Jan 18, 2017

The Law of mercy

Mk: 1-6

Jesus entered the synagogue.
There was a man there who had a withered hand.
They watched Jesus closely
to see if he would cure him on the sabbath
so that they might accuse him.
He said to the man with the withered hand,
"Come up here before us."
Then he said to the Pharisees,
"Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil,
to save life rather than to destroy it?"
But they remained silent.
Looking around at them with anger
and grieved at their hardness of heart,
Jesus said to the man, "Stretch out your hand."
He stretched it out and his hand was restored.
The Pharisees went out and immediately took counsel
with the Herodians against him to put him to death.

Our Gospel this Wednesday is a many layered event in the public life of Jesus.  You have two audiences watching Jesus: the legalistic and judgmental Pharisees and the crowd gathered at the synagogue. Then, we are confronted with two laws - that of the sabbath day on which healing is apparently considered a violation of the sabbath precept against unnecessary work.  And you have the law of mercy to which Jesus refers: "Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?" 

It's clear that Jesus cared less what the gathered Pharisees may think about him. In fact he felt "grieved at their hardness of heart;"  he was disappointed and saddened by their obstinacy.  He knew well their conspiratorial intention were to catch him in some violation of the law and thereby declare him a danger to the common good; a challenge to their own control over the population. While the Pharisees see themselves as the final say, the watchdogs of the population whose intent is to subjugate the crowds under the heavy pressure of a strict conformity to their interpretation of the Mosaic law.

But, our Lord, as always, emphasizes a greater law based in God's mercy.  To do good on the sabbath, to save life is Jesus' intention and that of the law itself.  While the sabbath, Sunday for us of course, is meant to be a day of rest, an act of mercy and compassion which brings a greater good to another is a way of honoring the dignity of another person and the profound love that God shows to all of us.  

That being said, caution thrown to the wind, Jesus heals the man as an act of mercy and compassion.  As the Pharisees go off to plot Jesus ultimate demise, so they hope, our Lord becomes ever more a light shining in darkness, the one who fleshes out the mercy of God extended to all of us.  We honor God on Sunday by doing good for others; by showing compassion and mercy, a helping hand, a selfless act of charity. In that way the Eucharist we have celebrated with our faith community is lived out as we become an extension of the body of Christ to others.  

Can you bring this to the next Sunday in your life?