessary or possible. What Jesus had done was unlawful only according to rabbinic interpretations, but not according to the Mosaic Law itself.

Their mindset was revealed and it was not the mindset of Jesus. For them people came second to legalities. For Jesus the law was there for people. Jesus was moved by compassion and the well-being of people. Sometimes that meant the law had to be put aside – a principle which they also recognised as proved by the examples that Jesus gave.

How many times have we become the victims of human respect? How often have we failed to go to the help of a person because we were afraid of what people might say or how they might judge us? They may even throw Church ‘rules’ and ‘commandments’ in our face as criticism. But no one who acts out of genuine love for others can go far wrong. No truly loving act can be sinful.

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