Tuesday, January 17, 2017

To Save Life

It is even more obvious if another priest is raised up after the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become so, not by a law expressed in a commandment concerning physical descent but by the power of a life that cannot be destroyed. For it is testified: You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.  Hebrews 7:15-17

"Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?" But they remained silent. Looking around at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart, Jesus said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out and his hand was restored. Mark 3:4-5

Firefighter's Prayer

When I am called to duty, God, wherever flames may rage,
Give me strength to save a life, whatever be its age.
Help me embrace a little child before it is too late,
Or save an older person from the horror of that fate.
Enable me to be alert, and hear the weakest shout,
Quickly and efficiently to put the fire out.
I want to fill my calling, to give the best in me,
To guard my friend and neighbor, and protect his property.
And if according to Your will I must answer death's call,
Bless with your protecting hand, my family one and all.

Jesus, like me, has a tendency to wears his emotions on his sleeve (or face in my case). Today, we witness Jesus, “…looking around at (the Pharisees) with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart.”  This scene plays out as another in a series of confrontations that St. Mark related within the first three chapters of his Good (?) News. 

Jesus has already forgiven the person who the Pharisees may see as the unforgivable (the paralytic man). Jesus has already accepted the persons whom the Pharisees see as the unacceptable (the tax collector and the sinners). How inappropriate! Compounding the offense at Mosaic Law, Jesus now goes to work on the Sabbath! For shame!

The healing is the most important action in today’s Gospel from the perspective of the man with the withered hand. However, something still deeper is happening here in addition to that powerful example.

In making his decision for action, Jesus uses a traditional rabbinical test: What is necessary “to save a life?” In the Hebrew Bible Book of Maccabees, the Jews were gearing up to fight the Gentiles. They decided to act (fight) on the Sabbath in order to preserve life (by not getting slaughtered by the invading Gentiles).  On that day they came to this decision: “Let us fight against anyone who attacks us on the sabbath, so that we may not all die as our kindred died in their secret refuges.” (1 Maccabees 2:41). 

Knowing that his audience would be familiar with this test, Jesus uses it as his basis for action and for setting up a New Order/Orthodoxy.  However, once again, the Pharisees are silent in the face of the question posed by Jesus.  Ironically, Jesus will not take on such silence until he stands before Herod on Good Friday.

The plot thickens.

Many people among us have professions which do not allow for Sabbath Rest.  Nurses. Firefighters. Doctors. Police officers. First Aid Squads.  These and many others have chosen professions which require work on the Sabbath.  Others have jobs which they have no choice but to work on the Sabbath. 

There used to be so-called Blue Laws that required business like shopping centers and car dealers to close on Sunday.  Challenges in the courts have made those obsolete. Sometimes, those are hardly considered life-or-death businesses.  When I worked as a car salesman in Lynn, Massachusetts, those blue laws were still in effect in 1979.  However, our boss required us to walk the lot for Sunday shoppers who come by because they thought they would not be badgered by a salesman. They were probably as surprised as the Pharisees watching Jesus cure the man with the withered hand in the temple on the Sabbath.

Keep these Sunday workers in your prayers and support them at every corner – like when your firefighter knocks for a contribution to buy a new truck or walks the hot street corners on Labor Day Weekend offering up his or her time to collect funds – not for fighting fires – but for fighting muscular dystrophy.

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