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Michael J. O’LoughlinJanuary 17, 2024
Photo from Unsplash.

A Reflection for Memorial of St. Anthony, Abbot

You can find today’s readings here.

Jesus said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”
He stretched it out and his hand was restored.

In today’s Gospel, we read a passage about Jesus choosing mercy over religious scrupulosity.

Jesus encounters in the temple a man with a withered hand. At this point in his ministry, Jesus was known as a healer. He had driven out demons, healed Peter’s mother-in-law, and healed a paralytic man. In today’s story, the religious authorities are present in the temple, looking to trap Jesus. Should he heal the man’s hand, Jesus would violate the religious rules about observing the Sabbath.

Rather than refuse mercy, Jesus asked the religious authorities, “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” The authorities refuse to answer and Jesus continues his healing ministry.

What are today’s rules, religious or otherwise, that sometimes get in the way of charity?

We read, “Looking around at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart, Jesus said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out and his hand was restored.”

I read today’s Gospel with two recent news stories in mind: the pope’s decree that allows priests to bless same-sex couples and his more recent comments in which he said he hopes that there is no one in hell.

The decree and the comments provoked strong reactions, both from those who support the pope and those who find his pontificate challenging. For me, I see in both the actions and words of a merciful leader, a priest who believes in the Gospel teaching that God’s mercy must be extended to all who seek it.

Guardrails and rules exist to help us live in a way that enables human flourishing and spiritual fulfillment. But if we idolize those rules and make them ends unto themselves, we risk losing the meaning behind them. That is what Jesus taught and it is what Pope Francis is trying to remind us. Love and mercy must rule above all.

What are today’s rules, religious or otherwise, that sometimes get in the way of charity? How do our relationships with rules help or hinder our lives? Are there rules that we turn into idols that we need to re-evaluate?

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