|Friends, today’s Gospel shows an angry Jesus healing a man with a withered hand. Whenever the Bible speaks of the divine anger, which it does a lot, it is talking poetically about God’s passion to set things right. God doesn’t go in and out of emotional states. He doesn’t fall into snits. He longs to establish justice on the earth and stands athwart those forces opposed to his purpose. This is precisely what Jesus does toward the Pharisees in today’s Gospel.
The episode concerns the idea of justice. Now, what is justice? I love Plato’s simple definition: justice is rendering to each his due. It is fairness, or, to use more biblical language, “righteousness.” It means doing the right thing. To state it negatively, it is not to cheat, not to take advantage of, not to deny someone his rights.
A steady teaching of the Bible is that God stands for justice and wants us to stand for it too. Jesus says, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” These are words that have inspired social reformers from William Wilberforce to William Lloyd Garrison to Martin Luther King to John Paul II. Let’s reflect on them today.
“Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?”
Words from our gospel today, according to Mark.
Jesus cures a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, in the Synagogue.
And this apparent misstep is enough that they begin to plot his death. That’s how bad it was.
Jesus looks past the letter of institutional law and extends his mercy to this man.
His mercy has no bounds and no limits.
But this reading is a two-edged sword.
It’s inspirational when we read it from the position of one being offered mercy.
It’s demanding when we read it as one called to extend mercy.
Mercy is cheap when we’re the one on the receiving end.
But when it costs us something, we sometimes find ourselves a little stingy.
“Give until it hurts” was a small phrase a priest friend quoted often.
Give, even when it exacts some pain.
Give, without counting the cost.
Give, even when they don’t deserve it, legally.
How often does “the law” get the last word over mercy?
Mercy will always cost us a little something.
For Jesus, it cost his life.