daily biblical sermons

Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Monday, 23rd Week of the Year, September 11, 2017
Colossians 1:24-2:3, Psalm 61, Luke 6:6-11

Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted


"On another sabbath, when he [Jesus] entered the synagogue and taught, a man was there whose right hand was withered. And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him" (Luke 6:6-7).

This is the account of Jesus healing a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. For the Pharisees, healings of sicknesses that were not life-threatening should not be done on the Sabbath. This man's condition was clearly not life-threatening. It could wait until another day. But Jesus cures him anyway, and all can see that the man's hand was miraculously restored. God had acted through Jesus.

This filled the Pharisees with fury, for they could not deny that God had acted on Jesus' side. All could see the man's restored hand, yet Jesus broke the Pharisees' law by healing a non-life-threatening sickness on the Sabbath. The Pharisees were furious that God had backed up Jesus for breaking their law, and they couldn't deny that God had miraculously cured a non-life-threatening sickness on the Sabbath through Jesus. So they discussed what they might do to Jesus.

The real issue here is who Jesus is. He is the Son of God, the Messiah, and the Savior of the world. He comes to bring a new covenant, one in which he himself is the mediator. Furthermore, for Jesus and his followers justification and reconciliation with God is not to be obtained by following God's law, but as a free gift of grace, because of Christ's atoning death, to be received not by law observance or good works, but simply by faith, which is an outstretched empty hand receiving God's free declaration of acquittal and justification.

I think it is good to see Jesus' Sabbath controversies with the Pharisees in this context. Jesus thus greatly simplifies the law. He is founding a religion open to people of all nations and cultures. It is no longer to be a national religion of one nation only, the Jews, who had their own national laws, traditions, ceremonies, diet, and way of offering sacrifices. All this was to be done away with by Jesus. All that would remain of the complicated Jewish law of the Old Testament plus all its rabbinic additions is God's basic moral law, the Ten Commandments, plus the teaching and example of Jesus and of the other New Testament books. Love of God and neighbor are the most important commandments of the new covenant, which Jesus founds.

The honoring of the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments that Jesus followers will continue to observe, but not in the same way. They will change its day from Saturday to Sunday and will observe it as a day of public worship and rest from servile work. It could be a day of study, reading, refreshment, and rest, but most of the Jewish details about which kinds of work could and could not be done on the Sabbath were dropped. We should, though, keep the spirit of the Sabbath and make it a restful day to refresh our spirit, mind, and body.

Today's Sabbath controversy with the Pharisees involved the healing of a man with a withered hand. Jesus healed many people during his earthly life, but his main purpose for coming into the world was to bring us spiritual healing, that is, to save us from our sins and reconcile us with God. Jesus' physical healings were important in order to get people to believe in him and his message of salvation.

The apostles also miraculously healed many people for the same reason, namely to provide a reasonable proof that they were preaching true doctrine. But it is their doctrine of redemption by Christ that is really the main point of Christianity, and after the passing of the apostolic age, miraculous healings receded greatly in both number and importance. They were important in the life of Jesus and his first followers to get the Christian movement started, to give people reasonable evidence for believing that Jesus really was what he claimed to be, the Son of God, the Jewish Messiah, and the Savior of the world. After the first generation of Christians had died and the faith was well established, miraculous cures faded in importance and frequency.

What then remains is a community (the Christian Church) that believes in Jesus as their Savior from sin and giver of righteousness. This community soon became predominantly Gentile and no longer Jewish, and the ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic law were no longer observed (circumcision, dietary laws, and animal sacrifices in the temple, which was destroyed in 70 AD).

In fact, following the writings of St. Paul, Christians made the important discovery that justification before God was by faith in Christ, not by good works. This set Christianity very much against rabbinic Judaism and its belief that one justified oneself before God by a strict and detailed observance of many minute laws that were added on to the Mosaic law by the rabbis and Pharisees concerning, for example, exactly what kinds of work could and could not be done on the Sabbath, as we see in today's reading where even miraculous healings were forbidden on the Sabbath by the Pharisees.

So basically Christianity was a community that believed in Jesus who heals us from our sins by making up for them before God, by making amends for them by his death, by making reparation for them on the cross to atone for them, by suffering our just punishment for them instead of us suffering it. Our faith in him then enables God to credit Christ's sufferings for our sins to our account so that as this man with a withered hand was cured by Jesus, we too might be cured by him from our sins. God counts Jesus' death on the cross as full reparation and satisfaction for our sins. So by our act of faith in him, God acquits and justifies us, making us righteous and holy in his sight.

Then we are to follow God's simplified moral law (the Ten Commandments) to grow in sanctification, but we are freed from all the additions that the rabbis and Pharisees made to the Old Testament as well as from the merely ceremonial and national aspects of the Mosaic law (circumcision and dietary and sacrificial laws as well as the merely national Israelite laws).


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