On a Sabbath, Jesus is a guest at the house of a prominent Pharisee, whose sect is at odds with Jesus’ interpretations of the Law. However, an immediate, proximate need (i.e., a need right in front of him) presents itself to Jesus, because he sees another guest, “a man suffering from dropsy,” which is an abnormal swelling of the body. Perhaps he is suffering from edema? Seeing him suffer evokes compassion in Jesus, and he does something about it, namely, he heals the man.
After healing him, Jesus uses the argumentum a fortiori, an argument from a lesser to a greater matter of importance, to justify acting humanely on the Sabbath, “‘If one of you has a donkey or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?’ And they had nothing to say” (Luke 14:5-6).
Jesus’ reasoning is that since it is right to be humane to an animal that has fallen into a well on the Sabbath, saving the animal’s life, then how can be wrong to help a human person, who is more valuable than an animal? Why be humane, Jesus’ reasons, to an animal and be inhumane to a human being?
The force of Jesus’ argument silences his opponents. Their interpretations of observing the Sabbath are inhumane, having no concern for a person who is suffering. With all their religious knowledge or education, they lose sight of the obvious, namely, a human person is more valuable than an animal. Also, meeting a human need is more important than adhering to the traditional interpretations of the Sabbath Law.
Religion pertains, primarily, to two kinds of relationships: the vertical and the horizontal. The vertical relationship, which is a human being’s love for God, is inextricably related to the horizontal relationship, which is a person’s love for another human being. Sacred Scripture links the two relationships, saying, “For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen” (I John 4:20b, NIV).
Therefore, when religion gets in the way of an urgent matter, an immediate need of helping a human being, it fails to serve its practical purpose (which is the love of God and neighbor) and becomes dehumanizing. That is, for example, the point of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In it, the priest and Levite use religion to excuse themselves from helping a wounded human being, a person who is in immediate need of medical attention.
According to the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, a personalist reacts to impersonal and dehumanizing forms of treating human beings. Jesus, then, is a personalist, because in the Gospels, he opposes any kind of treatment (even on religious grounds) that dehumanizes human beings.
Jesus is also a personalist, because virtually everything he says and does is directed to the good of the human person. For instance, about whom is Jesus concerned? The human person! To whom are Jesus’ teachings directed? The human person! For whom did Jesus live and die? The human person! What is the object of Jesus’ love? The human subject, that is, the human person.
In Mark’s account, Jesus gives a personalist interpretation of the Law of Moses, saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27, NIV). In other words, a person is not directed to the good of the Law. Rather, the Law is directed to the good of a person, especially his or her spiritual, mental and moral well-being!
Jesus, then, teaches that religion, in general, and religious laws, in particular, are humanizing, promoting the development and flourishing of human personality and advancing the genuinely human values of love, community and peace. More, much more, of that kind of religion is needed in today’s world!