Oct 25, 2010

The law of compassion

“Well, who does he think he is?” or, “He did what?” Such words of sarcasm and shock may be another way of stating the judgment of the synagogue leader on Jesus’ compassionate healing in this Monday’s Gospel reading from Luke 13: 10-17. It’s no wonder that Jesus attacked them as, “Hypocrites. . .” In essence they were treating their animals with more compassion than they were the poor woman, crippled for eighteen years, whom Jesus healed.

As our Lord firmly reminded the leader of the synagogue: “Does not each one of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger and lead it out for watering?” The criticism of this religious leader, who was “indignant” (a strong word meaning: in a huff, resentful, or up in arms) with Jesus’ healing, should offend most of us when hearing it. The crux of the negative reaction was the issue of following the Sabbath law.

You may remember the movie Amadeus about the life of Mozart. The humorous comment of the Emperor when he heard a symphony which Mozart composed was that it was beautiful but needed some editing: "Too many notes!” proclaimed the Emperor. Well, the same may be said about Sabbath restrictions in Jesus’ time: “too many laws!” Too many laws, impossible to follow, weighed heavy on the backs of the people. Jesus goes right to the heart of the matter as he always did.

“This daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound for eighteen years now, ought she not to have been set free on the Sabbath day from this bondage?” Was she possessed by the devil? The source of illness in the primitive time in which Jesus’ lived was thought to be the devil so he merely was commenting on what people assumed – that her crippled body was punishment for some great sin.

It strikes me that the core of this healing is why Jesus healed: compassion. Though a man made law may have been broken, a higher moral principle, to love one’s neighbor, was followed. Above everything else, the desperate need of a suffering human being takes precedence any day of the week including Sunday.

Did you ever find yourself in a certain situation you never expected with a particular individual? Or maybe felt that you had been used in some way for a great good. You may have said just the right thing to lift the spirits of someone who needed a word of encouragement. Such examples, I believe, are not mere coincidences. God uses us often in unexpected ways to bring about a good, often for another. We priests find ourselves "used by God" in extraordinary ways at times: When hearing confessions, an unexpected call to the hospital, in conversation after Mass, just the right word or thought during a homily, a presence during prayer, meeting a new parishioner, greeting a family member during a wedding,funeral, or baptism, etc.

Jesus was teaching in the synagogue; preoccupied with something else, and the crippled woman happened to be there in his line of sight. Jesus noticed her. He could have simply turned away and continued on with his lesson. He could have waited till he was finished and then gone over to her – after all she wasn’t about to go anywhere.

But Jesus, without skipping a beat, “Called to her and said, ‘Woman, you are set free of your infirmity . . .’” He shouted from a distance, then laid his hands on her.

Regardless of the day, and particularly on our Sunday Sabbath, what better day of the week might there be for the corporal works of mercy? If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, then maybe we can do a little flattering of Christ and imitate his behavior. The more we do it, the more we may become like him.