Daily Reflection
July 18th, 2003
Dennis Hamm, S.J.
Theology Department
Click here for a photo of and information on this writer.

Exodus 11:10--12:14
Psalm 116:12-13, 15-16, 17-18
Matthew 12:1-8

It seems innocent enough, the disciples snacking on heads of grain as they walk through a field.  But apparently for these particular Pharisees that act counts as “harvesting”—a work forbidden on the Sabbath.  (Notice that the implied “violation” is not trespassing or stealing, but breaking the Sabbath.)  When Jesus rises to their defense, he employs a principle that we find in the writings of early rabbis - meeting human need supersedes the Sabbath no-work rule.  To make his point, he cites an episode about David from 1 Samuel 21, about the time David (in his pre-king days, when Saul was hunting for him) took the liberty of acquiring the sacred bread of the presence from the shrine of Nob to feed his hungry henchmen.  The parallel here being the eating of what was forbidden by the Law, which reserved the eating of the showbread to priests.  Then, to drive the point home about need superseding Sabbath rules, Jesus invokes the example of the Law actually requiring priests to work on the Sabbath when it mandates them to change the showbread on the Sabbath (Lev 24:8) and double the daily sacrifices on the Sabbath (Num 28:9-10).  “I say to you, something greater than the temple is here,” Jesus says.  That “something greater” would seem to be Jesus himself and his preaching of the kingdom, making their work with him more important than that of temple priests.  In case these two examples and that last saying don’t make his point perfectly clear, Jesus adds a clincher from the prophet Hosea (6:6a): “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

Before I started studying the Bible, I had trouble with that last statement.  Wasn’t sacrifice (in the sense of personal sacrifice) an important part of religion, I wondered?  When I finally looked up Hosea 6:6a, I finally got the point.  Hosea was talking about the animal sacrifices of the temple; the second part of Hosea 6:6a makes that clear with its parallelism: “and knowledge of God rather than holocausts.”  So, getting or giving something to eat is more important that temple sacrifices.  Again, meeting human need takes precedence over ceremonial law.  Finally, topping everything said thus far, comes the authority of Jesus himself: “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Where does all this leave you and me?  Well, for one thing it is a call to get my priorities straight.  As a teacher, am I tending first of all to my students’ need to learn and be treated as fellow human beings hungering for truth, or do I allow matters of routine and procedure to sometimes get in the way?  As a priest, am I putting first congregants’ thirst for reconciliation, celebration and meaning?  As a family member and friend, am I looking beyond my projects and tasks to address the needs of my family and friends? And as for the Christian Sabbath itself, am I finding ways to spend my Sundays in ways that reflect that Jesus really is for me “Lord of the Sabbath”?

Click on the link below to send an e-mail response
to the writer of this reflection.

Collaborative Ministry Office Guestbook