A DEVOTIONAL THOUGHT BASED ON THE GOSPEL OF LUKE 13:10-17 FOR THE 5TH SUNDAY OF THE GREAT LENT.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
On this Sunday, we are asked to meditate upon the passage from the gospel according to Saint Luke 13: 10-17. It is all about a biblical episode where a woman having a deformity and disability of doubly-bent is seen attending a Jewish synagogue. Seeing her, Christ called her to him and healed her. Following this act of healing, she was able to look up right and praise God. Till then, though she used to visit the synagogue, she would not have been able to look upward to heaven for worship. Here we see Jesus, out of his care and compassion, intervenes in her life without waiting for her to ask for healing.
Like the woman in case, many of us may be regular church goers, but are not in a position to lift up our eyes to God from whence comes our help. Even though every evening we say along with the Psalmists, "I lift up my eyes to the hills where does my help come from"? (Psalm 121:1) and "But my eyes are fixed on you, O Sovereign Lord; in you I take refuge do not give me over to death"(Ps 141:8), we may not be able to pray with concentration or presence of mind and with a sense of divine presence. Satan very often prevents us from approaching God in worship. Perhaps, we may not have physical deformity, but we are often spiritually deformed and hence are unable to worship God properly. Just like the crippled woman, we become spiritually crippled by the evil influence of Satan.
We are often being distracted by our mundane thoughts and hence are not able to lift up our minds, intellects, and hearts to where Christ sits. We have to overcome our inclination to selfish ulterior motives by invariably attending the holy service in the Church. We have to set aside our worldly business for the sake of heaven. Even if we don't ask for anything while attending the liturgy, Christ, our Lord, will certainly take care of our needs.
The famous story of poor Kuchela meeting Lord Krishna, the King of Dwaraka, illustrates this point. In `Gurukula', Kuchela was Krishna's best friend and associate. Their friendship surpassed all social divisions and Krishna accepted Kuchela (Sudhama) wholeheartedly. Kuchela was very poor and as he began leading his family life, he found it difficult to make both ends meet. So he thought he should meet Krishna and seek some help to get rid of his poverty. He went to Dwaraka with a packet of borrowed rice flakes as a gift for Lord Krishna. Seeing the huge palace and big army of Lord Krishna in Dwaraka, he became awe-struck. Krishna invited Kuchela to his palace and had taken care of Kuchela with much love and hospitality. Kuchela was, in fact, accorded a warm reception. After some time, without revealing his purpose of visit, Kuchela left for home. He did not ask Krishna for financial support as he was embarrassed to reveal his pathetic plight of poverty. Moreover, he was overwhelmed with joy of meeting his good old friend after a long span of time. But in the story, it is seen God fulfilling his wishes in a miraculous and in quite a mysterious way for He understood Kuchela's dire needs. Kuchela knew the goodness of Lord Krishna after reaching home. He could see his family in a palatial mansion clad in new clothes and ornaments and was having sumptuous food.
This story tells us that God will be taking care of his devotee even if he/she doesn't ask for anything and will be accepting whatever the devotee has to offer to Him even if it is very small. It is not what the quantity but the quality that matters. What all we need is to have the willingness or readiness to be in the presence of God. We must be able to yearn for the house of the Lord and rejoice in being there (Psalms 122, 84). When we are at the vicinity of God, we must forget about ourselves, our needs and worries, just like St. Peter did at the solemn hours of the Transfiguration of our Lord on the mount Tabor (Luke 9: 33). Like King David, our priority and purpose of worship should be an enjoyment of the blissful experience of heaven rather than getting our worldly craving fulfilled (Psalm 21: 4). To a true devotee, liturgy is a labour of love.
This event in the life of Christ, the incarnate, shows how merited was Jesus' condemnation of the Pharisees for their spiritual blindness and hardness of heart. Instead of seeing the hand of God in the miracle, the great favour done by Jesus to a suffering member of their community, their narrow rigid minds saw only a violation of one of their invented thirty nine works, forbidden on the Sabbath.
The fourth of the Ten Commandments given by God to Moses, "Remember to keep the Sabbath day holy", (Exodus 20:8) exerted an influence on the life of the Jews unequalled by any other law. It occurred regularly and constantly in their lives; its transgression could be observed by everyone. Just as God rested on the seventh day of creation, so they were to rest from work. The Pharisees had compiled a list of thirty-nine `works' forbidden on the Sabbath; the exact observance of all these detailed precepts was the essential of their lives.
Over the centuries, the Jewish religious leaders had added rule after rule to God's law. For example, God's law said the Sabbath is a day of rest (Exodus 20: 10-11). But the religious leaders added to that law, creating one that said, "You cannot heal on the Sabbath" because that's "Work".
Why was healing considered work? The religious leaders saw healing as part of a physician's profession, and practising one's profession on the Sabbath was prohibited. It was probably the imposition of hands that the rulers of the synagogue objected to as a violation of the Sabbath; that is why our Lord makes reference to untying animals (the hands would have to be used for this); the synagogue ruler could not see beyond the law to Jesus' compassion in healing this crippled woman. Jesus shamed him and the other leaders by pointing out their hypocrisy. They would untie their animals and care for them, but they refused to rejoice when a human being was freed from Satan's bondage. There is a further comparison between the bonds by which they were tied and the bonds of the bowed down woman.
The scribes and the Pharisees believed that they served God by zealously keeping these peripheral traditions, but this legalism made them insensitive to God's mercy. In Matthew 23:23, we see our Lord Jesus Christ highlighting the importance of keeping justice, mercy and faithfulness together with our giving tithe (the tenth of every income). In line with this, the book of prophet Micah also points to what true religion is or should be: "He has showed you, O man, what is good. Or what does the Lord seek from you but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God". (Micah 6:8)?
In the Bible, we see Jesus healing people on Sabbath seven times. In doing this, he was challenging these religious leaders to look beneath their rules to their true purpose to honour God by helping those in need. Would God have been pleased, if Jesus had ignored these people?
The Pharisees hid behind their own set of laws to avoid love's obligations. We too can use the letter of the law to rationalise away our obligation to care for others (for example, by tithing regularly and then refusing to help a needy neighbour). But people's needs are more important than rules and regulations. That's why Jesus said, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27). Since the son of man(the second person in the Triune God) is the Lord of Sabbath, the Lord of all, and He being the very same God who instituted the law of Sabbath, had every right to alter it by his benevolent grace. Jesus was redefining Sabbath as a day of alert rest loaded with goodness rather than an idle one. God is always at work because He neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121:4b). The main aim and duty of one's spiritual life is to do good to one's fellow beings or to extend a helping hand to the needy. Love is above the law. So take time to help others, even if doing so might compromise your public image.
In our fallen world, disease and disability are common. Their causes are many and often multiple inadequate nutrition, contact with a source of infection, lowered defences and even direct attack by Satan. Whatever the immediate cause of our illness, we can trace its original source to Satan, the author of all the evil in our world.
The good news is that Jesus is more powerful than any devil or any disease. He often brings physical healing in this life; and when he returns, he will put an end to all disease and disability. See what the prophetic book of Malachi says: "But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings" (Malachi 4: 2).
Jesus is able to free all the children of Abraham from their bonds, the Satan's dominion, and save them just as easily as he did this woman because he is the same yesterday, today and forever(Hebrew 7: 25,13:8).
Let us follow the footsteps of Christ our Lord who went about doing good and healing all who were under the power of devil (Acts 10: 38).
May the triune God be with us to accomplish our mission in tandem with our Lord Jesus Christ!
With prayers and blessings+
George Achen, Ireland.
Fr. T. George,