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Charity, Mercy and Compassion Thwart Legalism

I daresay we have all heard the expression, “Politics makes strange bedfellows.”  According to references on the internet, the origin of this statement comes from Shakespeare who wrote, “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows” in his play “The Tempest.”

This aphorism can be applied to today’s Gospel passage in which the Pharisees and Herodians plot together to rid themselves of Jesus who is, for all intents and purposes, threatening their political domination of the people.  Jesus is endearing the people to himself through his words and actions.  He has also shamed them in his question, “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil.” 

The original intent of the Law about keeping the Sabbath was a matter of reserving a day for the Lord.  The people of Israel were no different than us.  Most of their time was taken up with commerce, with providing themselves and their families with enough to get through the day.  The majority of the people lived a subsistence life style.  All they wanted to do was get through the day.  Work was an essential part of their existence.  However, the day of rest was provided not so they could rest from their labors but rather to give them the time and the freedom to pay attention to their relationship with God.  The pursuit of money has always impeded the development of the spiritual relationship.  It is as true for their time as it is for ours.

Yesterday’s Gospel accused the disciples of “working” on the Sabbath because they plucked grain from the crops as they walked through the fields.  Today, Jesus builds on the assertion that the Sabbath was made for man by curing the man with a withered hand.  So strict were the rules about Sabbath labor that physicians were forbidden to help a sick person unless they were in danger of dying.  The man had lived with this disability for years and was not in danger of dying.  However, Jesus heals the man anyway.  When the Pharisees object, he shames them by questioning their sincerity in “keeping the Sabbath” holy.

Pharisees and Herodians were mortal enemies.  Yet the Gospel tells us that they were willing to plot together to get rid of Jesus.  Politics made them strange bedfellows.

Both yesterday’s Gospel and today’s speak to the issue of letting rules and regulations get in the way of charity and compassion.  This is certainly just as much of an issue today as it was for these people.  Let us always keep the words “mercy and compassion” as our watchwords.

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

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