Is It Lawful to Cure on the Sabbath?

In today’s Gospel from St. Luke, Jesus is dining on the Sabbath at the home of a leading Pharisee. When he sees a man suffering from dropsy, he asks the scholars and the Pharisees whether or not it is lawful to cure on the Sabbath. When they say nothing, Jesus heals the man and then says to them, “Who among you, if your son or ox falls into a cistern, woudl not immediatley pull him out on the sabbath day.”

We see many examples in the Gospels of such encounters between the Pharisees and Jesus. Over and over again, Jesus chastises their adherence to the letter of the law in circumstances where such adherence runs counter to the commands of mercy and love. Having said that, Jesus is also clear at various times that he has not come to abolish the law.

I happened to read the other day a passage in Saint of the Day, edited by Leonard Foley, OFM and Pat McCloskey, OFM, that I think does a good job of expressing what Jesus so often tried to convey. The authors write:

Legalism can suck the life out of genuine religion if it becomes too great a preoccupation with the letter of the law to the neglect of the spirit and purpose of the law. The law can become an end in itself, so that the value the law was intended to promote is overlooked. But we must guard against going to the opposite extreme and seeing law as useless or something to be lightly regarded.

Our task is to walk a middle ground between ignoring the commands of the law and following the letter of the law so slavishly that we ignore love and mercy. Doing so successfully requires that we act with the wisdom of the Spirit.