By David Baumann
Feast of St. Michael and All Angels
A Reading from the Gospel of Luke 6:1-11
1 One Sabbath while Jesus was going through some grain fields, his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them. 2 But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 3 Jesus answered, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 How he entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and gave some to his companions?” 5 Then he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”
6 On another Sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. 7 The scribes and the Pharisees were watching him to see whether he would cure on the Sabbath, so that they might find grounds to bring an accusation against him. 8 But he knew what they were thinking, and he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come and stand in the middle.” He got up and stood there. 9 Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?” 10 After looking around at all of them, he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was restored. 11 But they were filled with fury and began discussing with one another what they might do to Jesus.
My late grandmother-in-law, a Jewish refugee from pogroms in Russia around the turn of the 20th century, tried hard to please God by keeping the religious laws and customs she had known from childhood. On the Sabbath, it was forbidden to kindle a fire. For her, turning on an electric light was kindling a fire, since it created a spark when the circuit was completed. So she hired a little Gentile boy to come into her apartment to turn on her lights when the Sabbath began, and to turn them off when the Sabbath was over. For her, it was an offering of obedience to God, and I was blessed by that witness. But she did not condemn others or declare them offensive to God if they turned on their own lights on the Sabbath.
Surely the fury-driven self-righteousness of the Pharisees in today’s lesson is one of the most heartrending encounters with Jesus as found in the gospels. The man whose shriveled hand was cured found his astounding delight shamed and condemned by “the authorities.”
But Jesus himself made the healing a public witness: “Get up and stand in front of everyone.” It was a testimony to the love of God and a profound teaching about what the Sabbath really means, and therefore a clue to what tradition is meant to do. Jesus most clearly does not “set aside” tradition. He sets it on a secure footing by uncompromisingly refusing to let any tradition take the place of God. “Not one jot or tittle will pass from the law” (Matt. 5:17-18). Rubrics, canon law, preferred Bible translations, traditions, etc. are all important. But they are meant to point to God rather than pretend to have a life of their own.
David Baumann served for nearly 50 years as an Episcopal priest in the Dioceses of Los Angeles and Springfield. He has published nonfiction, science fiction, and short stories. Two exuberant small daughters make sure he never gets any rest.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Mundu – The Province of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan
Church of St. Edward the Martyr, New York