1) Opening prayer
Father of heaven and earth,
hear our prayers,
and show us the way to Your peace in the world.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2) Gospel Reading - Mark 3:1-6
Jesus entered the synagogue. There was a man there who had a withered hand. They watched Jesus closely to see if he would cure him on the sabbath so that they might accuse him. He said to the man with the withered hand, "Come up here before us." Then he said to the Pharisees, "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. The Pharisees went out and immediately took counsel with the Herodians against him to put him to death.
• In today’s Gospel we meditate on the last of the five conflicts which Mark presents at the beginning of his Gospel (Mk 2:1 to 3:6). The four previous conflicts were provoked by the enemies of Jesus. This last one is provoked by Jesus himself and reveals the seriousness of the conflict between Him and the religious authority of His time. It is a conflict of life or death. It is important to note the category of enemies which has arisen in this conflict. It is a question of the Pharisees and the Herodians, that is, of the religious and civil authority. When Mark wrote his Gospel in the year 70, many of them still remembered very well the terrible persecution of the 60’s, perpetrated by Nero against the Christian communities. In hearing that Jesus Himself had been threatened to death and how He behaved in the midst of these dangerous conflicts, the Christians found a source of courage and direction so as not to be discouraged along the journey.
• Jesus in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Jesus enters the Synagogue. He had the habit of participating in the celebrations of the people. A man was there who had a withered hand, a physically disabled person who could not participate fully, because he was considered impure. Even if he was present in the community, he was marginalized. He had to remain far away from the rest.
• The concern of the enemies of Jesus. The enemies were observing Him to see if Jesus would cure on Saturday. They wanted to accuse Him. The second commandment of the Law of God ordered to “sanctify the Sabbath”. It was prohibited to work on that day (Ex 20:8-20). The Pharisees said that to cure a sick person was the same as working. And for this reason they taught, “It is prohibited to cure on the Sabbath!” They placed the law above the well-being of people. Jesus was an uncomfortable person for them, because He placed the well-being of people above the norms and laws. The concern of the Pharisees and of the Herodians was not zeal for the Law, but rather the will and the desire to accuse and get rid of Jesus.
• Get up and stand in the middle! Jesus asks two things of the physically disabled person: “Get up and stand in the middle!” The word “get up” is the same one which the communities of Mark also used to say: “rise, resurrect”. The disabled person has to “rise”, to get up, to live in the middle and to take his place in the center of the community! The marginalized, the excluded, must live in the middle! They cannot be excluded. They must be together with the others! Jesus calls the excluded one to stand in the middle.
• Jesus’ question leaves the others without knowing what to say. Jesus asks, “Is it permitted on the Sabbath to do good or to do bad, to save life or to kill?” He could have asked, “On the Sabbath, is it permitted to cure: yes or no?!” And in this way all would have answered, “No, it is not permitted!” But Jesus changed the question. For Him, in that concrete case, “to cure” was the same as “to do good” or “to save a life”, and not “to kill!” With His question Jesus put His finger on the wound. He denounced the prohibition of curing on the Sabbath, considering this to be a system of death. A wise question! The enemies do not know what to answer.
• Jesus looked angrily around at them, grieved to find them so obstinate. Jesus reacts with indignation and sadness before the attitude of the Pharisees and the Herodians. He orders the man to stretch out his hand, and He cures him. By curing the disabled man, Jesus shows that He does not agree with the system which places the law above life. In response to Jesus’ action, the Pharisees and the Herodians decide to kill Him. With this decision they confirm that, in fact, they are defenders of a system of death! They are not afraid to kill in order to defend the system against Jesus, who attacks and criticizes it in the name of life.
4) Personal questions
• The disabled man was called to stand in the center of the community. In our community, do the poor and the excluded have a privileged place?
• Have you, yourself, ever been confronted by people such as the Herodians and the Pharisees, who place the law above the well-being of people? What did you feel at that moment? Did you agree with them or did you challenge them?
5) Concluding prayer
Yet You are merciful to all,
and nothing that You have made disgusts You,
Lord, lover of life! (Wis 11:23-26)