Wednesday, 1/17/18 — Pursuing a Higher Purpose

A fight to the death. The healing of the sick. Today’s readings are about as disparate as imaginable. Sure, there’s an overarching idea about the power of God to do the impossible . . . but my prayerful reflection has led to look for something more.

So what’s going on? In the Gospel selection from Mark, Jesus commits a crime in the eyes of the Pharisees, by healing a crippled man on the Sabbath. What is that saying about our relationship with the Ten Commandments? Jesus isn’t tossing the one about keeping holy the Sabbath out the window, is he?

Not really. Elsewhere, Jesus makes clear that the old rules of morality are still in place. In other words, just because Jesus came into the world, we still need to honor our parents, tell the truth, avoid lusting that which we don’t have, and avoid taking life.

But, with today’s Gospel selection, Jesus reminds us why these rules are in place. They are not an end unto themselves, as the Pharisees believed. They are designed to help us fulfill a higher purpose: doing good, and bringing us closer to God.

As a minor example, we know that we shouldn’t lie to our parents, right? But what if we’re planning a surprise birthday party for a parent, who asks, “What are you doing this weekend?” You can’t reveal the truth; it’d give away the surprise! But a nonchalant “Oh, I’m not doing much of anything” — while technically a lie — serves the greater good of loving and respecting your parents.

Or, as a more serious example, let’s look at war. The Catechism of the Catholic Church goes into great detail on war. I heartily recommend reading all of paragraphs 2302-2317 for more insight into the “just war” doctrine, which states where and how nations may defend themselves.

Reading over that section, I can’t help but come away with a sense that war is one of the most serious endeavors humanity can engage in (obviously), and should never be entered into lightly. More importantly, if the decision is made to enter into war, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good; just that it’s necessary to prevent further evil.

Thus, in the first reading about the encounter between David and Goliath, where David slays the mighty Philistine through the power of his belief, I don’t think we’re supposed to come away from that with a jubilant “rah rah!” attitude. Sure, there’s some excitement and relief that David was able to save his people, yet I can’t help but feel a sadness that one human took another’s life.

Looking at the Gospel again, I’m sure that Jesus wants us to continue to honor the Sabbath. That commandment isn’t there for God’s needs; as I’ve noted before, God doesn’t require our prayers for his power or position. Rather, it’s for our benefit; we should take at least one day a week to devote ourselves to Godly pursuits: worship, rest, time with our families, and the like. But for the greater good, it is sometimes necessary to work on the Sabbath. This doesn’t mean the decision should be entered into lightly, nor should it justify other transgressions. (It’s a short but incorrect moral leap from healing on the Sabbath to “Oh, I’ll just work like normal on this day, because I’m bringing money in to my family, which is a greater good.”)

Similarly, just because a nation may defend itself against some great evil in the world, that doesn’t justify all future acts of military adventure. Even if a war is just, it behooves us to consider with prayerful reflection how the fallen state of humanity brought the world to conflict. Like the slippery slope that lets someone work on the Sabbath because they think it’s doing a larger good for their family, thinking of our own peacekeeping forces as unerringly “the good guys” risks letting them undertake missions that fall outside the moral purview of just force.

Our culture celebrates death: bad guys getting killed, buildings blowing up, raging infernos smiting enemies. Triumphant music swells as heavily armored heroes step into the frame. But that’s not an ideal realization of God’s plan; it is, at most, making the best of a bad situation. Jesus notes in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” If we feel pride in our armed forces, we should also feel humility in how they uphold their duties, and pray for a day when armed conflict is a relic of the past. And we should always, always follow the example of Christ and strive to put doing true good above the demands of the world around us.

Today’s readings: 1 Sm 17:32-33,37,40-51; Ps 144:1B,2,9-10; Mk 3:1-6

About the Author

Despite being a professional writer and editor for over 15 years, Steven Marsh is more-or-less winging it when it comes to writing about matters of faith. Steven entered the church in 2005, and since then he's been involved with various ministries, including Pre-Cana marriage prep for engaged couples, religious education for kindergarteners, and Stephen Ministry's one-on-one caregiving. Steven lives in Indiana with his wife and son. Despite having read the entirety of the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, he's still surprised at elements he rediscovers or reflects upon in new ways. The more Steven learns about the faith, the less he feels he knows; he's keen to emphasize that any mistakes are his own.

Author Archive Page


  1. Your message / reflection is very deep and hope many will embrace it. I could relate it also to the “war against drug”…on the issue of “just killing”. People need to understand more and more about the essence of the Holy Scripture and The Catechism of the Catholic Church. God bless us all.

  2. Stephen’s reflection has led me to remember all the conflicts that are currently raging in the world,and the untold suffering that this is causing to millions of innocent defenceless people.I pray that all the leaders who can make a difference maybe led by the holy spirit to seek peace .

  3. A good reflection, which is deep indeed. Thanks for reminding us that rules are not an end unto themselves, but a means to take us to heaven. Sometimes we are so bent on following the rules that we hurt many people in the process and end up being inhuman. God bless

  4. Hey Steven,

    Again, nice reflection and I know where you are going with it, but…

    Be careful. Justifying a sin for the greater Good is a slippery slope that leads to relativism.

    So, you’re going out to dinner and your wife puts on a dress that actually makes her appear “fat”. She’s looking in a mirror and asks you, “Does this dress make me look fat?” How do you answer that question?

    Think. What is she asking you? (Yes, I know Jesus wasn’t married, but how would’ve He answered that question? Remember how the Pharisees would try to trap Jesus with questions and yet they never succeeded.) What is the higher purpose? What is your wife asking you?


  5. As long as our presidents and senators and congress of both parties are more interested
    in keeping citizens trapped in the need for assistance and less interested in granting them the opportunity to have training for a good job , and opportunity for affordable education,
    there will always be angry factions that will feel unfairly treated. Our government needs to spend more time in helping those most vulnerable. One example is setting up outrageous
    pensions for retiring state workers 20 years ago as a voters incentive ,is now caused the state that has no money to help those in need. As long as we keep voting for those that have made
    being a public servant a life long profession, where getting the vote for all the wrong reasons
    we will always have angry people. I don’t know why we agree to let these people be the ones
    that we expect to put vote for or even address term limits.

  6. indeed. your writing struck a chord in me. The passage where you mention that we go to church not because GOD wants to be put a stamp on his power or position but to help us is enlightening. We need God so we should COME TO HIM MORE OFTEN. As the song goes, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and …..” Thanks Steven.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published.