You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of his flesh…
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?”
Today’s gospel and first reading seem to send conflicting messages. In the gospel, there is Jesus, once again tweaking the noses of the scribes and the Pharisees (read: those who hold themselves in self-righteous judgement over everyone else). He reminds them, and us, that it is the spirit of the Law, not the letter, which is important. When he cures the man’s withered hand He shows that the Law must always be tempered with mercy. As He says in Mark, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” You can hear the same message today in many of Pope Francis’ homilies and meditations. This is the core lesson in this Jubilee Year of Mercy.
It appears that this message of mercy stands in stark contrast to the pronouncement from St. Paul to the Corinthians. He chides that congregation for their pride in the sin of one of their members. What does he recommend for that member that is causing this scandal? “Deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of his flesh!” How does this jibe with the instruction for mercy? If we just take this line out of context, it does seem as if St. Paul is suggesting a harsh punishment. But, within context, a deeper picture emerges.
First, let’s look at the word ‘flesh.’ There is the obvious meaning of our physical bodies. However, St. Paul also speaks of a thorn in his ‘flesh’, where he uses the word to mean something beyond his body. Could it be here that Paul is using the word ‘flesh’ for that earthly side of our self, that small part of us which can become so entangled with our desires that it keeps us from deeper communion with God? Maybe this is the ‘flesh’ Paul wishes to be destroyed. Seen in this light, St. Paul is instructing the community in “tough love.” If one of the communities not only sins, but flaunts that sin, turn them loose. Perhaps they need to hit rock bottom to come to their senses. For Paul sees the result of turning the member loose is that that “his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.”
My prayer today is that I find the strength to release those parts of myself that keep me from building up my community.
Talib Huff volunteers and works at Christ the King Retreat Center in Citrus Heights. You may contact him at [email protected]