The Jesus we see in today’s Gospel is a familiar one, Jesus the healer. From the time we were children most of us learned about Jesus casting out demons, healing lepers and allowing the lame to walk. This is a wonderful aspect of Jesus and one that allows us humans to see his divine nature.
But in today’s Gospel that aspect of Jesus plays only a tangential role. Almost incredibly, Jesus finds himself criticized for having employed his divine nature to heal someone. The reason is that a religious leader of the time decided that Jesus was in violation of the rule forbidding working on the Sabbath.
Rules, of course, are an important part of any religion or society. As a wise Rabbi once pointed out to me: “Everyone needs rules. If you want to see a miserable teenager find one who has no boundaries imposed on him.”
But rules generally only make sense if one references their purpose. Otherwise they become entirely human artifacts that exist only for their own sake. In that sense they track the distinction made by the Psalmist in the first reading: “if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Rules as understood and applied by the religious leader in the Gospel are entirely of the flesh; they do nothing to help us achieve the life of the spirit.
The religious leader’s error was that he lost sight of the purpose of the rule. The purpose of the rule forbidding Sabbath work was to allow all to be able to glorify God at least one day a week. But understanding it as he did, it became a rule that would actually prevent glorifying God as Jesus did by healing the sick woman.
As humans we all struggle with rules. We break and bend them, often for selfish reasons. But the greatest error is entirely losing sight of their purposes.
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