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Debates about the Sabbath

Gospel Reading: Lk 6:6-11

On a certain Sabbath Jesus went into the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees watched him closely to see if he would cure on the Sabbath so that they might discover a reason to accuse him.

But he realized their intentions and said to the man with the withered hand, “Come up and stand before us.” And he rose and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” Looking around at them all, he then said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so and his hand was restored. But they became enraged and discussed together what they might do to Jesus.

REFLECTION Stretch out your hand
The Sabbath in Israel was intended as a day of rest and relaxation from the rigorous tasks and obligations of daily life. This day of rest, made in the name of God, became quite naturally convenient for assembly in local synagogues and for communal worship. Over time, some sectarian groups in Israel promoted an austere character of the Sabbath, when all labor and all undue physical activity were strictly prohibited.

Jesus respects the Sabbath but avoids its extreme interpretations. The Mosaic Law itself requires work that violates the Sabbath, as when priests serve in the Temple (cf Mt 12:5). Jesus argues with the Pharisees that satisfying human needs such as hunger – as when David and his hungry warriors ate the bread of offering – takes precedence over the Sabbath. And so does performing works of mercy, as Jesus does for the man with a withered hand.

The man’s ailment is not a matter of life and death, a condition the Pharisees requires for a work of healing. But Jesus appeals to common sense; the man has suffered enough. It is time to give him “rest” from his suffering by healing him.

Ubi maior minor cessat (Before something greater the lesser ceases or gives way). Have you broken a lesser commandment to attend to the demands of a higher law?

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