Luke 6:9–11

And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful on the sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?”And he looked around on them all, and said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” And 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.

This account could be divided into two events: 1) the pharisees’ attempt to catch Jesus allegedly breaking the law and 2) Jesus’ response: words and actions.

1. The pharisees’ mischief: They saw this as an opportunity to catch Jesus violating the law, thus having a reason to accuse him. Technically, from their perspective, their plan worked, for Jesus did exactly what they wanted him to do: heal on the Sabbath. However, contrary to their interpretation of the law, Jesus did not violate the Sabbath; rather, he violated only their incorrect interpretation and application of the divine law—a misinterpration that kept them from seeing the need for mercy. To them, all that mattered was the keeping of the law, while the merciful act of making an afflicted human being whole paled by comparison. Their only interest in seeing a man healed on this day was so that they could accuse Jesus, not for the charity of liberating the man from his misery. And so here, early in this account we see how far from righteousness they truly are.

2. Jesus’ response: words and actions. Jesus responds directly to both these flaws: i) He corrects their misinterpretation of the law by asking whether it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. ii) He addresses their lack of mercy by showing mercy—healing the man.

Jesus did not ignore them or brush them off. He could have simply healed the man without saying a word to his enemies, but he chose to reason with them. And we should also note that his words toward them are gentle, put in the form of a question, rather than a harsh diatribe. And of course we see Jesus’ actions: healing the man in front of them all. Not only does he show mercy but also he does so in the open, right there for them to see plainly. He could have taken the man to a distant location and healed him there, or arranged with the man to meet him at some future time and place, but he made no attempt to hide his charity, in keeping with his own words: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 5:16).

Earlier it was said that the pharisees were far from righteousness, and we see this again in their response to the Lord’s act of mercy. The text tells us that they were “filled with fury” (v. 11). It is truly a fearful condition to be in when one passionately wishes the harm of someone who does a righteous deed of charity. Note that they did not simply want to punish Christ; they were also furious at him, so hot and burning was their zeal for the law.

We should learn a lesson from the pharisees’ response. Are we ever like them, even perhaps in imperceptible ways? Does our concern with rules and regulations deplete any charity within us? Are we hard-hearted and coldly indifferent toward the plight and suffering of others for the sake of adhering strictly to the letter of the law? This does not mean that we should be lawless, nor, as many do today, cloak lawlessness with the guise of charity. But we must always bear in mind that we will be judged on the basis of our love (see Mt. 25:31–46).

Both words and actions make up a powerful—even necessary—response to those who oppose our spiritual life, in whatever way that happens. There may come a time when we will be opposed for living out our faith. It may even be a determined effort to do us harm. How will we respond? Will we ignore it and brush it off, or rather confront it, as Jesus did, with gentle reasoning and acts of mercy? Will we hide our lamp under a bushel and refrain from doing what we know we should, or will we let our light so shine before men, that they may see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven? (Mt. 5:15–16). Will we let the fear of man shackle us from doing the right thing and speaking out, or will we fear God more than men?

Father, give us courage and fortitude to always do and say what is right, no matter what opposition we face, and to always do so in love and mercy rather than bitterness and retaliation.

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About the Author

The author of this blog, Jeremy (Jehanne), is a Catholic who strives to think God's thoughts after Him and obey Christ's exhortation to take up the cross daily and follow Him on the way to Golgotha. He likes reading theology, evangelizing, and, of course, writing.