Auxiliary Bishop Sylvester David offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Friday 29 October 2021, during this time of the Coronavirus pandemic. It is also available on the Archdiocese of Cape Town’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. Please also see below the text of his reflection, primarily for the deaf.
We honour this time of the Synod by praying the Adsumus prayer:
We stand before You, Holy Spirit,
as we gather together in Your name.
With You alone to guide us,
make Yourself at home in our hearts;
Teach us the way we must go
and how we are to pursue it.
We are weak and sinful;
do not let us promote disorder.
Do not let ignorance lead us down the wrong path nor partiality influence our actions.
Let us find in You our unity
so that we may journey together to eternal life and not stray from the way of truth
and what is right.
All this we ask of You, who are at work in every place and time, in the communion of the Father and the Son, forever and ever. Amen.
Is it against the law to cure a man on the sabbath? Lk 14:1-6
“Now on a sabbath day Jesus had gone for a meal to the house of one of the leading Pharisees; and they watched him closely. There in front of him was a man with dropsy, and Jesus addressed the lawyers and Pharisees. ‘Is it against the law’ he asked ‘to cure a man on the sabbath, or not?’ But they remained silent, so he took the man and cured him and sent him away. Then he said to them, ‘Which of you here, if his son falls into a well, or his ox, will not pull him out on a sabbath day without hesitation?’ And to this they could find no answer” (Lk 14:1-6).
First an explanation of the attitude of the Pharisees. We are told that they “watched” Jesus closely. The word used indicates extreme hostility. They looked at Jesus with disdain and wanted to trap him, and in so doing, opposed the works of God.
When conducting an Ignatian retreat, retreat masters often ask retreatants to enter into the scene. Miracle stories can be fruitfully encountered in this fashion and can tell us a lot about ourselves. The idea is to identify oneself with any of the characters in the text, or even to see that many of the characters show us aspects of ourselves e.g. in the Mary and Martha story (Lk 10:38-42) one can identify with either of the sisters, or one can see the attitudes of both in oneself. In the story for today one can identify with the man who was in need, with the Pharisees, or with Jesus. Let’s take them one at a time.
The man in need had a painful condition which caused his body to retain water. This was often a sign of a heart problem. In identifying with this man, I need to see my need. What is it that makes me disabled and helpless? Water retention (dropsy) might not be my particular issue but what is it that prevents me from having a fuller life? It could be an aspect of my social or family relationships. It could be a dependence on alcohol, or it could be a need for forgiveness. Illness comes in many forms and the most dangerous ones are the invisible ones such as being trapped in a cycle of anxiety and depression, or enduring an abusive relationship.
It is possible that this man was planted “in front of” (Lk 14:2) Jesus quite deliberately in order to see what he would do on the sabbath. There are numerous disputes that they had with Jesus regarding the sabbath (cf. Lk 4:38; 6:6; 13:13). Planting a needy man “in front of” Jesus is not as far fetched as it might sound because of the hostility shown to Jesus by their subversive monitoring of him as shown in the first verse of the passage. Do I allow myself to be used for purposes which are destructive? This can happen when I participate in negative conversations about others, or when I take delight in their misfortune.
The second possibility for character identification is the group called “lawyers and Pharisees” (Lk 14:3) in this passage. These people were hostile to Jesus. They were so hell bent on keeping the letter of the law that they forgot about the spirit of the law. They knew the catechism of their day but failed to recognise the Messiah who was lord of the sabbath (Lk 6:5). Above all, they made a mockery of their religion by failing to show mercy. Am I like that, with full knowledge of the rubrics but without mercy? The prophets raged about the practice of religion which did not incorporate mercy. Is 58:1-12 is a case in point. Amos 4:1-3 and 5:21-27 are other examples. These people liked to find fault but instead of looking into the mirror at themselves, they looked at others through their microscopes.
The third position is that of Jesus who acted with compassion. The result was that the suffering man was restored. Recently Covid has shown us many such people. These are medical workers, people who ensure that the poor are fed and many other persons of goodwill who routinely bring life to others. Am I counted among them? It is not difficult to make people feel better about themselves. Even a kind word of thanks to those who serve and work at supermarket checkout points can help bring a human face to the space occupied by human beings.
Let us pray: Father, our current struggle presents us with the raw materials from which our Christian responses are fashioned. Help us to imitate your Son more closely in all we do and say so that we may worship you in spirit and in truth. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.