21 July. Friday in Week 15

Saint Lawrence of Brindisi, priest and doctor of the church

1st Reading: Exodus 11:10-12:14

Passover is a reminder of our deliverance from slavery and death.

Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh; but the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go out of his land.

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: “This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbour in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it.

“They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the Passover of the Lord. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

“This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.”

Gospel: Matthew 12:1-8

Jesus relaxes the sabbath rules; and 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.”


Celebrating our freedom

There are various ways of responding to God’s guiding call. Exodus provides a set of rules for celebrating the feast of Passover, while Matthew give examples of adapting the law to meet the circumstances. In fact, Exodus 12 contains two sets of regulations for Passover. Those in today’s liturgy are a later amplification of the earlier, less elaborate rendition found in verses 21-28. If we look at the origins of the liturgy, we will appreciate better Jesus’ reasons for not following the traditional understanding of “work” on the Sabbath.

The Passover was meant to keep alive the memory of Israel’s freedom from Egypt and the protection of its first-born. After they settled in Canaan, the feast took on agricultural details, to include freedom from drought and famine and the bestowal of new life through an abundant barley harvest. Passover, therefore, celebrated life — both as saved from oppression, and as the Lord’s gift from the fertile earth. In the Passover ritual, blood had an important role; it was splashed on the doors of each Israelite home and rubbed on the forehead of each worshipper. This blood symbolized the bond of life uniting the people, as well as between them and God. This symbolism of blood is stated succinctly in the Book of Leviticus (Lev 17:11).

In Jesus’ day the religious leaders seemed to focus more on the ritual of Passover than on its liberating meaning, which led to a head-on clash about values. As Jesus and his hungry disciples walked through the fields on a sabbath day, the disciples began to pull off the heads of grain and eat them. This was not really stealing, as the grain was standing free and un-fenced, and farmers were encouraged to leave some grains on the edge for the poor (Lev 19:9) —  yet as it violated one interpretation of how to observe the sabbath, some leaders complained about it.

Jesus did not reject all traditional rules, and in general was careful to respect his people’s customs. But he countered the objectors on their own grounds by citing biblical passages about David and saying how the Jewish priests on temple duty had to work on the sabbath. The Scriptures, he says, do not support the strict rules made by the Pharisees. For if God “wants mercy, not sacrifice”, then the Sabbath Day is better celebrated by affirming and supporting life than by merely observing ritual; indeed, life gives ritual its true meaning. The people in the temple, like David or the priests, are more vital 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, Christians later concluded that he was “Lord of the Sabbath.” Similarly, the early church changed the day of the weekly divine service from Saturday to Sunday.

Greater than the Temple

His disciples were surprised when Jesus told them, “Here I tell you is something greater than the Temple.” In those days it would have been difficult to conceive of anything greater than the magnificent Temple built by Herod in Jerusalem, considered to be one of the wonders of the world. It was revered as the focal point of God’s presence. Yet Jesus claims to be greater than the Temple because he is the new focal point of God’s presence. God was present no longer in a building but through a person, through Jesus, whose other name is Emmanuel, God with us. It is because he is Emmanuel that Jesus speaks of himself in our gospel reading as Lord of the Sabbath.

Jesus is not just Lord of the Sabbath, but Lord of all, but Lord of the church, Lord of our lives. Because he is Lord of our lives, we submit to his word so that his priorities become our priorities. The gospel says Jesus declares that feeding the hungry takes priority over a certain narrow understanding of the Sabbath Law. His hungry disciples are entitled to pick ears of corn to satisfy their hunger, even on the Sabbath. Jesus’ word, and his whole life, helps us to sort out what is really important from what is not so important. {MH}

Saint Lawrence of Brindisi, priest and doctor of the church

Lawrence (1559-1619), was born in Brindisi, Italy. After joining the Capuchin Order, he studied in the University of Padua and became a noted preacher, fluent in several languages, including Greek. He preached in many parts Italy and also in Germany and Austria, to offset the spread of Lutheranism. Finally, while on a peacemaking mission in Iberia, he died in Lisbon, Portugal, on July 22, 1619. He was declared a doctor of the Church by Pope John XXIII in 1959.

One Comment

Join the Discussion

Keep the following in mind when writing a comment

  • Your comment must include your full name, and email. (email will not be published). You may be contacted by email, and it is possible you might be requested to supply your postal address to verify your identity.
  • Be respectful. Do not attack the writer. Take on the idea, not the messenger. Comments containing vulgarities, personalised insults, slanders or accusations shall be deleted.
  • Keep to the point. Deliberate digressions don't aid the discussion.
  • Including multiple links or coding in your comment will increase the chances of it being automati cally marked as spam.
  • Posts that are merely links to other sites or lengthy quotes may not be published.
  • Brevity. Like homilies keep you comments as short as possible; continued repetitions of a point over various threads will not be published.
  • The decision to publish or not publish a comment is made by the site editor. It will not be possible to reply individually to those whose comments are not published.