When Smoke Gets in Our Eyes
Luke continues the controversy about the Sabbath today. First we heard of the discussion provoked by the disciples plucking, rubbing the grain in their hands and then eating it. Something they should not be doing according to the Scribes and Pharisees. Today, on the Sabbath, Our Lord heals the man with the withered hand. The Scribes and Pharisees, ‘watched closely’. Jesus knowing their thoughts speaks before they say anything. "They were beside themselves with anger," and they discussed what they might do to Jesus.
We see Jesus standing his ground, the Pharisees and Scribes smoldering with anger. Awkwardly standing by is our healed man. We hope that he is so happy that he does not feel he is the object of an argument, or being ‘used’ in the situation, or even guilty for being lumped in with Jesus as a Sabbath breaker.
In the Uffizi Gallery in Florence the statue of David is a focal point. One can see David at the same time that you see ‘The Prisoners’, unfinished statues of Michaelangelo in which partially carved bodies appear to be emerging from stone. It could be imagined that they are forever encased in that stone, their potential never to be realized, truly prisoners. There is perfection against imperfection; something that raises our dignity against something of total diminishment.
When a fire is smoldering there is more smoke than flame. Perhaps it is the dense smoke of their smoldering that gets in the eyes of the Pharisees and Scribes and blinds them to the beauty they have just witnessed? Although they ‘watched closely’ they are not moved to wonder at the work of Jesus hands. Has their religious belief made them choose the ugliness of the withered hand to the one that is now perfect?
We remember St. Peter Claver today. He called himself "the slave of the Negroes forever’. For forty years he met the ships that brought African slaves to Cartagena, Columbia, to work in the mines, ten thousand a year. He moved among then to give healing and human comfort. He taught them about Jesus, baptized many and tried to help them however he could. He saw their human dignity and did not turn away from them.
Smoldering may blind us to what is beautiful and good. ‘Watching closely’ is not the same as seeing with the eyes of Christ. And we all wait and long for the touch of the one who can set us free, will heal us, and make us beautiful in the image of the one who holds us precious in his sight.
Fr. William Murphy, CP is the pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Jamaica, New York.