Psalm 54:3-4, 6, 8
Today’s gospel scene brings back old childhood memories of my
dad, my brother and myself walking alongside fields of still green wheat
and picking some ears to eat the soft milky grains. No one ever accused
us of stealing. After all, what is a few ears in a whole field of wheat?
As a matter of fact stealing was not the point of the Pharisees’ reproach
either. Their point was the (to them) unacceptable objective violation
of an established religious norm of behavior —or, at least, of their interpretation
of that norm.
That is precisely what Jesus rejects: the absolutizing of norms regardless
of context, of proportion or of human need; the placing of norms above people.
And he reminds them of one case in their own respected tradition, where
David, a lay person, acted in objective violation of a clear religious norm
by unlawfully eating of the bread reserved for priests —David, “a man after
God’s own heart.”[1Sam. 13:14]
When we absolutize norms, we do not feel we have any need to make allowances
for special circumstances: upbringing, personal acumen, sickness, need, emergencies...
Absolutizing tricks us into feeling excused from using compassion, understanding,
even common sense (arguably the least common of senses.) We need to
remain aware that, in Jesus’ mind, the Sabbath and other religious norms
are for people and not vice versa. [Mk. 2:27]. I am
convinced that we could diffuse much of the current internal tensions in
the Church, if we had the attitude Jesus displays in today’s gospel scene
toward religious norms or guidelines. If we can learn vicariously from historically
recent situations, the rigid literalism of the Taliban leaders might offer
us some pause for reflection.