30th Week OT (F)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Ss. Domenico e Sisto, Roma
Rules, regulations, laws are all attempts to express the most basic principles of a civilization. Traffic laws are meant to embody the need for everyone to drive safely. Food safety laws express a common concern that we are not killed by what we eat and drink. If a traffic law required a driver to speed through a school zone, or a food safety law required soda makers to dose their drinks with poison, we would all agree that these laws violate the fundamental principles they were created to express. In the Church, we have canon law, rubrics for liturgical celebrations, moral precepts, and dogmatic definitions—all designed to express the first commandment of Christ to his disciples: love God, neighbor, and self with the whole of one's body, mind, spirit, and strength. None of the Church's rules or regs mean a thing if they fail to help us follow the law of love. For example, Jesus confronts the scholars and Pharisees with a chance to condemn him when he heals a man on the Sabbath. When asked if he should break the Sabbath law by curing the man, the scholars and Pharisees remain silent. Rather than protest or argue, they simply keep their mouths shut, choosing instead to watch and wait to see what Jesus will do.
What does Jesus do? He responds to their uncaring silence with a miracle. He heals the man and asks, “Who among you, if your son or ox falls into a cistern, would not immediately pull him out on the sabbath day?” Again, the scholars and Pharisees remain silent, “unable to answer his question.” Why are they unable or unwilling to answer? It never seems to have been a problem for them in the past! If they were to admit that they would rescue their sons or their oxen on the Sabbath, then they would be admitting to the possibility that the Sabbath laws against work are not absolute. If they were to admit that they would leave their sons or their oxen to die, then they would be revealed to be cold-hearted legalists. The first choice makes them lawbreakers. The second choice makes them moral monsters. That they seem to understand these choices is a sign of hope that they not wholly lost to love, not wholly given over to the brutality of bureaucratic minutiae.
The freedom we enjoy as children of God is the freedom of those who know and understand that we were created by divine love and re-created by that love incarnated as one who walks among us as one of us. Christ came to us as the Word made flesh not the Law made flesh. He came to us as the first principle and culmination of his Father's plan for all creation: to bring us back to the One who is Love. No law or regulation or dogma can supersede its fundamental intent, its ultimate purpose. The fundamental intent, the ultimate purpose of Christ's life, death, and resurrection is our salvation. If we must heal on the Sabbath in order to give witness to God's love, then we heal on the Sabbath. We are slaves to divine love and obedience to this master is our salvation.
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