In today’s Gospel account, Jesus enters the synagogue and sees a man with a withered hand. The eyes of the Pharisees are on him to see if, yet again, Jesus will heal on the Sabbath. Jesus is clear in his mind what he is going to do, though before doing so, he calls the man up and asks the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it” (Mk 3:4)?
Jesus here is giving them a no-brainer of a question. Of course, one is to do good rather than evil on the Sabbath, to save life rather than destroy it! Yet, the Pharisees remain silent. Jesus expresses anger and grief “at their hardness of heart”. Imagine yourself present in the synagogue and witnessing Jesus looking at the Pharisees and the Pharisees looking back at him. I am sure you can recall a time when being present in a similar scene and there was dead silence. Can you imagine what was going through the mind of the guy standing in between them with the withered hand?
The anger rising in Jesus may have to do with the unwillingness of the Pharisees to show any compassion, their outright refusal to acknowledge the need of this man. That they would hold so tightly to their self-righteous stance to refuse to even have a discussion about the matter. Not even to say in effect, “Yes, Jesus of course, it is lawful to do good, to save a life but what you are doing is unorthodox.” No. They refuse to dialogue. Their faces are set like flint, they are digging in their heels, and even though Jesus is inviting them to move toward compassion, they instead harden their hearts. In their silence, they are choosing evil over good, destroying life rather than saving it. Pride has reared its grotesque head yet again.
Jesus breaks the silence as he says to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”
The man is healed, but instead of rejoicing, and sharing the good news as Andrew did with his brother Simon, the Pharisees leave immediately to find the Herodians and begin to plot to not only undo Jesus but plot how “to put him to death.”
We have witnessed in today’s Gospel the evil of pride and we have witnessed the mercy of God presented and rejected. As is stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit” (1864). That is what Jesus is angry about. Not only do the Pharisees resist any move in the slightest direction toward compassion, or their own repentance, they further separate themselves from the love of God. They start with a principle of defending the law, and walk out seething with a premeditated intent to kill Jesus, and on the Sabbath!
With each choice of putting self over another, pride grows. Its appetite is insatiable. Pride is known as the mother of all sins because of its disordered focus on self at the expense of all others and all else. The attention sought is solely directed at oneself. The height of which is in direct opposition to God. We have witnessed its effects in today’s Gospel.
Let us begin this day together in prayer. Jesus, I surrender my will to you this day. Reveal the darkness that dwells within me and grant me the humility to call it out for what it is. Grant me the courage to repent and the willingness to receive the healing touch of the Holy Spirit such that I might be transformed in your image and likeness, so to know you and your Father more. May I reject evil and choose good, reject pride and choose love, reject death and choose life. With each person I encounter today, may I reject the temptation to withdraw or scowl and instead offer a smile and a hand of welcome.
Painting by James Tissot.
Catholic Church. “Article 8: Sin,” in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2012.