24 October. Monday, Week 30
1st Reading: Ephesians 4:32-5:8
Be kind to one another, as our merciful Father is to us
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
But fornication and impurity of any kind, or greed, must not even be mentioned among you, as is proper among saints. Entirely out of place is obscene, silly, and vulgar talk; but instead, let there be thanksgiving. Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be associated with them. For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light.
Gospel: Luke 13:10-17
The Jewish leaders’ indignation, after a merciful cure by Jesus
Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the Sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day”; When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.
Above all, to be a healer
The arthritic old woman, tottering along while leaning on a cane, used to be a common sight especially in under-developed countries. She had spent their strength and twisted their bodies out of shape by back-breaking work in rice fields, transplanting individual young stalks, or at the harvest picking up the stray shoots of rice. But though bent over, these old folk are often spiritually strong. Jesus saw one such woman while teaching on a Sabbath day in one of the synagogues. He knew the inner purpose of the Sabbath, and could not rest till every poor human being was re-formed to the divine image. The Sabbath rest had it roots because after the work of creation God “rested on the Sabbath day” but on this particular Sabbath, Jesus could not enjoy his Sabbath rest until the work of creation was completed and this woman was remade to the divine image.
At the sight of her, Jesus said a healing word, “Woman, you are free of your infirmity!” then laid a healing hand on her, and immediately she stood up straight and gave thanks to God. Our Lord’s action was prompted by his conviction of what the Sabbath is really meant to be. When the head of the synagogue became indignant that the healing was an unlawful “work” that was prohibited on the Sabbath, Jesus’ response comes from the impulse of mercy and of common sense embedded in his heart. “You hypocrites. Which of you does not let his ox or ass out of the stall on the Sabbath to water it? Should not this woman be released from her shackles on the Sabbath?” When Pope Francis tried to nudge the Synod of Bishops in that merciful direction (2015), he met with quite stiff opposition… Some hearts were closed to all but the law, like that of the Synagogue official!
Ephesians too gives clear priority of charity. It advises us to practice the virtues of human nature: kindness, compassion and forgiveness, yet it also elevates the motives for those natural virtues, “Follow the way of love, even as Christ loved you.” It sternly warns against sins that common sense will immediately condemn, such as lewdness, promiscuousness and lust. To sum up, grace heightens our awareness of natural goodness and actually builds on it. Our crippled or handicapped neighbours often hold the key to our understanding of God’s revelation in Jesus.
Setting people free
Today’s gospel has the synagogue official insisting that no work be done on the Sabbath. In reply Jesus insists that God’s work can be done on any day of the week. Jesus was doing God’s work by releasing a woman from a condition that prevented her from standing upright. He untied her bonds; he set her free from what was setting her back. Jesus insists that such life-giving work was always timely. There was no day, no time, when it could not be done. Jesus wants all of us to share in some way in his work of releasing people from what holds them back.
The first reading calls on us to be friends with one another, to be kind, forgiving each other as God has forgiven us in Christ, loving one another as Christ has loved us. In this way we share in the Lord’s life-giving and liberating work. Such work is always timely; there is never a wrong time for it. Jesus’ work on behalf of the woman led her to glorify God rather than Jesus. We are told that when ‘she straightened up… she glorified God.’ That is always the goal of our sharing in the Lord’s work too. We do the Lord’s work, not in order that we are glorified but so that God is glorified.
[[Martin Hogan. See his new book: Know the Love of Christ — weekday homily reflections for 2017]]