The Works of Mercy by Jen Norton

Today’s Bible reading

Now one Sabbath when Jesus went to dine at the house of a leader of the Pharisees, they were watching him closely. There right in front of him was a man whose body was swollen with fluid. So Jesus asked the experts in religious law and the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” But they remained silent. So Jesus took hold of the man, healed him, and sent him away. Then he said to them, “Which of you, if you have a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” But they could not reply to this. — Luke 14:1-6

More thoughts for meditation

The Pharisees and law professors were speechless. Jesus often left people puzzling over what to say (see Luke 20:1-8). People were often speechless because their obvious response would be and admission of guilt. This approach is exemplary of how God works with us (Romans 8:28). Jesus is working to bring the most good to every situation, prodding resistant people to join him in his cause. He is extending an invitation for his detractors to humbly engage with him in truth rather than oppressing people, hiding behind their façade of status while people have fallen into “the well.” He is inviting them into God’s heart and into their own.

Unfortunately, Jesus’ invitation lands on deaf ears. The Pharisees and professors of Torah have been participating and propagating the cultural current of marginalizing the vulnerable. Not only is this easy to do because they hold influence in political and religious sectors of society, it is easy because people like this crippled man are coerced into playing along. The Professors and Pharisees prioritized maintaining their own power over what should be a natural, compassionate response.

Jesus’s question is intended to penetrate the barriers erected before our hearts: “If your child or livelihood were endangered, even on the sabbath, wouldn’t you act? That’s what I am doing, despite your doubts about me.” Notice how his  rhetorical question implies an obvious answer. In a single question Jesus rebukes the upside down social priorities of the powerful and offers them an opportunity to confess and repent. In doing so, he shows us the priorities of God and of God’s society. In healing the crippled man, even on the sabbath, he claims the man, along with all of us, as God’s child. Relationship and mercy has a higher value than following normative interpretations of the law.

Suggestions for action

Sometimes, we feel tempted to give a non-answer when Jesus asks a question which is a little too spot on. It may be in times like this that Jesus is calling us to confess and repent, like he called the powerful in the story above, so we can participate in the reparations coming from God to those currently oppressed. 

It may also be that Jesus asked the question to the crippled man as much as he was asking the socially powerful in the room. How have you felt marginalized by society or religion? Jesus’ question is directed to you asking if you’ll participate in the new life God is cultivating on Earth as in Heaven or you will remain defined by your oppressors.

Take a few minutes and reflect silently on where you are in this story. Maybe read it again and imagine yourself in the room. If you put yourself in the shoes of the Pharisee and of the cripple, what is Jesus asking you?

Pray: Holy Spirit, open my heart and my imagination to be with Jesus. What do you want me to hear?