Friday, July 19, 2013
1) Opening prayer
God our Father,
your light of truth
guides us to the way of Christ.
May all who follow him
reject what is contrary to the gospel.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2) Gospel Reading - Matthew 12,1-8
At that time Jesus went through the cornfields one Sabbath day. His disciples were hungry and began to pick ears of corn and eat them.
The Pharisees noticed it and said to him, 'Look, your disciples are doing something that is forbidden on the Sabbath.'
But he said to them, 'Have you not read what David did when he and his followers were hungry - how he went into the house of God and they ate the loaves of the offering although neither he nor his followers were permitted to eat them, but only the priests? Or again, have you not read in the Law that on the Sabbath day the Temple priests break the Sabbath without committing any fault? Now here, I tell you, is something greater than the Temple. And if you had understood the meaning of the words: Mercy is what pleases me, not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the blameless. For the Son of man is master of the Sabbath.'
• In today’s Gospel we see that there are many conflicts between Jesus and the religious authority of that time. They are conflicts regarding the religious practices of that time: fasting, purity, observance of the Sabbath, etc. In normal terms, they would be conflicts regarding for example, matrimony between divorced persons, friendship with prostitutes, the acceptance of homosexuals, communion without being married by the Church, not to go to Mass on Sunday, not to fast on Good Friday. The conflicts were many: at home, in the school, in work, in the community, in the Church, in personal life, in society. Conflicts regarding growth, relationship, age, mentality. So many of them! To live life without conflicts is impossible! Conflict is part of life and springs up since the time of birth. We are born with birth pangs. Conflicts are not accidents along the way, but form part of the journey, of the process of conversion. What strikes us is the way in which Jesus faces the conflicts. In the discussion with his enemies, he was not trying to show them that he was right, but wished to make the experience which he, Jesus, had of God, Father and Mother, prevail. The image of God which others had was that of a severe Judge who only threatened and condemned. Jesus tries to have mercy on the blind observance of the norms and of the law, prevail, since it had nothing to do with the objective of the Law which is the practice of Love.
• Matthew 12, 1-2: To pick ears of corn on the Sabbath day and the criticism of the Pharisees. On a Sabbath day, the disciples went through the corn fields and they opened their way picking ears of corn to eat them. They were hungry. The Pharisees arrived and invoke the Bible to say that the disciples were transgressing the law of the Sabbath (cf. Ex 20, 8-11). Jesus also uses the Bible and responds invoking three examples taken from Scripture: (1) that of David, (2) that of the legislation on work of the priests in the temple and (3) from the action of the Prophet Hosea, that is, he quotes a historical book, a legislative book and a prophetic book.
• Matthew 12, 3-4: The example of David. Jesus recalls that David himself did something which was forbidden by the Law, because he took the sacred bread of the temple and gave it to the soldiers to eat, because they were hungry (1 S 21, 2-7). No Pharisee had the courage to criticize King David!
• Matthew 12, 5-6: The example of the priests. Accused by the religious authority, Jesus argues beginning from what they themselves, the religious authority, do on the Sabbath day. On the Sabbath day, in the Temple of Jerusalem, the priests worked very much, more than the other days of the week, because they had to sacrifice the animals for the sacrifices, they had to clean, sweep, carry burdens, kill the animals, etc. and nobody said that this was against the Law, they thought it as normal! The Law itself obliged them to do all this (Nb 28, 9-10).
• Matthew 12, 7: The example of the prophets. Jesus quotes the phrase of the Prophet Hosea: I want mercy and not sacrifice. The word mercy means to have the heart (cor) in the misery (miseri) of others, that is, the merciful person has to be very close to the suffering of the persons, has to identify himself/herself with them. The word sacrifice means to have (ficio) a thing consecrated (sacri), that is, that the one who offers a sacrifice separates the sacrificed object from the profane use and placed it at a distance from the daily life of the people. If the Pharisees had had this way of looking at the life of the Prophet Hosea, they would have known that the most pleasing sacrifice for God is not that the consecrated persons lives far away from reality, but that he/she placed totally his/her consecrated heart in the service of the brothers and sisters in order to relieve them from their misery. They would not have considered guilty those who in reality were innocent.
• Matthew 12, 8: The Son of Man is the master of the Sabbath. Jesus ends with this phrase: The Son of Man is the Master of the Sabbath! Jesus himself is the criterion of interpretation of the Law of God. Jesus knows the Bible by heart and invokes it to indicate that the arguments of the others had no foundation. At that time, there were no printed Bibles like we have them today. In every community there was only one Bible written by hand, which remained in the Synagogue. If Jesus knew the Bible so well, it means that during the thirty years of his life in Nazareth, he had participated intensely in the life of the community, where Scripture was read every Saturday. The new experience of God the Father, made Jesus discovered much better the intention of God in decreeing the Laws of the Old Testament. Having lived thirty years in Nazareth and feeling as his own the oppression and exclusion of so many brothers and sisters, in the name of the Law, Jesus must have perceived that this could not be the sense of the Law. If God is Father, then he accepts all as sons and daughters. If God is Father, then we should be brothers and sisters among ourselves. Jesus lived this and prayed for this, from the beginning until the end. The Law should be at the service of life and of fraternity. “The human being is not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for the human being” (Mk 2, 27). Because of his great fidelity to this message, Jesus was condemned to death. He disturbed the system, and the system defended itself, using its force against Jesus, because he wished that the Law be placed at the service of life, and not vice-versa. We lack very much in order to know the Bible at depth and to participate deeply in the community, like Jesus did.
4) Personal questions
• What type of conflicts do you live in the family, in society, in the Church? Which are the conflicts which concern religious practices which today, cause suffering to persons and which are a cause of discussion and polemics? Which is the image of God which is behind all these preconceptions, behind all these norms and prohibitions?
• What has conflict taught you during all these years? Which is the message which you draw from all this for our communities today?
5) Concluding Prayer
Lord, I muse on you in the watches of the night,
for you have always been my help;
in the shadow of your wings I rejoice;
my heart clings to you,
your right hand supports me. (Ps 63,6-8)