O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
our beginning and our end:
bring us with the whole creation to your glory,
hidden through past ages
and made known in Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Lord said to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.’
May the Lord stretch forth the sceptre of your power;
rule from Zion in the midst of your enemies.
‘Noble are you on this day of your birth;
on the holy mountain, from the womb of the dawn
the dew of your new birth is upon you.’
The Lord has sworn and will not retract:
‘You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.’
Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.
Jesus entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come forward.’ Then he said to them, ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?
The notion of ‘Sabbath’ and how we engage with that divine gift and blessing is very important to Jesus. This is why we move from yesterday’s reading with Jesus’ disciples picking and eating ears of corn, into Jesus himself performing a work of healing on the Sabbath, and in the synagogue. Yesterday we paused to reflect upon God’s fourth commandment to remember the sabbath day and keep it holy (Exodus 20.8), and today we find Jesus himself being accused of ignoring that very commandment.
As I began preparing this reflection I came across a reference to a newspaper cartoon of about fifty years ago. In that cartoon and anxious father is telling his daughter that she must not play in the street on a Sunday. Instead, he tells her to play in the back garden. In response to this ‘odd’ instruction, the girl asks: ‘Why? Isn’t it Sunday in the back garden?’ This humorous comment on rigidly blind observance of the Sabbath get to the very heart of today’s reading.
Today we come across one of those rare moments in the gospel narrative when we are told of Jesus’ very human emotional response to the self-made ‘rules’ of the religious leaders. Jesus was angry, and it is not difficult to see why he was angry. As he entered the synagogue he saw a disabled man. We may not see the disability of a withered hand as being life threatening but, in those times, it could have had a serious impact on that man’s ability to live a ‘normal’ life. Jesus had pity for the man, and he recognized the desire of the religious leaders to find an excuse for discrediting him. Jesus knew that he was being judged for showing compassion rather than following a pitiless perversion of God’s commandment.
God commands that we remember the sabbath day. God does not command us, at any time, to ignore the needs of our neighbours. On the contrary, Jesus says: You shall love you neighbour as yourself (Mark 12.31). Furthermore, this commandment is placed alongside loving God as one of the two greatest commandments.
The message, and the challenge, for us is clear. We need to take care that we accept and observe God’s gift of the Sabbath, but we should never allow that time of rest to stand in the way of our truly loving both God and neighbour. The Sabbath is not an excuse, it is a time for gathering strength in order that we might be true and faithful disciples.
Prayers of Intercession
Let us pray to God, whose love heals all that is hurt and mends all that is broken.
Strengthen your Church in all dangers and difficulties, to witness to the faith that comes not from human strength but only from your grace. Teach your people to maintain due reverence but never to set the forms of religion above the call of love.
Guide those who make and administer laws, to be both just and merciful in their calling. Bless with peace and harmony the places where laws are good and for the benefit of all. Give courage to those who work to reform laws that are harsh and oppressive.
May your light shine upon us in all that brings us closer to others. Let all that darkens the life of this community be cast out by the life that is in Jesus.
Have mercy on all who suffer under unjust regimes. Bless and strengthen those who are persecuted for their faith. Grant healing to those who are afflicted in the use of their limbs.
We give thanks for the departed who acknowledged the saving death of Jesus and now rejoice in his eternal life. Have mercy on all who have died through human injustice, and grant them rest.
Rejoicing in the glorious freedom given us in Christ, we pray through him.
Prayer for the week
To your keeping, O Lord God,
we commend all whose enjoyment of life
has been taken away by sickness,
by tragedy, or by the sin of man.
May your love sustain them in their suffering,
and may your people care for them
in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Lord’s Prayer
Let us pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught us
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.
Living God, your hope has called us
to the world that you have made,
teaching us to live for others,
humble, joyful, unafraid.
Give us eyes to see your presence,
joy in laughter, hope in pain.
In our loving, in our living,
give us strength that Christ may reign.
Jan Berry (b. 1953)