In the Gospel for today, our Lord gives us a marvelous example of how to act when confronted with contradictory laws. Jesus and his disciples have been traveling on foot for quite a distance without anything to eat. They were obviously famished. So they did something I would bet many of us readers have done in our youth.
While passing down the road next to a field of grain, probably wheat, they were stripping the heads of grain (reaping) for the kernels of wheat. Then rubbing the kernels in the palm of their hands (threshing) to separate the wheat from the chaff and blowing away (winnowing) the refuse they were ready (prepare a meal) to eat the kernels. This was all legal according to the Pharisees and everyone else’s law.
Except it happened to be on the Sabbath and the Pharisees were watching them. So they said to Jesus: “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” According to the Pharisee’s interpretation of the Sabbath observance, all four activities were violations of the Sabbath law. Jesus did not reprimand his disciples but joined them.
In reply, Jesus asks the Pharisees to remember what David did when his men were fainting with hunger. They “ate the bread of offering that only the priests could lawfully eat.” Their hero and eminent observer of the law exempted his followers from observance of the letter of the law in order to protect them from physical harm. The Pharisees had no response. Jesus made his point.
So it happens oftentimes in life that we are confronted with two laws that contradict each other. A judgment has to be made. It’s a matter of priorities. Certainly the spiritual and physical well being of individuals takes precedent over exaggerated interpretations of inferior human laws and traditions.
In a similar way many insurmountable conflicts could be peacefully resolved if only people were willing to follow the principle that Jesus is teaching in this incident. And how many times would we refrain from rashly judging our neighbors’ activities if we were willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that they had no choice in violating an inferior law or tradition in order to observe some more necessary law.
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