Tag Archives: Sabbath

To Save Life or to Destroy It?

“To Save Life or to Destroy It?”
Luke 6:6-11 in a couplet
Monday of the Twenty-Third Week in Ordinary Time
Related posts: The Heart of the Sabbath, Out of Heart, Out of Mind, Christ Unlocks the Kingdom
©️2021 by Gloria M. Chang

On another sabbath he went into the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees watched him closely to see if he would cure on the sabbath so that they might discover a reason to accuse him. But he realized their intentions and said to the man with the withered hand, “Come up and stand before us.” And he rose and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” Looking around at them all, he then said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so and his hand was restored. But they became enraged and discussed together what they might do to Jesus.

Luke 6:6-11

Jesus’ either/or question in Luke 6:9 is put very plainly in the Greek. The Revised Standard Version preserves the word order:

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?” 

The human heart is designed to follow the natural principle “do good and avoid evil” spontaneously. Sin is irrational, as the apostle Paul noted: “For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want” (Romans 7:19). 

The scribes and Pharisees failed to rejoice at the healing of their brother, and instead became “enraged” (Luke 6:11). Other translations say “filled with madness,” “senseless rage,” “mindless rage,” “fury,” and “anger.” The word Luke used suggests irrationality, from anoia—“no mind.” 

The heart of Christ, filled with compassion for the suffering, and free of envy and bitterness, is a healthy, whole, Spirit-filled mind. The healing of the man with a withered hand is a sign of full restoration in grace—healing of body, mind, soul, spirit, heart, thoughts and emotions. 

Jesus’ Last Sabbath

Anastasis, Fresco painting, Chora Church Collection, 11th century

Holy Saturday

Earth received a new and incorruptible seed in her womb when Jesus was laid to rest, wrapped in cloths as in the manger, and perfumed with myrhh, as the Magi anticipated. Christ’s journey from birth to death was complete. The Jewish Sabbath begins in the evening until the following day. Thus Jesus spent one full day in the heart of the earth on the Sabbath. “It is finished,” Jesus breathed at last from the Cross (John 19:30), mirroring the Creator on the Sabbath:

On the seventh day God completed the work he had been doing; he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken.

Genesis 2:2

Sacred silence fell upon the earth as the King slept. Unseen marvels took place as Jesus descended into Sheol “to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve” and to “proclaim the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there.”

The Son took his mother and father by the hand and raised them. 

Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you. We are one and cannot be separated. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you.2

After a full Sabbath’s rest, a new day would dawn, the eighth day, for “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5).3


1 From an Ancient Homily on Holy Saturday, and Catechism of the Catholic Church 632.

2 From an Ancient Homily on Holy Saturday.

3 Catechism of the Catholic Church 349. 

Wednesday, 4th Week of Lent

Lent 1
In today’s reading from John’s gospel, the cure of the paralyzed man at the pool of Bethsaida sets off criticism of Jesus by Jerusalem’s leaders who accuse him of working on the Sabbath. Others before questioned their absolute proscription of Sabbath work;  God, after all, maintained creation on the Sabbath, babies were born, people died, God passed judgment on that day.

But now the leaders make a greater charge– Jesus claimed to be God’s Son, saying he continued his Father’s work; he had power over life and death; he will judge the living and the dead. These are divine powers.  Jesus claims to be God’s unique Son, true God, true man.

“Who do you say I am?” is a question Jesus raised then and he asks us now. That’s a question our readings from John’s gospel asks through the remainder of this week and into Holy Week.

“Who do you say I am?” is an important question we must answer when we look at the One who teaches in Jerusalem, calls his disciples to join him at table on Holy Thursday, prays in the Garden of Gethsemane, is arrested and sentenced to death, then dies on the cross.  In our public prayers we say:
“He is the Word of God, through whom you made the universe,
the Savior you sent to redeem us…
For our sake he opened his arms on the cross,
He put an end to death,
And revealed the resurrection…” (Eucharistic Prayer 2)

Who do we say he is?

Our personal prayer too rests on this powerful belief.  “Often turn to our holy faith and let it lead you into the bosom and the arms of God. You’ll be blessed if you faithfully follow my advice. When affliction lays heavy on you, you can go to your room, take the crucifix in your hands and give yourself a sermon from it. What a sermon you will hear! How quickly your heart will be calmed.” (Paul of the Cross:Letter 1464)

Lord Jesus,
I believe you are God’s Son,
true God from true God,
I believe you have come to save us.

For Morning and Evening Prayers today.

The Heart of the Sabbath

God reposing on the Sabbath day. Illustration from the first Russian engraved Bible (1696).

30th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday (Year II)

Ephesians 4:32—5:8; Luke 13:10-17 

“On the seventh day God completed the work he had been doing; he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation” (Genesis 2:2-3). 

But Jesus answered them [on the Sabbath], “My Father is at work until now, so I am at work” (John 5:17).

What does it mean for God to be at rest or at work? Unlike creatures who conserve and expend energy, God’s being and action are continuous and simultaneous. 

