When No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
Reflecting on the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost: Three Days after Sunday (Year C)
Psalter: Psalm 10
Old Testament: Jeremiah 7:27-34
Gospel: Luke 6:6-11
Psalter: Psalm 109:21-31
Old Testament: Ezekiel 20:33-44
Gospel: Luke 6:6-11
Redeeming Sustainer, visit your people and pour out your strength and courage upon us, that we may hurry to make you welcome not only in our concern for others, but by serving them generously and faithfully in your name. Amen.
On another Sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees were watching him to see whether he would cure on the Sabbath, so that they might find grounds to bring an accusation against him. But he knew what they were thinking, and he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come and stand in the middle.” He got up and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?” After looking around at all of them, he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was restored. But they were filled with fury and began discussing with one another what they might do to Jesus (Luke 6:6-11).
When it comes to the religious leaders in Jesus day, everything he does is suspect. Every good deed is something to be criticized. When it came to Israel’s faith, the religious leaders had made themselves the Permission Givers. They were the ones who determined the will of God. They were the ones who knew what was best for the people. They were the one’s through whom the goodness of God was dispensed.
The main reason Israel’s priests and religious teachers rejected Jesus was because he presented himself (as did John the Baptist before him) as a one man counter Temple movement. The accepted practice was that if someone wanted forgiveness, they went to the Temple and offered the appropriate sacrifice administered by the priest. If someone was in need of healing, the Temple was the place to go. Jesus bypassed all of that. In his teaching and healing, he was proclaiming in no uncertain terms that what God’s people needed the Temple and the priesthood for, they could now get through him, and they could get it wherever he appeared: in Galilee, in the streets of Jerusalem, and even where the Gentiles lived.
Permission Givers don’t give up their status and power easily. They are threatened by those who seem to call their necessity into question; and they are so frightened by the prospect that they are blinded to the good that is done. In fact, it cannot be good if they are excluded from the process. No good deed goes unpunished. Beatings will continue until morale improves.
Jesus’ reputation as a healer has spread. People come to him looking to see the good he will do; the Pharisees, to the contrary are looking for a way to accuse him of something nefarious. While they know that the law of Moses and even their own regulations allow for doing good on the Sabbath, they hide behind those regulations in order to accuse him. The religious leaders see keeping the law as an end in and of itself; Jesus understands the law as means to the end of human flourishing and wholeness. For Jesus, healing doesn’t violate the Sabbath, it fulfills the Sabbath as is about re-creation. Healing is indeed re-creation.
Beware of those who like to say, “But it’s the law!” They tend to be the Pharisees among us. They want to be the Permission Givers who dispense goodness on their terms. Instead, let us be like Jesus who gives us permission not only to do good, but to recognize goodness done for others without our permission and apart from the way we think things should happen. Let us not punish the good deeds in our world that defy our expectations, but instead point to the goodness all around us and see God in the doing. In Mark’s Gospel we read,
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward (Mark 9:38-40).
All who do good are for us. No permission is necessary on our part.
PRAYER: God of salvation, who sent your Son to seek out and save what is lost, hear our prayers on behalf of those who are lost in our day, receiving these petitions and thanksgivings with your unending compassion; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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