July 17, 2020, Friday of the Fifteenth Week of Ordinary Time
Scripture: Matthew 12:1-8
At that time Jesus went through the cornfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, ‘Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.’ He said to them, ‘Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice”, you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.’
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
“. . . something greater than the temple is here.”
The Pharisees are disputing with Jesus about his apparent disregard for Sabbath discipline. He allowed his disciples to pick and eat heads of grain, although this activity is prohibited on the Sabbath. Jesus’ reply to them seems a bit of one-upmanship. “What about David?” he asks. “What would you have done about the occasion when David led his followers into the house of God and ate the bread that had been offered to God? This was unlawful, too. And the priests serving in the temple on the Sabbath are permitted to break the law of Sabbath rest. In their case the Law says they are innocent.”
Jesus then tells them that something greater than the temple is here. What is Jesus referring to as greater than the temple? Is it one of the exceptions he proposed, or is it himself? Perhaps he is playing one on the other, since he is God’s exception to the interpretation of the Law. Or is he referring to the virtue of Love — the human activity that mirrors the divine most perfectly? “If you knew what this meant, that I desire mercy, not sacrifice, you would not have condemned these innocent men.”
In all of this, Jesus declares himself to be the Son of Man, a significant title of the Messiah. He is the Lord of the Sabbath and therefore, master of its regulations, the maker of exceptions — not frivolous exceptions made for their own sake, but exceptions made in view of the greatest law. Even the Law is subservient to the Lord. The Law is to be the servant of God’s glory and of the love we owe one another for God’s sake.
This utterance of the Lord is a preview of Matthew 22:34-40, in which Jesus declares that the whole Law is summed up by the law of love, and that this Great Commandment, when regarding others, equals mercy. To think kindly of, to support, to bear with, to overlook the transgressions of another is harder and a more pleasing gift to give God than sacrifices.
Preserve me, Lord, from hyper-legalisms. Keep me focused on living out my love for you and my neighbors. Don’t let me get lost in quibbling over who is doing what, but rather let me consider what will please you. Amen.
“It is mercy I desire and not sacrifice.”