“For God never ceases from making something or other; but, as it is the property of fire to burn, and of snow to chill, so also it is the property of God to be creating,” wrote Philo of Alexandria, the first-century Jewish philosopher (Allegorical Interpretation I.III).

God continually sustains all things in existence. If at any moment he withdrew, all things would fall into nothingness. “Work” and “rest” are one and the same thing for divinity. 

Mercy is at the heart of God’s being and action. We are called to be imitators of the Father, even on the Sabbath: Be merciful, just as also your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). Merciful actions flow from a merciful heart.

The Son of the God of Genesis, who “rested on the seventh day,” stepped out of the pages of the Torah and demonstrated what the words really mean.

Jesus was teaching in a synagogue on the sabbath. And a woman was there who for eighteen years had been crippled by a spirit; she was bent over, completely incapable of standing erect. When Jesus saw her, he called to her and said, “Woman, you are set free of your infirmity.” He laid his hands on her, and she at once stood up straight and glorified God (Luke 13:10-13).

St. Augustine allegorized the woman to “the whole human race” (Sermon 162B). The kingly and majestic Adam formed from clay became crippled and deformed by separating from God. Jesus took pity on the woman (and on humanity) and healed her. 

But the leader of the synagogue, indignant that Jesus had cured on the sabbath, said to the crowd in reply, “There are six days when work should be done. Come on those days to be cured, not on the sabbath day” (Luke 13:14). 

The holy words of Scripture can be misused by the ill-intentioned. Even the tempter quoted it with great cunning in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13).

The Lord said to him in reply, “Hypocrites! Does not each one of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger and lead it out for watering? This daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound for eighteen years now, ought she not to have been set free on the sabbath day from this bondage?” When he said this, all his adversaries were humiliated; and the whole crowd rejoiced at all the splendid deeds done by him (Luke 13:15-17).

Religious and legal sophistries were unmasked by common sense: Why should mercy be shown to the animals and not to fellow human beings? Jesus lifted up the “daughter of Abraham,” and restored her dignity and stature. The common people “rejoiced” because they had compassion for their sister. The “humiliated” authorities, unable to sympathize, nursed wounded pride. 

Imitating God’s Sabbath rest means cultivating a merciful heart. 

Brothers and sisters: Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ. Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma… For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (Ephesians 4:32-5:2; 8).


Doctor on Call

Christ healing Peter’s mother-in-law (Mosaic in Chora Church, Istanbul) 

22nd Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday (Year II)

Luke 4:38-44

After Jesus left the synagogue, he entered the house of Simon. Simon’s mother-in-law was afflicted with a severe fever, and they interceded with him about her. He stood over her, rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up immediately and waited on them. At sunset, all who had people sick with various diseases brought them to him. He laid his hands on each of them and cured them.

From the synagogue and into the world, Jesus’ work of healing and recreating the cosmos filled the Sabbath and beyond, extending into all space and time. Christ—the synagogue, Sabbath and Temple Incarnate—merged all divisions of the sacred and profane in his person. 

First a man with an unclean spirit, and then a woman with a fever—the Logos breathed new life into both halves of humankind, the masculine and the feminine. 

When the Sabbath ended at sunset, the throng freely solicited the divine physician for his healing services. The aim of the Sabbath—agape in communion—overflowed the boundaries of sacred time as Jesus “laid hands on each of them and cured them.” His flesh may have been weak, exhausted from a long day, but his compassionate spirit overcame fatigue for the sake of his beloved ones.

And demons also came out from many, shouting, “You are the Son of God.” But he rebuked them and did not allow them to speak because they knew that he was the Christ.

Proclamations of his divinity from wily intelligences were silenced so as not to lead the credulous into their confidence. The first genuine realization of the identity of the Christ was reserved for the apostle Peter in the course of time (Matthew 16:16).

At daybreak, Jesus left and went to a deserted place.

The human physician needed a break after being on call for such an extraordinary stretch. A deserted place of silence and solitude beckoned the weary doctor to rest.

The crowds went looking for him, and when they came to him, they tried to prevent him from leaving them.

Jesus’ time was up in this town. He had no inclination to linger and be made a superstar.

But he said to them, “To the other towns also I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, because for this purpose I have been sent.” And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.

The kingdom on foot had miles yet to tread: town after town and synagogue after synagogue, for the fullness of time had come (Galatians 4:4).


Another Point of View

Close-up view of wheat. Licensed by Bluemoose under CC BY-SA 3.0.

15th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday (Year II)

Matthew 12:1-8

Jesus was going through a field of grain on the sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “See, your disciples are doing what is unlawful to do on the sabbath.”

If the wheat plants in this story could speak, they might shake their heads in wonder and ask, “Who is picking on who?”

As Jesus and his disciples were picking their heads of grain, a bunch of busybody Pharisees with wandering eyes began to pick on the pickers. 

A strange scenario! The wheat, for their part, joyfully welcomed the Lord of the sabbath to pick their heads and eat them. That is what they were made for. Never was a greater “honor” bestowed on wheat than to nourish their own Maker, though honor was not in their vocabulary. 

