The Dominican friar, Blessed Humbert of Romans O.P. once said "First the bow is bent in study, then the arrow is released in preaching..." These are the sermons of fr. Lawrence Lew O.P., a Friar Preacher (Dominican), interspersed with art and some of his photographs.
God, who is pure Act, does not ever rest because he sustains the universe, and holds all that is in being. If God ever rested, so to speak, all existence would cease! Hence, the rabbis understood that the language in Genesis about God resting on the Sabbath is just a figure of speech; an encouragement for humanity to rest so that we are not enslaved to our work but are mindful to take time to maintain our relationship with God and neighbour. But, fundamentally speaking, God is always at work, acting to sustain all that is. Only God is exempt from keeping the Sabbath.
This doctrine of creation, and this divine exemption from the Sabbath rest is what Jesus has in mind when he says: “My Father is working still, and I am working” (Jn 5:17). It’s a breathtaking statement of his divinity, his equality with God. No wonder the Jews are shocked.
Moreover, as evidence that God worked on the Sabbath, the rabbis pointed to the fact that people were born and died on the Sabbath. This is to say that God gave life and he gave judgement on the Sabbath. Jesus claims that he, as Son, also does these divine works. Hence, “the Son gives life to whom he will” and the Father “has given all judgement to the Son” (Jn 5:21f). These claims further intensify Jesus’ identification with the Father; Jesus is God.
But today’s discourse, of course, has to be seen in relation to yesterday’s Gospel, to the healing of the man who had been lame for thirty-eight years. It is this work that Jesus likens to the Father’s work on the Sabbath of giving life and judgement. For it is the work of the Son to bring life, too, but not in the same way as the Father does. Rather, the Son brings life by healing all that excludes us from communion, from life and love in community. So, after that lame man was healed, Jesus later found him in the Temple, in the hub of the Jewish community where he is reclaiming his place in society in relation to God and to his fellow Man. Indeed, that man was healed and freed by Christ so that he can do what the Sabbath demands, namely establish and maintain a just and good relationship with God and neighbour. As St Paul says: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor 5:19).
“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful”. And just how is the Father merciful and compassionate towards us? Through the Cross. In the sign of Christ Crucified, we see, and we experience God’s mercy. For Christ is the good measure of God’s generous, superabundant, self-giving love, and God’s tender mercy. And it is Jesus who was unjustly judged by Pilate, and condemned by the people. He endured the judgment of the kangaroo court, and the condemnation of the mob with patience, humility, and courage. Even when Jesus was ‘pressed down’ under the immense pressure of Man’s sin and injustice, he endured in silence. As Isaiah said: “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth (Isa 53:7). And when the Lord did open his mouth, it was not to judge or condemn the world, but to say: “Father, forgive them”.
So, Jesus, crucified and dying for us, is the sign of God’s mercy and forgiveness, a sign of his generous and sacrificial love. “And by his wounds we have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). Each day, our own sins, and the sins of the world injures us. It’s understandable when we’re hurt or treated badly to react with anger, indignation, or even hatred. It’s tempting to judge and condemn those who trespass against us, and we might well find ways to justify this, and nurse the grunge, and find it hard to forgive. But none of this heals our wounds. Only the Cross, and the wounds of the Crucified One heals us of what sin inflicts on us.