DAILY GOSPEL COMMENTARY: “THE SON OF MAN IS LORD OF THE SABBATH”
Gospel of Friday, 15th week in Ordinary Time,
Jesus was going through a field of grain on the sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “See, your disciples are doing what is unlawful to do on the sabbath.” He said to the them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry, how he went into the house of God and ate the bread of offering, which neither he nor his companions but only the priests could lawfully eat? Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests serving in the temple violate the sabbath and are innocent? I say to you, something greater than the temple is here. If you knew what this meant, I desire mercy, not sacrifice, you would not have condemned these innocent men. For the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath.”
Gospel Commentary from the Navarre Bible, Commentary to the Gospel of St. Matthew (with permission).
The question of the sabbath
- 2 “The sabbath”: this was the day the Jews set aside for worshipping God. God himself, the originator of the sabbath (Gen 2:3), ordered the Jewish people to avoid certain kinds of work on this day (Ex 20:8-11; 21:13; Deut 5:14), to leave them free to give more time to God.
- As time went by, the rabbis complicated this divine precept: by Jesus’ time they had extended to 39 the list of kinds of forbidden work.
- The Pharisees accuse Jesus’ disciples of breaking the sabbath. In the casuistry of the scribes and the Pharisees, plucking ears of corn was the same as harvesting, and crushing them was the same as milling — types of agricultural work forbidden on the sabbath.
- 3-8 Jesus rebuts the Pharisees’ accusation by four arguments — the example of David, that of the priests, a correct understanding of the mercy of God and Jesus’ own authority over the sabbath.
- The first example, which was quite familiar to the people, who were used to listening to the Bible being read, comes from 1 Sam 21:2-7: David, in flight from the jealousy of King Saul, asks the priest of the shrine at Nob for food for his men; the priest gave them the only bread he had, the holy bread of the Presence: this was the twelve loaves which were placed each week on the golden altar of the sanctuary, as a perpetual offering from the twelve tribes of Israel (Lev 24:5-9).
- The second example refers to the priestly ministry: to perform the liturgy priests had to do a number of things on the sabbath, but did not thereby break the law of sabbath rest (cf. Num 28:9).
- On the two other arguments, cf. notes on Mt 9:13 and Mk 2:26-27, 28.
- Mt 9:13:
- Here Jesus quotes Hos 6:6, keeping the hyperbole of the Semitic style. A more faithful translation would be “I desire mercy more than sacrifice”. It is not that our Lord does not want the sacrifices we offer him: he is stressing that every sacrifice should come from the heart, for charity should imbue everything a Christian does — especially his worship of God (see 1 Cor 13:1-13; Mt 5:23-24).
- Mk 2:26-27, 28:
- Finally in this passage Christ teaches God’s purpose in instituting the sabbath: God established it for man’s good, to help him rest and devote himself to divine worship in joy and peace.
- The Pharisees, through their interpretation of the Law, had turned this day into a source of anguish and scruple due to all the various prescriptions and prohibitions they introduced.
- By proclaiming himself ‘lord of the sabbath’, Jesus affirms his divinity and his universal authority. Because he is lord he has the power to establish other laws, as Yahweh had in the Old Testament.
- “Son of man”: the origin of the messianic meaning of this expression is to be found particularly in the prophecy in Dan 7:13ff, where Daniel, in a prophetic vision, contemplates ‘one like a son of man’ coming down on the clouds of heaven, who even goes right up to God’s throne and is given dominion and glory and royal power over all peoples and nations. This expression appears 69 times in the Synoptic Gospels;
- Jesus prefers it to other ways of describing the Messiah — such as Son of David, Messiah, etc. — thereby avoiding the nationalistic overtones those expressions had in Jewish minds at the time (cf. “Introduction” to the Gospel according to St Mark, pp. 63f above).
- Mt 9:13:
VIDEO COMMENTARY ON TODAY’S GOSPEL
TOPIC: Are you a fault-finder and judgmental person?
Imagine yourself with Jesus. After a whole day of preaching, as you were walking on the Sabbath. You have not eaten the whole day. Perhaps, you fasted and now it is time to break the fast. You come to a field full of edible grain. And you pick them and start to eat.
Several Pharisees who were part of the throng following Jesus approach Jesus and tell him you are violating the law of the Sabbath because you did not have the right to eat the grain.
In Jesus’ time, farmers were encouraged to put some wheat on the edge of their farms for the poor to eat.
Jesus answers the Pharisees by citing the Old Testament. He talked about David and his companions entering the temple of God, eating the bread that was supposed to be reserved for the priests. Even the priests were guilty of violating the sacred rules of Sabbath, he said.
Jesus then cites a passage in Hosea, in the Old Testament, to prove His point: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” (Hosea:6:6)
Oftentimes, we are like the Pharisees. We find fault in people and can be ruthless in judging others.
As fault-finders, we often focus on the small details, forgetting the bigger picture. For people in the Church or community, we can become so enmeshed with rules and regulations that we forget the more important and overriding law of love and compassion.
But God gives more importance to our developing tender hearts rather than to keep on tendering our sacrifices.
In our strict observance of the law, we may miss the message of love.
There was this woman who recently moved into the new parish and was one of the regular daily church-goers in their 6:00am mass. People started talking about her because she had this habit of rushing into the church late after the mass had started already and rushing to leave even just before the mass ended.
They were aghast at the temerity of this woman to disrespect the Holy Mass. Besides, they said, she did not even find time to socialize with them and befriend them as she was always rushing.
The wagging tongues did not stop as her improper practice and behavior had gone on for over a month. The number of fault-finders grew by the day. Someone had to correct her, they said. They could not stomach her defiance any longer and, on one morning, after the mass, a group of parishioners went to the parish priest to complain about her.
The parish priest calmly explained to them that this woman went to him early on to ask for forgiveness and asked him if she could come to mass under these conditions. She was alone in her house and was taking care of her bed-ridden aunt and her baby and two other small children. Her husband was an OFW in a far-away place.
She would wake up at 4am, cook breakfast for her aunt and children, prepare their school items, rush off to church and rush back to wake them up, bathe them and prepare them before the school bus picked them up.
Three quick points:
1. We follow rules, laws regulations because they serve the purpose of identifying us with Jesus and our Catholic faith
2. When a choice has to be made between the rule of the law and the law of love, the law of love prevails
3. Wish people well always. Fault-finding and judging others should be left to God for He is the only one who knows completely the motivations of people .Instead of pre-occupying ourselves with finding fault in others, can we instead be God’s conduit of love and compassion to others, which He so generously gave to us Himself?
Let us look at how Jesus approaches situations. Let us be more understanding and forgiving of the shortcomings of others because Jesus himself desires our mercy before we bring to His altar our sacrifices.
TOPIC: ARE YOU MORE PIOUS THAN LOVING?
In today’s gospel reading, the disciples of Jesus are accused by the Pharisees of breaking the Sabbath law by picking grains of corn in violation of the no-work law on the Sabbath. Jesus quotes from the prophet Hosea to show what God wants, ‘What I want is mercy, not sacrifice.’ But Jesus tells all – including us – that more than the worship we do at the temple, at church, in our parishes and communities, more than the work and service we do for God, who is the Lord of our service, our love for our neighbor overrides.
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