Thursday, July 14, 2016


Homily for July 15th, 2016: Matthew 12:1-8.

          “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day,” is the third of the Ten Commandments. We find the Commandments twice in the Old Testament: in the 20th chapter of Exodus, and in the 5th chapter of Deuteronomy. Both versions say that we keep the Sabbath holy by refraining from work. Exodus says that the Sabbath rest commemorates God resting on the seventh day after creating the world and everything in it in the previous six days. Deuteronomy doesn’t mention God resting; but it spells out in greater detail what Exodus says more briefly: that the Sabbath rest is for all, domestic animals as well as humans, masters and slaves alike: “for you were once slaves in Egypt.”

          By Jesus’ day the rabbis had developed a list of 39 kinds of work that were forbidden on the Sabbath. Harvesting crops and preparation of food were both on the list. So when the Pharisees, who were among Jesus’ most severe critics, saw his disciples picking off heads of grain as they walked through a wheat field on the way to the synagogue on a Sabbath day and eating the grain to satisfy their hunger, they pounced quickly. “That’s forbidden!” the Pharisees say.

          Jesus defends his disciples by citing an incident in the Old Testament regarding the bread offered to God in the Temple each Sabbath. After a week it was eaten by the priests and replaced with fresh bread. Others were forbidden to eat it. Yet once, when the great King David was hungry, he and his companions ate the bread themselves.

          Jesus never abrogated any of God’s laws. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says that he came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (cf. Mt. 5:17). But he made charity the highest law of all. That is why he healed on the Sabbath, for instance. And that is why Pope Francis, celebrating the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in a prison on the first Holy Thursday after his election disregarded the liturgical law which says that only the feet of baptized men should be washed, in order to wash also the feet of some Muslim women. The highest law of all is charity. Or as Jesus said, quoting the prophet Hosea: “It is mercy I desire not sacrifice.”