Our Gospel today focuses on a central piece of Jewish life—the cessation of work on the Sabbath. Observant Jews cook meals before the Sabbath in order that they may celebrate and imitate God who rested on the seventh day of creation. The custom is a beautiful reminder to us Christians who have busy lives and many time commitments on the weekend; they become opportunities to fit in our necessary housework or errands, children’s activities, or possibly to get a jump start on work for our job for the coming week. A day to rest with God would be a hard practice for many of us addicted to work.
What Jesus encounters in the Gospel is when a religious practice becomes an inflexible rule. Jesus as a faithful Jew would have followed the custom of the Sabbath, but he saw the practice of the Sabbath within a context. To Jesus, the Sabbath is not a rule simply to be followed to attain holiness and an identity, but it serves humanity to bring us closer to God. The Pharisees encounter Jesus’ disciples picking grain to eat, and complain that Jesus and his disciples do not observe the Sabbath by preparing food. It appears that the Pharisees mean to publicly ridicule him and the disciples, and do not wish to understand what were the needs of the disciples for them to act as they did.
To the Pharisees’ remarks, Jesus reframes the Sabbath by saying: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Instead, the mercy of Jesus guides us to seek understanding and to remain humble. These words of Jesus are a good reminder for us as our Church reconciles the practical internal divisions that challenge its unity. When we encounter people who practice their faith differently, our first response could be to doubt or judge their intentions. That is the way of the Pharisees. The way of Jesus asks of us to be merciful, and to sacrifice whatever impairs us from beholding a fellow person as God sees him or her.
How am I inflexible and judgmental towards others’ faith lives? When have I experienced the effort of someone else to understand me? How as God in that experience?