When reformist become terrorist – Monday, 23rd week in ordinary time – Luke 6:6-11

When reformist become terrorist – Monday, 23rd week in ordinary time – Luke 6:6-11

This is the third of the six stories concerned with Jesus’ liberating action on the Sabbath and is linked to the second incident which takes place just before the reading of today in which Jesus’ disciples pluck ears of corn and eat it.

Even though the pericope of today ends with the words “they (the Pharisees) were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus” ( verse 11) there is no evidence in Luke’s Gospel to show that the Pharisees were responsible in plotting the death of Jesus. Chapter 19 is the last time we hear of the Pharisees after which they disappear from Luke’s Gospel entirely.

So this text must be placed in our understanding of who the Pharisees were and what is the point being communicated in this passage or we might end up misdirecting our anger at the Pharisees, making them as we have, our favourite whipping boys.

In the 400 years before the coming of John the Baptist, the silence of the prophetic voice was filled by a group of zealous people known as the Pharisees or ‘separated ones’ . Primarily their aim was to protect the people of Israel from being corrupted by the process of Hellenization (embracing Greek culture and language). In short they could well be called reformist for they desired a true change in the faith of Israel which had now been corrupted.

But reformists can become terrorist! Over a period of time, in their effort to protect the law and the Sabbath, the Pharisees began to burden the Sabbath and the people with restriction. The letter of the law is preserved and the spirit is non-existent.  It is in this context that we must read these two Sabbath controversies (verses 1-5 and todays Gospel of verses 6-11)

Luke’s purpose of penning these two Sabbath controversies back to back is to make a Christological point, that the Lord Jesus is the Son of Man and master of the Sabbath and not the other way round as perceived by the Pharisees. 

There are some interesting details in today’s Gospel. This is the second incident in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus performs a miracle in the synagogue; the first one being an exorcism.  It is here that Jesus encounters a man with a withered hand. Jesus and his disciples were not prohibited by the law to ‘do good’ on the Sabbath but the question is was is it necessary in this case? In all probability this man had a withered hand from birth and for the Pharisees such a healing could wait one more day.

For Jesus, ‘doing good’ should never wait, that’s the point He makes; if you can do it, do good now. It is also interesting to note that technically there is no physical healing performed by Jesus. He simply asks the man to stand in the centre; he asks a question to the Pharisees who do not answer and then performs NO ACTION but only speaks words, “stretch out your hand”. There was no prohibition on speaking on the Sabbath and so Jesus has broken no Sabbath law, yet the Pharisees take umbrage.

While on the topic of the Sabbath, it is good to remind ourselves as Christians that we celebrate the Lords day. The Sunday is designated and mandated in the Old Testament as a day of rest from work SO THAT WE MAY SERVE HIM and not so that we serve ourselves. The Sunday is not meant to be a fun day, It is worship day, it’s HIS day. It would be nice if the Lord was given his due and we made Jesus the’ Lord of the Sabbath’ once more.

Fr Warner D’Souza

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