Friday, October 30, 2009

Is It Lawful To Heal On The Sabbath, Or Not?

Today’s First Reading is taken from Paul’s Letter to the Romans (9:1-5).

Paul states “I speak the truth in Christ; I am not lying. The Holy Spirit guides my conscience in bearing witness that I am telling the truth.” Paul expresses great sorrow and deep anguish because his own people, his kindred in the flesh, do not accept the message of Christ. “I would be willing to be cursed by God and cut off from Christ if that would save them.”

Paul might have in mind what happened in the time of Moses. While Moses was at the summit of Sinai, receiving the Tablets of the Law from God, the people made a calf of gold, and did homage to the idol. Moses thought that God would never forgive the people of Israel, and he asked God to punish him in their stead, by “striking his name from the book of life” (Exodus 32:32). On the other hand, Paul realizes that nothing can separate him from the love of God (Romans 8:38). He knows that each of us must place our trust in God if we would be saved. God said to Moses, “I will remove from my book the name of any person who has sinned against me” (Exodus 32:33). God’s mercy is infinite, but his people can accept the gifts of grace – wisdom to know what is true, courage to do what is right, and contrition to accept his mercy when we have strayed – only if we place our trust in him.

Paul then lists the many ways in which God has shown his loving kindness to the people of Israel: He adopted them as his own people (Exodus 4:22). His glory dwelt among them, abiding in the tent in which the people gathered for worship in the desert (Exodus 40:34). He made a covenant with Abraham, promising that he would have a son and that not one nation, but all nations would be his descendants (Genesis 17:4-19). He gave them the Law on Sinai (Exodus 24:8). He promised to David that he would have a son, whose kingdom would endure forever (Psalm 89:34-37). The history of Israel from the time of King David to the time when Herod ruled in Galilee and Pilate was Procurator in Judea clearly tells us that the kingdom that endures forever is not an earthly kingdom. The one of whom Paul speaks is Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. Blessed be God forever! Amen.

Today’s Gospel is taken from Luke (14:1-6).

On a Sabbath, Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the most important Pharisees. In front of Jesus there was a man who suffered from dropsy (an accumulation of fluid in bodily tissue, more precisely called edema – Merriam-Webster Online). The people there were watching Jesus carefully to see what he would do. They did not doubt that Jesus could heal the man of his malady, since they had seen him do so many times. But this day was a Sabbath, and the Law of Moses prohibits all work on the Sabbath – and healing is work.

Jesus turned to the Pharisees and the scholars of the law and asked them, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” They did not reply. They know that the Law allowed them to do good deeds on the Sabbath. But the Pharisees had limited this rule, saying that only if a person was in danger of death could they be healed on the Sabbath. If the Pharisees answered “Yes” to Jesus’ question, they would be breaking their own rule. If they said “No”, they would appear to be cruel and insensitive. So they kept silence.

Then Jesus asked another question: “Suppose your son, or your ox fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you pull him out at once, even on the Sabbath day?” Of course, they would not have hesitated, but they were unable to give an answer to Jesus’ question.


Sarah in the tent said...

Saint Paul invokes the Holy Spirit and then says: I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people. What incredible, Christ-like love for his brothers in the flesh! Is there something of this in the great saints who experienced the 'dark night of the soul'? Sadly, I have never read a good word about Paul in any Jewish source, although St Peter seems to enjoy some respect. I pray for the conversion of people I love, but I could never say what St Paul says here. Sorry, people!

I know a bit about dropsy (edema). When I was expecting my second daughter, ultrasound showed a very slow heartbeat and a large accumulation of fluid on the abdomen. This fluid (dropsy) is a symptom of heart failure. Fluid on the abdomen can progress to fluid on the lungs, which is bad news, of course.
I don't think that the association between dropsy and heart failure was known at the time of Christ. People might have felt that their heart was struggling because of the extra fluid, not that the fluid was caused by a sick heart. Anyway, a failure of the heart seems a good diagnosis for the Pharisees here too. They don't have the heart to cure the sick man, nor do they seem to have the heart to let him die. Their collective heart is unable to rise to the challenge.

About my daughter, there was a medical miracle! The doctors gave me steroids in the hope that they might prevent the fluid from spreading to my daughter's lungs. They carefully drew a circle round the fluid on her abdomen, so that they could see whether it had increased the next time they scanned her. Two weeks later, no-one was more surprised than the doctors to find that ALL the fluid had gone (particularly since her heart rate remained slow and continued to get even slower throughout the pregnancy). So my daughter was born relatively healthy and, after she received a pacemaker at the age of 6 months, has been absolutely fine (she's 13 years old now and still on her second pacemaker). Great technology, great medicine, great doctors ... great God!

Sarah in the tent said...

Amazing! I just took another look at the readings after writing my comment and the words of the psalm leapt out at me: He has blessed your children within you.


stevetrevino said...

Great post. Pharisee's loved their principles more than people. Luke 14 shows the true love of the father toward us. We are the man with dropsy. Jesus willing walked into the snare (the Pharisee's) set for Him and healing the man, turned their attack against them. What a beautiful picture of the cross. Thanks brother and be blessed.