"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?"
Is the power of good really greater than the power of evil? Or is the power of evil greater than the power of good? As I think back over the past few weeks, looking at numerous situations and events, I can certainly see how the good is more prevalent than evil. I’ve heard about communities rallying together in evacuation of towns and cities in anticipation of hurricane Irene. Similar charity was prevalent here in Louisville, where a storm took down trees, blocked roads and power was out for many people over five days. Moreover, numerous teens who have gone out of their way to hold a door open, and simply wish others a good day has amazed me. Indeed, I’ve witnessed some truly good people expressing their goodness. The flip side is certainly true as well. I’ve seen people in need and I have watched others responding to these needs in selfish and cruel ways. Both of these dynamics are active in the gospel today. Again, Jesus asks, "Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?"
Of course, Luke also tells us who Jesus is talking to. He is talking to scribes and Pharisees who were watching him closely. Their agenda was clear. They were looking for a reason to accuse him. I suspect we run into conflicting motivations and people with different agendas every day. And these different motivations frequently lead to conflicting behaviors and differences of opinions.
For the scribes and Pharisees, if Jesus really is the messiah, then he must follow the prescribed Jewish law. Yet Jesus implies how ignoring someone in need, or not making something right is an evil unto itself. This is a very difficult teaching. Most of the time it is so much easier not to get involved, or even to choose ignorance. Frequently we may find ourselves using phrases such as, "I don’t have time, it’s not in my job description, or I don’t know how", thereby justifying our own agendas.
I suspect the first step here to get us beyond our personal excuses is to begin trying to accurately listen to the needs of others. If we are capable of doing this then perhaps we are capable of stretching our understanding of the sacred. When the Pharisees limited their ability to do work because it was the Sabbath, perhaps we could stretch our ability because it is what is sacred. It is the right thing to do, just as Jesus realized when he saw this man’s hand. The Sabbath expands from being a day of the week to being a realization of the sacred in our midst.
I’m left wondering today what would happen if Jesus wrote a specific job description for each of us. It certainly would force us to modify our daily agendas. And it may even change our perceptions of what is right and what is sacred.
Fr. David Colhour, C.P. is the pastor of St. Agnes Passionist parish in Louisville, Kentucky.