10th Sunday of Luke
Galatians 5:22–26; 6:1–2
In today’s Scripture readings, we see just how different the sterile academic approach to religion of the supposedly pious is to the living understanding of those who are “doers of the word” (James 1:22) and law of God.
St Paul says today, “Brethren, even if a man should be overtaken in some transgression, ye, the spiritual ones, be restoring such a one in a spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Keep on bearing one another’s burdens, and thus fulfil the law of Christ”.
“Consider thyself” and “bear one another’s burdens”. With these two things, we keep the Law of God. In today’s Gospel, however, we see the ruler of the synagogue trying to uphold the Law of God by doing exactly the opposite. Instead of rejoicing over the fact that the infirm woman’s eighteen year long burden was lifted, he is interested only in the literal and material observance of the Sabbath. Instead of considering himself, he judges and condemns the other, and thus remains in a state of spiritual blindness, unable to correctly understand the Law of God, and even more unable to recognise that the one he is condemning is the Giver of the Law and the Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8).
In the Old Testament, the Prophet Isaiah had said, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah 5:20). This is in essence what the ruler of the synagogue did at that moment, when he, presuming himself to be the representative of God and upholder of religious exactness, went so far as to consider the healing of a tormented woman a sin. And it is to the Prophet Isaiah that the Lord makes reference when he answers the ruler of the synagogue, saying, “Hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or ass from the manger, and lead it away and give it drink?”.
Now that we draw near to Christmas, you will notice that every traditional Byzantine icon of the Nativity features two animals: an ox and an ass. These animals aren’t actually mentioned in either of the Nativity stories in the Gospels, but are instead a reference to the very beginning of the Book of Isaiah: “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken, ‘I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s manger: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider’” (Isaiah 1:2–3).
And so, when the Evangelist writes that, “all those who opposed him were put to shame, but the whole crowd was rejoicing”, this was because they knew this prophecy and understood the point the Lord was trying to make.
Hearing these readings, then, let us not forget that all the things Christ said to the Pharisees and Scribes — the religiously observant of his day — applies just as much to us church-going Christians, if not even more. Let us not forget that all the commandments of God are summarised in the two commandments of love — love for God and for our fellow man (Matthew 22:40) — and that the meaning of the Law is found in “justice, mercy and faith” (Matthew 23:23). At every moment, let us remember the two exhortations of St Paul — “Consider thyself [and] keep on bearing one another’s burdens” — and thus fulfil the law of Christ.
Fr Kristian Akselberg