Saturday, October 31, 2015

Dropsy and the Catholic Church

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. 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.

Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees. Why? Better yet, why was He invited? People could probably come up with a myriad of possible reasons why Jesus was invited by a leading Pharisee; however, there are two that prevail in my mind: 1) The Pharisee was legitimately interested in hearing Jesus, and 2) he desired to trap Jesus. Why did Jesus go? Now, the early Church fathers, it appears, are holding that the Pharisee(s) have ulterior motives. They very well could be right. That is definitely a possibility. However, there were some that believed, e.g. Nicodemus. Jesus knew men, knew their thinking; nevertheless, Jesus loved His neighbor. Hence, in my mind, Jesus went out of love, to teach people, to get people to repent. He did not go to put them down or to “make them look bad;” He went out of love for the Pharisees and for whoever else may be present.

In front of Jesus, there was a man suffering from dropsy. From my non-medical understanding of dropsy, it is a swelling due to the accumulation of fluids, possibly caused by an excess, an abundance, of impurities in the body that the liver and kidneys cannot remove from the body. It could be caused by problems of the heart, liver, kidneys, thyroid, etc. The word we will be focused upon is excess, an abundance. Now, we don’t know if the Pharisees brought the man, to see what Jesus would do, or if the man just appeared, possibly following a crowd that may have been following Jesus. I don’t think that that is really relevant. What is important is that the man was there and that he had dropsy.

The Scriptures tell us that the people were observing Jesus carefully; however, we do not know whether these people were Pharisees or the crowd. If the people were Pharisees, in all probability it was a staged event. If it was the crowd, they might have been interested in what type of miracle Jesus might perform. “Jesus spoke to the scholars of the law and Pharisees in reply, asking, ‘Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath or not?’”

Now, Jesus speaks to the scholars of the law and Pharisees because they would be the ones to harbor ill will, to be critical of what He was about to do. This could very well come about as a result of ignorance or a misconception as to the spirit of the law regarding the Sabbath. The thought of the “spirit of the law” might not have even occurred to them; they might have just viewed the law as: “This you do; that, you don’t.” This is the letter of the law. They wisely remained silent because they had been caught in a “trap” previously when they answered Jesus’ questions. Had I been there, I also would have remained silent.

Therefore, “[Jesus] took the man and, after he had healed him, dismissed him.” Because Jesus dismissed the man, it enhances the probability that the event was staged in order to trap Jesus, but we don’t know for sure. Why are we told that Jesus dismissed him? Why does the author of the gospel desire that we know he was dismissed? Is it so that we will wag our heads and think, “Oh, those Pharisees were terrible,” implying that we are better? No, I think it points to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. After we are absolved, we are dismissed to go and do good.

St. Cyril surmises: “Disregarding then the snares of the Jews, He cures the dropsical, who from fear of the Pharisees did not ask to be healed on account of the Sabbath, but only stood up, that when Jesus beheld him, He might have compassion on him and heal him. And the Lord knowing this, asked not whether he wished to be made whole, but forthwith healed him. Whence it follows: And he took him, and healed him, and let him go. Wherein our Lord took no thought not to offend the Pharisees, but only that He might benefit him who needed healing. For it becomes us, when a great good is the result, not to care if fools take offense.” It appears that St. Cyril does not think this was a staged event. I do not think our saint is intimating that Jesus desired to offend the scholars and the Pharisees—for this would not be loving thy neighbor—but that offenses would occur. The Catholic Church does not desire to offend people; nevertheless, people are offended due to the good and love of the Catholic Church.

“Then [Jesus] 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.” I think we all grasp what Jesus was driving at, as did the Pharisees and scholars. Nevertheless, how does this apply to the Catholic Church, which does good? The Catholic Church, of course, is comprised of Catholics who have something called concupiscence of sin, and have been known to be sinful many times—hence, the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I think the Venerable Bede hit the proverbial nail on the head when he says: “By a suitable example then, He settles the question, [showing] that they violate the Sabbath by a work of covetousness, who contend that [Jesus] does so by a work of charity.

