The Law of Mercy

Icon of Divine Mercy

30th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday

On a sabbath he went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully. In front of him there was a man suffering from dropsy. Jesus spoke to the scholars of the law and Pharisees in reply, asking, “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath or not?” But they kept silent; so he took the man and, after he had healed him, dismissed him. Then he said to them, “Who among you, if your son or ox falls into a cistern, would not immediately pull him out on the sabbath day?” But they were unable to answer his question.

Luke 14:1-6

In this Gospel, Jesus was invited as a guest of honor on the Sabbath to dine at the wealthy home of a high-ranking Pharisee and his illustrious guests. The house was clean and decorated, and the table set for the midday Shabbat meal. The occasion was festive and joyous, the highlight of the Jewish week, for “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation” (Genesis 2:3).

Jesus was an unusual guest, however, and given his past actions and behavior, no one knew what to expect from him. At another Pharisee’s home, Jesus failed to comply with the ritual washing before the meal, and upbraided his host and guests for cleaning only the outside of cup and dish but neglecting the inside (Luke 11:37-41). In the synagogue on another Sabbath, Jesus cured a crippled woman against the will of the religious leaders (Luke 13:10-17). 

How far would Jesus go to undermine the authority of the Pharisees by his wonder-working and novel teachings? Jesus was being “watched closely” (paratéreó), the same verb used in Luke 20:20 when “spies” were dispatched to “trap him in speech” (Greek). 

On a sabbath Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully. In front of him there was a man suffering from dropsy.

Luke 14:1-2

Commentators speculate on whether the afflicted man came of his own accord or was “planted” to ensnare Jesus.1 The words of the Mosaic law hung over the gathering as all eyes fixed upon him with suspense:

Remember the sabbath day—keep it holy. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God. You shall not do any work, either you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your work animal, or the resident alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord has blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.

Exodus 20:8-11

Not a word was uttered by the Pharisees, for the presence of the diseased man spoke loud and clear, but Jesus initiated a response to their silent queries. 

Jesus spoke to the scholars of the law and Pharisees in reply, asking, “Is it lawful to cure on the  sabbath or not?” But they kept silent; so he took the man and, after he had healed him, dismissed him.

Luke 14:3-4

Jesus took the bait. He could have avoided controversy and healed the next day, but doing so would have perpetuated false interpretations of the Sabbath and given the impression that he was intimidated into conforming to their rules. Jesus did not play politics. The merciful one cannot but act mercifully. Action follows being.

Then he said to them, “Who among you, if your son or ox falls into a cistern, would not immediately pull him out on the sabbath day?” But they were unable to answer his question.

Luke 14:5-6

The speechless scribes and Pharisees had nothing to say, as none could deny that they would rescue their own precious child or animal on the Sabbath. Was not the cured man as precious and valuable to God as their own kin or cattle? Was not every person a beloved child of God?

Jesus showed the true meaning of the Sabbath by revealing the Father’s mercy, which knows no bounds and is a law unto itself.


1 Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J. writes in The Anchor Bible: The Gospel According to Luke (X-XXIV), Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1985, p. 1041:

 “We are not told how such a person was among those invited; his presence is not explained. Is he an unfortunate intruder (so E. E. Ellis, Gospel of Luke, 192) or was he planted? If he were an invited guest, why does Jesus eventually send him off?”

5 Replies to “The Law of Mercy”

  1. Dear GMC, Thank you for your reflection. It makes me think: do I ever enter prayer while leaving unattended the need of someone who may need me? Thank you.

  2. Jesus dismissed him! Reminds me of “Ite missa est” which is a dismissal to go and bring the Good news out wherever one goes.
    Or might the healed person be dismissed from the limelight, free to take his place at table, blending in with the other guests,

  3. Dear GMC, From what I can educe (I hope I used my new word correctly) from my own experience, I have found that Jesus’ dismissal of the person after healing is one of his greatest gifts. He sends the person forth with gratitude, grace and humility to praise him all the rest of their days. After that, do we still need to be guests at table? Seeking Him is all that matters and allows us to give ourselves over to what God has done for us. Thank you, GMC, for all your Reflections today that help me praise God!

    1. The NABRE calls Psalm 113, “Praise of God’s Care for the Poor,” which expresses our gratitude:

      Praise, you servants of the Lord,
      praise the name of the Lord.
      Blessed be the name of the Lord
      both now and forever.
      Psalm 113:1-2

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