SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Rm 9:1-5
; Ps 147:12-15
; Lk 14:1-6
As we read today’s gospel, we can easily identify with the Pharisees in the way they hawked Jesus; waiting to catch Him breaking the laws. “Now on a sabbath day Jesus had gone for a meal to the house of one of the leading Pharisees; and they watched him closely.” Their real intention was to catch Jesus committing some sins so that they could discredit Him. They were watching Jesus so intently that they were oblivious to one of their fellowmen suffering in his body. In front of them all, “was a man with dropsy”, but that was not their focus. They were too consumed with finding fault with Jesus.
We too are like that, fault-finding and judgmental. Living in a community, whether at home, in the church or in a Catholic office where everyone is supposed to live the gospel life, it is not uncommon to find people judging each other, hawking one another to see where others have failed, instead of what good they are doing. When they make a misstep or do something wrong, we delight in pointing it out and exposing them to the whole world. Even better if the mistakes are those committed by our bosses and superiors! We would watch gleefully when they are put down.
Such negative attitudes imply two things. Firstly, it implies that we think we are perfect; that we are above making mistakes. We think we are better than others; impeccable, always righteous and upright. Such an attitude smacks of deep pride. We are unaware of ourselves. It shows that we are presumptuous and have a big ego.
Secondly, it could be an indication of our own insecurity and inferiority. The fact that we take joy in pointing out the failures and weaknesses of others means that our intentions are not motivated by the desire to help them grow, but so that we can feel superior to them. By humiliating them, we hope to raise ourselves up. In other words, we need others to be worse than us so that we can feel better. When we desire others to fail so that we can succeed or feel good about ourselves, it is a sign of envy and jealousy that springs from a low self-esteem.
What kind of attitude does Jesus invite us to cultivate? We need to cultivate true empathy for our fellowmen. If we really want to help others, we must learn to feel with them in their humanity, their struggles, their fears and anxieties. To feel with others presupposes that we are honest and true with ourselves. Self-awareness is the pre-requisite to humility. Without a proper estimation of ourselves, recognizing both our weaknesses and our strengths, we will not be able to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.” (Rom 12:15) When we notice the faults of others, we must ask ourselves whether we also break them at times. Given the circumstances, we might not fare better than them. If we cannot observe the laws ourselves, how can we condemn others who fail?
Secondly, we must correct out of love, as St Paul showed us. Fraternal correction must not be done out of anger or spite. Indeed, we can be sure that we are sincere in helping others only when we feel for and with them. That was the attitude of St Paul towards his fellow Jews who rejected the gospel. He did not condemn them for failing to accept Christ. In fact, he spoke from his heart about his deep sadness for them, which made him even willing to do anything to help them come to the fullness of the truth. Until we feel this way for our errant brothers, we have no right to judge them, nor even attempt to correct them, because even if we do, it would be to feed our own pride and glory than for the sake of our brothers.
Thirdly, we must be willing to do anything for their good and not ours. Our desire to corrrect must be for their salvation and for their well being. We do not correct a person to protect our interests. Many of us do just that. When we try to change others, it is not so much for their sake but for ours. We have an ulterior motive of wanting them to change, not so much for their happiness but for ours. Our motive is not pure but tainted with selfishness. In the case of St Paul, he made it clear that he was devoid of self-interests. He said, “What I want to say now is no pretence; I say it in union with Christ – it is the truth – my conscience in union with the Holy Spirit assures me of it too. What I want to say is this: my sorrow is so great, my mental anguish so endless, I would willingly be condemned and be cut off from Christ if it could help my brothers of Israel, my own flesh and blood.” Jesus too, was willing to risk His life by entering the house of the Pharisees, knowing that they had the intention to harm Him. But He entered the lion’s den without fear because of His unconditional love even for His enemies.
Fourthly, to help others, we must develop a sense of proportion in judgment. Jesus asked the Pharisees, “Is it against the law to cure a man on the Sabbath, or not?” To help them to make a proper judgement, He asked further, “Which of you here, if his son falls into a well, or his ox, will not pull him out on a sabbath day without hesitation?” In asking the Pharisees and the bystanders whether they would rescue their son or an ox that fell into the ditch on the Sabbath, Jesus is asking us not to judge things and situations too legalistically. We must take into account the situation. Morality is not only concerned with the objective dimension but the subjective aspects as well. We are not merely dealing with objects without feelings but people who have emotions and will. Thus, judging others at face value may not be that accurate after all, because often we do not know the circumstances and the reasons for the behaviour or the actions of the person.
When we put the person first, we use the judgement of love, not of cold rules. In truth, we know deep in our hearts what is right and wrong. This explains why when questioned by Jesus, the people remained silent and were unable to respond to Him. The answer is clear. No logical reasoning is necessary as to why we cannot cure someone on the Sabbath when he or she is suffering, especially if that person is not just a digit or a case but yourself or your loved one. When it is a question of love, all rules can be broken. “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” (Rom 13:8)
Fifthly, we must appeal to the heart, not so much the head, in seeking to correct our fellowmen. If we speak to the head, then we will find all reasons to justify ourselves. Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it? ‘I the Lord search the mind and try the heart, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.’” (Jer 17:9f) Hence, St Paul appealed to their hearts. “They were adopted as sons, they were given the glory and the covenants; the Law and the ritual were drawn up for them, and the promises were made to them. They are descended from the patriarchs and from their flesh and blood came Christ who is above all.”
Indeed, God had blessed the Jews greatly. They were the chosen people of God, adopted as sons, given the laws, the covenant and from them came the Messiah. Alas, they did not understand the treasure that they were holding on behalf of the human race. Instead of allowing the plan of God to unfold and so embrace every man and woman, they kept the graces of God for themselves. This is the tragedy of the Jews, for seeking to be exclusive and not embracing the rest of humanity. We too have been blessed richly. “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us.” (2 Cor 4:7) Indeed, we must be responsible for the graces we have received. If we reach out to others it is because of the blessings we have been given. With the psalmist we sing, “Zion, praise your God! He has strengthened the bars of your gates, he has blessed the children within you. He established peace on your borders, he feeds you with finest wheat. He makes his word known to Jacob, to Israel his laws and decrees. He has not dealt thus with other nations; he has not taught them his decrees.”