Hence it follows, And they could not answer him again to these things. Mystically, the dropsical man is compared to him who is weighed down by an overflowing stream of carnal pleasures, for the disease of dropsy derives the name of a watery humor.” St. Augustine supports this when he says, “We rightly compare the dropsical man to a covetous rich man.” I think that, in today’s culture, it would be appropriate to drop the word “rich.” This also applies to a covetous poor man. St. Augustine continues, “For, as the former, the more he increases in unnatural moisture, the greater his thirst”—referring to the man with dropsy—“so also the other, the more abundant his riches, which he does not employ well, the more ardently he desires them.”

St. Gregory enlightens us by saying, “Rightly then is the dropsical man healed in the Pharisees’ presence, for by the bodily infirmity of the one is expressed the mental disease of the other”—which we should take as pointing to each of us individually. Venerable Bede puts the finishing touch upon this: “In this example also, He well refers to the ox and the ass, so as to represent either the wise and the foolish, or both nations--that is, the Jew oppressed by the burden of the law; the Gentile not subject to reason—for the Lord rescues from the pit of concupiscence all who are sunk therein.”

Our epistle reading is one reason why I believe our Lord was reaching out in love to the religious leaders, aside from the fact that He was dining with them. St. Paul writes: “Brothers and sisters: I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie; my conscience joins with the Holy Spirit in bearing me witness that I have great sorrow and constant anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are children of Israel; theirs the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; theirs the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.” If St. Paul felt this way towards the Jews, how did Jesus feel towards them?” And to make the rose come to full bloom: If Jesus and St. Paul felt this way for those outside of the Catholic Church, how much more do they love those who are in the Catholic Church? Which takes us to our responsorial psalm, Psalm 147:12-13,14-15, 19-20:

R. Praise the Lord, Jerusalem. Glorify the LORD, O Jerusalem; praise your God, O Zion. For he has strengthened the bars of your gates; he has blessed your children within you. R. Praise the Lord, Jerusalem. He has granted peace in your borders; with the best of wheat he fills you. He sends forth his command to the earth; swiftly runs his word! R. Praise the Lord, Jerusalem. He has proclaimed his word to Jacob, his statutes and his ordinances to Israel. He has not done thus for any other nation; his ordinances he has not made known to them. Alleluia. R. Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.

From my reading of St. Augustine regarding this reading from Psalm 147, it makes me believe this psalm was written while Israel was in captivity, in exile, because the saint writes: “Praise in unison, O Jerusalem, thy God. Abiding yet in captivity, they behold those flocks, or rather, the one flock of all its citizens, gathered from all sides into that city; they see the joy of the mass, now after threshings and winnowings placed in the garner, fearing nothing, suffering no toil nor trouble; and, as yet abiding here, in the midst of the threshing they send forward their joy of hope, and pant for it, joining as it were their hearts to the Angels of God, and to that people which shall abide with them in joy forever.” In his words, I visualize Catholics and the Catholic Church. One prayer which seems so fitting is Hail, Holy Queen.

The prayer mentions that we are in exile. It is not a prayer of despair, but of hope, of rejoicing. Our Blessed Mother, Mary, is Zion. If she is Zion, then her offspring is with her. It is not about one person; it is about community. Mary is exalted when her offspring is like her. She is the perfect image of her Son, who saves her. Because she is the image of Him, we see Him in her. Can you not see her praying, as her Son does, “If you don’t save them, cross my name out of the book of life.” When we are the image of Mary, God is glorified, especially the Son, and Mary is exalted also. God the Father is not pounding His fist, exclaiming, “Give Me glory! Exalt Me!” No, for we cannot help but glorify Him, exalt Him, because He has given us His Son, Who has redeemed us, bestowing upon us His divinity.

We are born of God in Baptism, and the Sacraments that Jesus has given us will make us like Him. Jesus was obedient to the Father; Mary was obedient to the Father; we are obedient also in that we desire to be obedient and are working, by His grace, to be obedient. This is through the work of the Sacraments. Jesus was obedient to His Mother; we try to be obedient to her by consecrating ourselves to her Son, through her. Parents, how do you feel when someone praises your child? Are they not also praising you?
--Tommy Turner

This theological reflection courtesy of the parishioners of St Paul Catholic Church in Pensacola, Florida: