In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells the ill man to take up his mat and walk. In reading this Gospel, our thoughts turn to the Pharisees’ condemning of Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. But there is much more here. For Jesus, this is a teaching moment, and as usual, He is teaching us more than one lesson. Jesus does not just heal on the Sabbath, he also tells the man to pick up his mat and walk on the Sabbath giving the Pharisees reason to condemn the man and Jesus for his instruction to the man. But wait, go back a bit in the Gospel. What else does it say? This man had been ill for 38 years and he had been waiting to be helped into the pool for healing. But he was always pushed out of the way and “had no one to put him into the pool.” The words then are as much a reprimand to the community for not caring for their brother as they are a reprimand to the Pharisees for their following the letter of the law to the exclusion of the spirit of the law. Because we no longer observe the Sabbath in the ways it was observed in the days of the New Testament, or for that matter even as it was observed in the last century, it is obvious to us that the Pharisees and the neighbors and community of the ill man were blatantly in the wrong. Taking care of the sick should have been their priority not following the strict letter of this law. By curing the ill man on the Sabbath, Jesus was making sure that attention would be given to what He was doing. This should give us pause. We easily see that performing a miracle, curing the sick is more important than the rule of keeping the Sabbath, but do we also see how Jesus is speaking to us and to our world?
Throughout the New Testament, Jesus tells us to love one another, to follow the works of mercy and the beatitudes as well as obey the Commandments. How many of us take the time and energy to live this message, how many of us live as Disciples of Christ, keeping the spirit of the law, even when it means we don’t follow the letter of the law? How many of us let our bigotry, our fear, our discrimination become more important than caring for and loving our neighbor?
In this year of mercy, may we continue to be merciful to one another and to ourselves.
Mary Lou Butler is a long-time friend and partner in ministry to the Passionists in California.