“Who among you, if your son or ox falls into a cistern would not immediately pull him out on the sabbath day?” But they were unable to answer his question (Lk 14:5-6).
Jesus was again dealing with the issue to heal or not to heal on the Sabbath. Jesus was dining at the home of a leading Pharisee. While there, Jesus noticed a person suffering from dropsy. This English word is derived from the Greek word hydrōpikos which refers to the swelling caused by the retention of fluid, or edema (cf. Johnson, 223). If you have ever experienced swelling of the joints it can be uncomfortable at best and extremely painful or debilitating at worst, especially if one’s livelihood is dependent on hard labor.
Jesus again showed his keen awareness and compassion, yet, why does Jesus keep healing on the Sabbath? He knows it gets under the skin of the Pharisees, why doesn’t he just heal the day before or after the Sabbath? Jesus, in the line of the prophetic tradition, utilized these confrontations regarding Sabbath observance as teachable moments to make a point. Jesus wanted to help the Pharisees and others observing these interactions understand what it meant to know and follow the will of God. Ultimately, what Jesus proposed through his consistent healing on the Sabbath was that the dignity of the person is to be the barometer in guiding whether we are following the will of God or not. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus stated that the Sabbath was made for people, and not people for the Sabbath (cf. Mark 2:27).
Jesus was not questioning the Sabbath, he was boring down on the core issue. The real debate was not about whether to heal or not, but what had been debated often in Jewish circles was how to define work. It was doing work that was to be avoided on the Sabbath. The further inference Jesus was making was that respecting the dignity of the person ought to be the starting point about making any decision, policy, or observed practice.
May we take time to reflect over the course of the past twenty-four hours. How did we treat those we interacted with in person, in traffic, or online? What we think about another directly or indirectly does make a difference in their and our welfare. If we find that we have been thinking, speaking, acting, or looking, in any way that has been less than kind, encouraging, or empowering, may we seek God’s forgiveness. Let us also pray for the grace to begin each day with a firmer intent to think, speak, act, and look at another with the primary intent of willing their good.
May we also pray for those who lead us in the secular as well as the religious arenas. As the G20 gathers soon to discuss best practices to address the climate, may each policy discussed at home and abroad be done so by beginning with the dignity of the person as the starting point. Building a culture of life starts person to person, but doesn’t just stop there. We also need to stand up when the dignity of our brothers and sisters are not respected in any way. Jesus does not only our inspire us to be aware of the needs of another, move us to compassion toward another, but he will also give us the courage to embrace and walk with one another so that we can move beyond our biases, judgments, and prejudices and embrace the gift of our diversity.
Photo: I’m drumming with Albert White Hat, Sr. (November 18, 1938 – June 13, 2013) and neighbors at the Lakota Summer Institute, Rosebud Reservation, SD. I believe in the summer of 1990. I feel blessed having had the opportunity to learn from and spend time with Albert that summer. He taught me a lot about respecting the dignity of the person.
Johnson, Luke T. 2007. “The Gospel of Luke”. In vol. 3, Sacra Pagina Series, edited by Daniel J. Harrington. Minnesota, Liturgical Press, 1991.