On the sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him. Even though he knew what they were thinking, he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come and stand here.’ He got up and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, ‘I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?’ After looking around at all of them, he said to him, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He did so, and his hand was restored. But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.
Human beings fill their days with fury. If we pause to think about our average day we will come to realise how we often start each day by being mildly irked that our alarm clocks have disturbed our sleep. Then we hear the latest news broadcast or take that first look at our newspapers and our ‘anger’ levels begin to rise. The first car journey of the day compounds the issue as we either experience or indulge in ‘road rage’. By the time our days start in earnest we can easily find ourselves struggling with the challenge of interacting with others in an even-tempered and ‘loving’ way. Of course, not everyone’s day begins in this way. However, it is not unusual for other sequences of events to bring us all into a similarly negative way of approaching each day.
In today’s reading we see this compulsion to express anger exemplified by the scribes and Pharisees. They are filled with fury because Jesus has healed someone who was suffering from a life-inhibiting disability on the sabbath. The scribes and Pharisees, those self-appointed guardians of Jewish good conduct, were not only offended that Jesus used his power to heal on the sabbath, they were filled with fury. Their obsession with man-made custom and practice led them to set aside the wondrous miracle that they had witnessed and focus solely on the way it offended their sensibilities. The welfare of the disabled man meant nothing to them. Instead they concentrated on what they considered to be good taste. And, to make matters worse, they would have claimed that their reaction to Jesus’ actions was true to the teachings of God.
So often we are like those scribes and Pharisees. We are happy to set aside the true teachings of God in order that our whims and fancies might be satisfied. We do not spare a thought for the person in need if doing so would result in our being inconvenienced. And, when this shortcoming in our response to Jesus’ command to love God and neighbour is pointed out to us … we are filled with fury.
Jesus’ teaching, in word and action, is unequivocal. Jesus calls us to focus on the commandments we find in the books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus – love God first, and then love our neighbours as we love ourselves. There is no room for misinterpretation or linguistic convulsions. These primary commandments are absolutely clear, and it is our duty to live up to them every moment of every day. There is no room for fury, or even mild irritation, in any of this. We are called to love and serve as Jesus did. We are called to be Christ-like in everything we say and do. Let us pray for the strength to set aside our capacity for fury and let us focus instead on Christ’s call in our lives.