LIFE-GIVER OR LIFE-TAKER
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [Col 1:24 – 2:3; Ps 62:6-7, 9; Lk 6:6-11 ]
In the gospel, Jesus was faced with a dilemma. Before Him was a man whose right hand was withered. But it was a Sabbath Day. Should He delay healing the man to another day since it was not urgent, or should such acts of mercy be performed immediately? What is the basis for our decision to do good even when the law is broken? Jesus posed this question to us, “I put it to you: is it against the law on the Sabbath to do good, or to do evil; to save life, or to destroy it?” So Jesus said to the man, “’Stretch out your hand.’ He did so, and his hand was better.” In the mind of Jesus, doing good should not be postponed. We must relieve pain and suffering as soon as possible, unless we have good reasons not to do so. No man or woman should prolong their suffering unnecessarily. We are called to restore the dignity and the life of every human person.
The truth is that the laws are not meant to make life difficult for others. Laws are meant to help people to live their lives harmoniously and for their betterment and for the good of all. Laws are good and should normally be observed, but they must be applied rightly and appropriately, depending on the circumstances. Being slaves to the laws without taking the context and the existential situation into consideration is to disobey the spirit of the law. It is important when applying the laws that we first understand the intention of the laws, the spirit of the legislator in formulating the laws. In some circumstances when the spirit of the law is contrary to the legalist application of the laws, then the spirit of the law should be followed.
In contrast, there were religious leaders who were out to catch Jesus breaking the law. They were life-killers. “The scribes and the Pharisees were watching him to see if he would cure a man on the Sabbath, hoping to find something against him.” Their focus was not on the man who was suffering. He was just a pawn for them to get even with Jesus so that they could find fault with Him. For the Jewish leaders, their meticulous application of the Law of Moses was meant to separate them from the common and ordinary people. The latter could never fulfill the laws adequately because they were too poor to observe the minute details of the laws. So the laws were applied in order to raise their status and put them above the rest. It was an attempt at exclusivity. Indeed, the word, “Pharisee” means the separated one. Hence, they were life-takers and destructive of life. The irony of their action was seen in their attempt to kill Jesus. “But they were furious, and began to discuss the best way of dealing with Jesus.” Whilst they were insistent on others observing the Sabbath Law, they themselves were planning on getting rid of Jesus on the Sabbath Day. Killing of course is against the law.
In the first reading, we have St Paul who sought to reveal the mystery of God’s plan, which was kept for ages, to the people, “the message which was a mystery hidden for generations and centuries and has now been revealed to his saints. It was God’s purpose to reveal it to them and to show all the rich glory of this mystery to pagans. The mystery is Christ among you, your hope of glory.” St Paul sought to make Jesus known to all, especially to the pagans, that Christ is the mystery of God, the plan of God for all humanity. For in Christ, we come to know ourselves, our identity and calling in life. That is why Christ is the Hope of glory for all. “This is the Christ we proclaim, this is the wisdom in which we thoroughly train everyone and instruct everyone, to make them all perfect in Christ.” In Christ, we see the Wisdom of God’s salvific plan for all nations. Anyone who wants to find fulfillment in life must come to Jesus who is the Wisdom of God in person. In Christ, we see the love, mercy and the compassion of God, especially by His life, passion, death and resurrection. St Paul says, “we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.” (1 Cor 2:8)
This again is in contrast to the Gnostics’ claim during the time of St Paul that to know God and to have access to Him, we need some kind of esoteric knowledge obtained through some form of techniques. Again, this was an attempt to exclusivity because such knowledge is not given to all. The Gnostics claim that one needs a special knowledge to arrive at God. They also considered the human body to be evil and a hindrance to coming to know God. All matter were considered evil and must be put away to come into the presence of God. Thus they held that Jesus was not truly a man but only apparently man. Docetism is one of the forms of Gnosticism which denies the reality of the humanity of Jesus.
The above attempts at exclusivity through the use of the laws and knowledge are still prevalent in our times. How often have we quarrelled over the application of the laws of the Church, especially liturgical laws? We spend so much time squabbling over who is right and who is wrong. There are some Catholics who make themselves watchdogs for the full observance of the laws to the minutest detail, and would find fault when someone breaks the laws. They are like the modern Pharisees, watching out for those who break the laws. How sad that the Church is divided because of the laws of the Church, whether liturgical or other laws! When the Church becomes merely an institution without heart but pure legalism, we have lost the Spirit of Christ. We need to be watchful and ask ourselves whether the insistence of the laws is helpful to build the community and whether it brings about the end it intends to achieve. If legalism is to exclude others and impose our own narrow interpretation of the laws, we have forgotten that charity and compassion surpass every law. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” (Mt 5:17) How did He do it if not by putting love in the way He applied the laws? As St Paul said, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” (Rom 12:8)
Sometimes, others will use knowledge of scripture and theology to confuse us. They speak in high sounding words which the ordinary person cannot understand. Some like to boast of some technique in prayer that can enable them to arrive at God. Yet, the truth is that whilst knowledge of theology and scriptures are a great help to know God, it is the personal relationship with Him that determines our knowledge of God. St Theresa of the Child Jesus was not a theologian, never studied any theology and yet is proclaimed a Doctor of the Church. So it is not necessary to have some special knowledge, intellect or technique to come to know the Lord. A simple heart, a docile spirit and an open mind in reading the scriptures and praying fervently to the Lord will help us find Him.
Indeed, the key to the passionate love of Jesus and St Paul for the people they served was simply their personal knowledge of God. Jesus was motivated by His Father’s love and compassion for all. He sought to make the Father’s love present in His life and to allow the people to encounter the same love He has with the Father. “I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (Jn 17:26) Similarly, St Paul’s zeal for the people was inspired by God’s personal revelation to Him of the mystery of Christ. He wrote, “It makes me happy to suffer for you, as I am suffering now, and in my own body to do what I can to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church. I became the servant of the Church when God made me responsible for delivering God’s message to you.”
St Paul, like Jesus, was a life-giver who took risks for His people. “Yes, I want you to know that I do struggle hard for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for so many others who have never seen me face to face. It is all to bind you together in love and to stir your minds, so that your understanding may come to full development, until you really know God’s secret in which all the jewels of wisdom and knowledge are hidden.” Are we ready to risk our life, our popularity, our time, our resources and our energy even in the face of suffering for the greater good of the people that we are called to serve? Or are we protective of our interests and our convenience as the Scribes and Pharisees did? This is the question we need to ask ourselves today. “Is it against the law on the Sabbath to do good, or to do evil; to save life, or to destroy it?”
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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