On another Sabbath, Jesus went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Get up and stand in front of everyone.” So, he got up and stood there.
Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”
He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was completely restored. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus. (New International Version)
Lectio Divina is an ancient Latin term which means “spiritual reading.” It means to read Holy Scripture not just to know its contents, but to experience its power to restore, heal, transform, and draw close to God.
Lectio Divina is a simple way to prayerfully read Scripture, meditate on its message, and listen for what God may be saying for us to do. It can be done privately, or with a small group of people. The goal is to become more Christ-like.
Lectio Divina is based upon reading a selected text of Scripture three times. Each reading is followed by a period of silence after which each person is given the opportunity to briefly share what they are hearing as they listen to God (if done in a group).
For today’s Gospel lesson, I invite you to give it three different readings, as is common to a Lectio Divina approach:
- In the first reading, read the text aloud slowly and carefully. Listen for a word, phrase or idea that captures you attention. As you recognize a word, phrase or idea, focus your attention on it, repeating it several times.
- In the second reading, focus your attention on how the selected word, phrase or idea speaks to your life right now. What does it mean for you today? How is Christ speaking to you about your life through this word, phrase or idea?
- In the third reading, focus on what God is calling you to do or to become. Experiencing God’s presence changes us. It calls us to something. What is that something?
So, here are my reflections from reading today’s Gospel lesson three times:
- In my first reading, the phrase “watched him closely” stood out to me. As I sat and pondered this phrase, I thought about how there are always people watching us. How I live my life, and what I say, are continually on display. Mostly, this is a good thing, because I believe that modeling an authentic and devout life to Christ is important. Yet, whenever someone is watching us closely, in the sense of continually looking over our shoulder, or scrutinizing every word and action so as to find fault, this is a very bad thing.
- In my second reading, I hear God speaking to me about how Jesus experienced this bad sort of watching, and yet, he did not let it deter him from doing good and following through on what is right by healing a man on the Sabbath. In fact, Christ confidently had the man with the shriveled hand stand up in front of everyone. He wanted the entire congregation, including those who were watching him with judgmental eyes, to see exactly what he was doing. Jesus neither healed him quietly nor waited till after the synagogue service was over; he was very open about what was happening.
- In my third reading, I felt Jesus beside me – not looking for something to correct or chastise me about – but rather putting his arm around my shoulder, knowing exactly what it feels like to be the object of criticism, scorn, and malevolent plotting against. I sense my solidarity with Christ, my union with him, believing that nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ, my Savior and Lord, who always has my back. I hear Jesus graciously calling me to stand firm and openly do what is good and right, every day, no matter who is watching or why they are watching.
Today’s Gospel lesson shows us Christ’s disapproval of those who focus so narrowly on the traditions and laws of religion that they end up losing sight of God’s message.
For the Christian, the message is a gospel of grace, not condemnation. Jesus challenges the legalistic way of keeping the Sabbath holy by asking a penetrating question: “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?”
By showing compassion to the man with the withered hand, Jesus points us to a way of holiness that’s a whole lot more than keeping the law and performing rituals.
By healing the man, Jesus teaches us to respond to God’s call to do good and save lives. Traditions should never interfere with our compassion for those in need.
If you haven’t already done so, give the Lectio Divina a healthy try – because God is always speaking to us; we just need to be still and silent in order to hear.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, and grant me your peace. Amen.