Encountering God and World in Scriptures

Light of truth

Lectio Divina – 16

Fr Martin Kallungal

“He moved on from there and went to their synagogue; now a man was there with a withered hand. They asked him, ‘Is it permitted to cure somebody on the Sabbath day?’ hoping for something to charge him with. But he said to them, ‘If any one of you here had only one sheep and it fell down in a hole on the Sabbath day, would he not get hold of it and lift it out? Now a man is far more important than a sheep, so it follows that it is permitted on the Sabbath day to do good.’ Then he said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out and his hand was restored, as sound as the other one. At this the Pharisees went out and began to plot against him, discussing how to destroy him. Jesus knew this and withdrew from the district. Many followed him and he cured them all, but warned them not to make him known” (Mt 12:9-16).

The scene of the conflict story narrated in this passage is synagogue; and the opponents are Pharisees. The Pharisees approach Jesus with the purpose of charging Him with some fault simply because they did not like Jesus. It is important to note that Jesus had not done anything when the Pharisees questioned Him. They had the impression that Jesus does not respect the Sabbath laws. Jesus should have clearly known their evil intentions and negative impressions about them. But, Jesus gently answers their question. The example of sheep falling into a hole is not something that comes from Jesus’ pedagogical imagination at that moment. In the Old Testament, it is advised that one should not disregard an animal that has fallen (Deut 22.4). In the Jewish religious world, there were very strict as well as very lenient interpretations of this scriptural directive. Conservative Pharisees and Essenes insisted that the animal should not be assisted if it were to be found in a hole on a Sabbath day. But, ordinary Jews did not follow this rigorous rule. They followed the spirit of the law, even on the Sabbath day; and thus, saved animals whenever they needed assistance. Jesus rejects the oral tradition of the Pharisees and follows the written text and the lenient interpretation the ordinary people gave to it. Then, Jesus asks the man with a withered hand to stretch his hand. He stretches his hand and is instantly healed. In the event of healing, neither Jesus nor the man does any work, but God does. Thus, the overall point is that no one should stop God who does good to His people all the time. We who are the extended hands of God shall not let our hands be tied even with ritual strings.

Thank you Jesus, for teaching me how to interpret and bring out the liberative intent of the Scripture. Once again it is confirmed that the true intent of the Scripture is mercy. There have been moments when I assumed a Pharisaic mind which led me to shy away from helping others, and finding fault with those who did what I could not. I am sorry for being always overly critical in my attitudes, thoughts and words. I realize that critiquing was quite laborious and that I have been overburdened for a long time.

Sit back, relax, and accept Jesus’ invitation: “Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light” (Mt 11:28-30). Take up on yourself the yoke of Christ, and feel its lightness.

Take some time to read the New Testament passages (at least, the entire 12th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew) where the anatomy of the Pharisaic mind is revealed. Identify their thinking styles. Examine if you also have been hypocritical and committed perjury in the recent past.

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