Homily for September 5th, 2016. Luke 6:6-11.
Rabbis in Jesus’ day said that it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath, if the illness was life-threatening. Saving a life took precedence over the command to refrain from work on the Sabbath. The life of the man with the withered hand, whom we have just heard about in the gospel, was not in danger. Jesus’ healings were already well known. The man with the withered hand was probably well known to the local community. It is no wonder therefore, that Jesus’ critics watch Jesus closely to see whether he will heal this man on the Sabbath – “so that they could find a charge against him,” Luke explains.
Jesus knew what his critics were up to. The gospel writers tell us often about his ability to read minds. So Jesus takes the initiative. “Get up and stand here in front,” Jesus says to the man with the withered hand. With the man standing before him, Jesus challenges his critics by asking: “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath – or evil? To preserve life -- or destroy it?” His critics give no answer. But of course. Any answer they give will land them in difficulties. If they say that healing on the Sabbath is lawful, they will have no grounds for criticizing Jesus. If they call Sabbath healing unlawful, they will discredit themselves with the multitudes who flock to see Jesus and experience his healing power. Telling the man to stretch out his deformed hand, Jesus heals him at once.
Jesus’ critics are “frenzied,” Luke tells us, and ask “what could be done to Jesus.” None of this remains unknown to Jesus. He continues his course nonetheless. Nothing can stop him from doing what is pleasing to God, rather than man. He asks us to do the same.