15 July. Friday, Week 15
Saint Bonaventure, optional memorial
1st Reading: Isaiah 38:1-6, 21-22,
King Hezekiah is cured of a serious sickness; as a sign of full health God turns the sun’s rays backward
In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.” Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall, and prayed to the Lord: “Remember now, O Lord, I implore you, how I have walked before you in faithfulness with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: “Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the Lord, the God of your ancestor David: I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and defend this city.
Now Isaiah had said, “Let them take a lump of figs, and apply it to the boil, so that he may recover.” Hezekiah also had said, “What is the sign that I shall go up to the house of the Lord?”Gospel: Matthew 12:1-8At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and yet are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”
Gospel: Matthew 12:1-8
Disciples may eat on the Sabbath, for Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. God desires mercy more than sacrifice
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”
The religious leaders in Our Lord’s day paid more attention to the rubrics of ritual than to its origin and inner, spiritual meaning. This led them to deep suspicion of Jesus and sharp, verbal clashes with him. As Jesus and his friends walked through the fields on a Sabbath day, his hungry disciples began to pull off the heads of grain and eat them. In their culture, this was not stealing, as the grain was standing free and unfenced, and farmers were encouraged to leave some grains on the edge for the poor (Lev 19:9); but as it seemed to violate the traditional rules for keeping the Sabbath, some religious people complained about it.
Our Lord himself did not ignore all Jewish traditions, for in general he was careful to keep the rules. But here he countered the objectors on their own grounds by citing a biblical story about David, and by referring to the work of priests on temple duty. The Scriptures, he says, do not endorse the strict interpretation made by the Pharisees. For if God “wants mercy, not sacrifice,” then the Sabbath is better celebrated by affirming life than by ritual; indeed, life gives ritual its true meaning. The people in the temple, like David or the priests, are more important than the temple itself, so the disciples could act as they did for the sake of life. Since Jesus interpreted the Sabbath regulations so freely, then the later church concluded that he was “Lord of the Sabbath.” Similarly, the same early church changed the Sabbath celebration from Saturday to Sunday.
This concern for sincerity and authentic values is also underlined by Isaiah. God wonderfully heals King Hezekiah, whose death had already been predicted, and proves that the king will again go to the temple for prayer by turning back the shadow of the sun. Perhaps we can say that God breaks his own laws in order to celebrate life. We must always believe that deeper than all law is his loving solicitude for life, which must not be unjustly restricted in its exercise. Whether we live or die, or are healthy or sickly, God wants the goodness of life to be manifest in us, and eventually with eternal life in the heavenly Sabbath.
Jesus, our true temple
The Temple Mount in Jerusalem is the huge platform built by Herod the Great on which stood the magnificent temple he had built. Sadly it is much fought over today, between Palestinians and Israelis. In its heyday that temple was admired as one of the seven wonders of the world. In today’s gospel, Jesus says to the Pharisees, ‘here, I tell you, is something greater than the Temple.’ When he spoke those words, he was, no doubt, pointing to himself. He was claiming to be greater than even the magnificent temple that Herod had built. That temple, in particular the Holy of Holies at the heart of the temple, was considered to be the place where God was present on earth.
Today’s gospel makes the claim that Jesus is now the one where God’s presence on earth is focussed. God is no longer present in a building but in a person, the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is Emmanuel, God-with-us. Where Jesus is present, God is present. For us as Christians, where the risen Lord is present, God is present. We believe that the risen Lord is present with us in a special way in the Eucharist; in venerating the Eucharist, we are venerating Emmanuel, God with us. The risen Lord is also present in each one of us, in the members of his body, the church. Indeed, he is present in some sense in every human being who is suffering. In honouring and respecting each other, we honour the Lord. [MH]