Today’s Gospel reading has an interesting story about a man with a disabled arm. The story presents good news for a man who had some big problems—and some moral challenges for the rest of us!
In Luke 6. 6 – 11 we read about a man with a ‘withered arm’. The story is that it was a Sabbath day, and Jesus was teaching in a local synagogue, where this man was present. The local religious leaders were intent on testing Jesus out: their idea was that it was ‘unlawful’ for him to cure this man on the Sabbath. On the other hand, would Jesus simply ignore the man’s plight?
The guy had lots of problems. It was not just that he was disabled. Luke is particular to tell us that the withered arm was the man’s right arm. That means that he was condemned to using his left hand for the normal function assigned in that culture—cleaning one’s bum at the toilet—and for the normal functions of the right hand, such as eating. Catch-22! This man was permanently ‘unclean’, and that meant he could not go into the Temple with the rest of the praying community. He was deprived of his birthright, his place in the community.
So the question of a cure, or healing, was more than about his arm. It was about his place in the community, his dignity and his birthright.
In this little story, I see three important elements.
First, there are those of us who are more than happy to see someone else ‘caught out’ at times. This is presented as the primary concern of the religious leaders. And too often it is. As if the suffering of this man is not our highest priority.
There is a real moral challenge here, and it has application in a lot of areas.
Second, there is the element of choice set before Jesus. He could easily have found some excuse to avoid this challenge, and agree to meet the fellow next day, for example. Or maybe he could indeed have stood by the Sabbath rules, to avoid offending anyone. The guy would have understood: he’d had a life-time to get used to that response!
How often do we find convenient ways to avoid difficult dilemmas? That’s not really a question, it’s a statement of the truth.
But then there is the wonderful third element: there is a clear statement here about God’s priority. Jesus is presented to us as the one who indicates what God really cares about: and that’s not the Sabbath rule, that’s not the convenience of those who don’t want to offend anyone. It’s about healing and belonging for this man in need. There is healing, welcome, and joy for him and for his family no doubt.
That’s what God is about: and here is the biggest challenge of all for us. What other priorities do we have?!
This little story, which we read together today in our staff prayers, is a challenge to our priorities. Am I and are we on the lookout for such as this ‘left-hander’, to welcome them with God’s welcome and to bring them the good news that there is no higher priority for God. If that is to be true, we have to make it so, not just say it!