The whole field pricked up their wheat ears as Jesus explained: “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry, how he went into the house of God and ate the bread of offering, which neither he nor his companions but only the priests could lawfully eat?”

Silent applause. A glorious day in the history of wheat was being recounted, when the youthful David, the great champion over Goliath and future king of Israel, nourished himself and his companions with the holy bread at the hands of the noble priest Ahimelech (I Samuel 21:1-6). 

“Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests serving in the temple violate the sabbath and are innocent?”

Deep silence. How were the Pharisees going to respond to that obvious incongruity in their charge against Jesus? If picking grain on the Sabbath was unlawful, why not the more laborious work of temple sacrifice and ritual?

All of this sounded like nonsense to the wheat, for whom nature was simple and straightforward. When a creature was hungry, it ate. When thirsty, it drank. Every day belonged to the Lord of creation; simply to exist was to give him praise. The rules and regulations of humankind were simply baffling, and not a little unnatural (in the humble opinion of the wheat). 

“I say to you, something greater than the temple is here. If you knew what this meant, I desire mercy, not sacrifice, you would not have condemned these innocent men. For the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath.”

Thunderous silent applause from the acres of wheat surrounding the conversation. Mercy! What a novel idea! Didn’t the humans realize that to be was to be merciful? To live was to love? The wheat knew this and gave thanks continually for the sun and soil, water and air, and the diligent hands of the farmer who nurtured them day after day. The simplest things eluded the most intellectual of creatures. 

As Jesus and his disciples departed, the Spirit of the Lord whispered to the wheat, “Today you have nourished your Maker and become his Body and Blood. In days to come you will work with me to divinize his brothers and sisters by feeding them his Body and Blood.”

The wheat entered into a silent alliance with the Spirit but did not consider it an honor. Their obedience was wholly spontaneous and unself-conscious.


Related post: The Law Incarnate

Healer of Withered Hearts

      The Gospel for this Wednesday, January 18th, once again reminds me of our purpose as a church, to bring the healing power of God’s love to each other and to this wounded world, as soon as possible, without delay or excuse:

     “Jesus entered the synagogue. There was a man there who had a withered hand. They watched Jesus closely to see if He would cure him on the sabbath so they might accuse Him. He said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Come up here before us.’ Then He said to the Pharisees, ‘ Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it? ‘ But they remained silent. Looking at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart, Jesus said to the man, ‘ Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out and his hand was restored.” (Mk 3: 1-5)

     With all eyes upon Him Jesus took the opportunity to challenge,teach, and also to heal. Once again Jesus was breaking the rules of His Jewish religion, putting His own life at risk to show us how to live in the Kingdom.

     His challenge : paraphrasing the words of Pope Francis, are we, the Church, an empty museum for “saints”, or are we called to be “a field hospital” for the wounded, the lost, the withered, the sinner? We have many rules that damn the divorced, the gay person, the addict, the non-believer. Can we begin by welcoming, in our hearts and lives, those outsiders, the errant ones, hungry for the meaning in their lives that Jesus can most certainly provide? I don’t know that Jesus will turn them away because “it’s the sabbath “, or for any other reason. Maybe neither should we.

     His lesson: the time to accept and heal is now, today, with everyone we meet. Let us truly stop and see our brothers and sisters. Let us show interest, empathy, love. Let us risk our own lives and dare to reach out to the ones who might not even trust us. Let us risk criticism or rejection for the sake of love of neighbor.

     The healing: with every little act of mercy for others, the love of Christ reaches within our own withered hearts, and heals us as it changes us. With these hearts open to Jesus, let us accept His light, to change our hardened hearts into hearts of flesh and blood, sources of love to the world.

     Our Lord gave His life for us. May we give our lives to Him, and to the healing of His people.

     Orlando Hernandez

Lord of the Sabbath

Jesus and his opponents often clash over the Sabbath, as they do in today’s reading from Luke’s gospel.(Luke 6,1-5) Jesus’ disciples take some grain as they walk through the fields in Galilee. “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” some Pharisees ask. All four gospels cite incidents like this. The question of the Sabbath was raised repeatedly in Jesus’ ministry.

We may think the question is about a Jewish law, but it’s really about God. How would God act if someone was hungry, or thirsty, or in need? That’s not a bad question to ask ourselves as we look out into our world. What would God do for the people we see in need? How would God look at those who belong to a different race or culture or nationality than we do? How would God act towards those who harm others or live unjust lives?

The Sabbath is God’s day, a day to remember who he is and what he has done. It’s not a day that restricts how we live, but a day that expands our vision to God’s vision. It’s a day to help us live other days of our lives. On the Sabbath, God gives us hope.

No wonder Jesus spoke of himself as “Lord of the Sabbath,” for he reveals the God we want to know. Too bad so many think of him as someone who restricts the way we live. It’s just the opposite. He teaches how live and offers a hope beyond any we could conceive.