Monday of Week 30 of Ordinary Time – Gospel

Commentary on Luke 13:10-17

Last Saturday we saw Jesus telling people that they should not be distracted from their own obligations by getting caught up in tragedies which happened to others. Rather than wonder about the eternal salvation of others, they should pay more attention to their own situation. Today we have an example of people so busy criticising what others are doing that they are totally unaware of the emptiness in their own lives.

We are told that Jesus was teaching in a synagogue on a sabbath day. In the congregation was a woman who was suffering from what seems to be curvature of the spine for 18 years. There is a certain symbolism in the fact that she was badly stooped and was not able to stand up straight. Spiritually speaking, is that not also our problem too? So many of us are bowed down with the burdens and worries of our lives.

In fact, nearly all the healings done by Jesus can be seen as symbolic of deeper afflictions from which all of us can suffer, and even at the same time! For example, being deaf (we can’t hear God speaking to us), blind (we cannot see the truth or understand the Word of Jesus in the Gospel), mute (we can’t or won’t proclaim our faith), paralysed and having other crippling afflictions (we are not able to do the things we ought to be doing); having leprosy (we are cut off from relating with others or we cut other people off), and being possessed by evil spirits (in the grip of various compulsions and addictions).

Jesus saw the woman, called her to him and told her she was free from her affliction. Her affliction was seen as caused by an evil spirit and Jesus had liberated her. He laid his hand on her and immediately she stood up straight and began thanking God.

One might expect that everyone present would also start thanking and praising God for what had happened to the poor woman. But no…the chief of the synagogue was indignant that the healing had taken place on the sabbath because medical services were not allowed on the day of rest. “There are six working days on which to be cured; the sabbath is not one of them,” he said.

The ruler of the synagogue was not a priest. He was responsible for conducting services, inviting people to read the Scriptures and preach, and in general of maintaining order. He was a layman who also had administrative duties such as taking care of the building. Normally, only one person held this post, but sometimes it could be simply an honorary position.

In a way, of course, the ruler was perfectly right. A woman who had lived with this kind of ailment for 18 years could easily have waited for just one more day to be cured. But that was not the point, as Jesus made perfectly clear.

He accused the synagogue head and his like of pure hypocrisy. There was not one of them who would hesitate to take their ox or donkey from its stall on a sabbath day in order to give it water. They put the needs of animals before that of a human being.

And what could be more appropriate than to liberate this poor woman from the slavery of her affliction on the sabbath? All the synagogue head could see was the letter of the law. He could not marvel at the healing power of Jesus and the deep compassion behind it. He could not see that he was in the presence of God’s very power.

It would be like someone at Mass criticising the brevity of a lector’s dress while being totally oblivious to the Word of God she was reading – perhaps this very text!

There is also the sinister possibility, which was the case on other similar occasions, that the woman had been put there deliberately to see whether Jesus would violate the sabbath. It was not the sabbath that some of the religious leaders were concerned about, but of gathering evidence to convict Jesus of heresy. The story is an example of taking the beam out of our own eye before dealing with the speck in someone else’s, or of none being so blind as those who refuse to see.

In the end, we are told that Jesus’ critics were left covered in confusion, while the ordinary people, often with far more insight than their religious leaders, joyfully marvelled at what Jesus was doing.

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