LORD OF THE SABBATH

Mark 2:23-28: Jesus Is Lord of the Sabbath

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain.  The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need?  In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

 

In this reading, Jesus has to contend with the Pharisees, who are distorting Moses’ Law, by highlighting the letter of the law while ignoring the actual spirit of the Law. The Pharisees accuse Jesus’ disciples of violating the Sabbath (cf. Mk 2:24). According to their overwhelming legalism, to pick the heads of grain meant “to reap”, while crushing them in their hands signified “to thresh.” These agricultural tasks —and some forty others— were forbidden on the Sabbath as a day of rest. The breads of offering the Gospel speaks of, were twelve breads that were placed every week in the sanctuary table, as a tribute from the twelve tribes of Israel to their God and Lord.

Abiathar’s attitudeis the same one Jesus is teaching us today: the less important precepts of the Law have to give way before the most important ones; a ceremonial precept has to give way to a precept of the natural law; the precept of resting on the Sabbath should not, therefore, prevail over the basic needs of subsistence. The II Vatican Council, was inspired by the previous example, and to underline that people have to prevail over economic and social questions, says: «Social order and its progressive development have to subordinate always to persons’ welfare, because things are made for man and not the other way round. The Lord pointed it out already when He said the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath (cf. Mk 2:27)».

Saint Augustine also says: «Love and do as you please». Have you understood it well or are you still under the obsession that secondary things overrule the love we have to place on whatever we do? To work, forgive, correct, attend Mass on Sundays, take care of sick people, abide by the commandments, is certainly very important. But do we do it because we have to or because of our love for God? I hope that we can stand apart from the Pharisees that so challenged Jesus by, instead, being motivated out of love for God, not just duty.

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THE SPIRIT OF THE LAW PREVAILS

Frequently and throughout the Gospel stories, Jesus has to contend with the Pharisees, who are distorting Moses’ Law, by highlighting the letter of the law while ignoring the actual spirit of the Law. The Pharisees accuse Jesus’ disciples of violating the Sabbath (cf. Mk 2:24). According to their overwhelming sophistry, to pick the heads of grain means “to reap”, while crushing them in their hands signifies “to thresh”: these agricultural tasks —and some forty other— were forbidden on the Sabbath, as a day of rest. Incidentally, the breads of offering the Gospel speaks of, were twelve breads that were placed every week in the sanctuary table, as a tribute from the twelve tribes of Israel to their God and Lord.

In 1 Sam 16:1-13, Abiathar’s attitude is the same one Jesus is teaching us today: the less important precepts of the Law have to give way before the most important ones; a ceremonial precept has to give way to a precept of the natural law; the precept of resting on the Sabbath should not, therefore, prevail over the basic needs of subsistence. The Second Vatican Council, was inspired by the previous example, and to underline that people have to prevail over economic and social questions, says: «Social order and its progressive development have to subordinate always to persons’ welfare, because things are made for man and not the other way round. The Lord pointed it out already when He said the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath (cf. Mk 2:27)».

Saint Augustine also says: «Love and do as you please». Have you understood it well or are you still under the obsession secondary things overrule the love we have to place on whatever we do? To work, forgive, correct, attend Mass on Sundays, take care of sick people, abide by the commandments…, do we do it because we have to or because of our love for God? If only these considerations may help us to revitalize all our deeds with the love our Lord has instilled in our hearts, precisely so that we can also love him.

 

HELPING JUST THAT ONE

Simply put, a leader, to be a leader, must have compassion. One can never lighten the load of another, unless one has first felt pressure in one’s own soul. You may never be used by God to bring blessing, until God has opened your eyes and made you see things as they are. One must first experience pressure before one may have such compassion that he or she may then work to alleviate the pressure felt by the neighbor for the purpose of bringing peace.

 Those needing compassion seek out those who have experienced what they have and are feeling. For example, I believe you all know the story of Joni Eareckson Tada. She was paralyzed as a result of an accident and is now a very well known Christian speaker. She doesn’t even have to say a word to minister to those many handicapped individuals that attend her conferences. She need only approach the microphone and smile. All know that she understands where they are coming from and the type of issues they encounter. There is perhaps no one better to comfort those in a wheelchair than one who is herself similarly handicapped.

In Mark 3:7-12 we are shown that that Jesus — the One who promises us peace— indeed felt and experienced its opposite. He was surrounded by those with needs. In fact, Jesus was so pressured by the needs of the world around Him that He sought out the use of a boat so that He could fulfill His true ministry. And it was indeed the pressure of the world—the crowd consisted of Jews from Galilee and Judea as well as Gentiles from Tyre and Sidon. The pressure was from North and South, East and West. The pressure figuratively already placed a cross upon the shoulders of our Lord even at the very beginning of His ministry.

Jesus did not cease His ministry as a result of these pressures. He devised a way to continue the true purpose of His ministry —the revelation of the Kingdom of God —despite the pressures imposed by those around Him.

We, too, have the need to be compassionate. To recognize the needs of others and to step up and out to help those in need. Still, this can be extremely overwhelming. How can we help the poor of the world, when it would cost so much just to give just minimal assistance to those living in our own community? How do we clothe the naked in New Orleans, when we have homeless shelters in our own hometown? Of what use is sending money for medical assistance in Africa, when the leaders take and squander what is sent for their own personal gain?

 

Perhaps you will recall this story:  A businessman and his wife were busy to the point of exhaustion. They were committed to each other, their family, their church, their work, their friends.

Needing a break, they escaped for a few days of relaxation at an oceanfront hotel. One night a violent storm lashed the beach and sent massive breakers thundering against the shore. The man lay in his bed listening and thinking about his own stormy life of never-ending demands and pressures.

The wind finally died down and shortly before daybreak the man slipped out of bed and took a walk along the beach to see what damage had been done. As he strolled, he saw that the beach was covered with starfish that had been thrown ashore and helplessly stranded by the great waves. Once the morning sun burned through the clouds, the starfish would dry out and die.

Suddenly the man saw an interesting sight. A young boy who had also noticed the plight of the starfish was picking them up, one at a time, and flinging them back into the ocean.

“Why are you doing that?” the man asked the lad as he got close enough to be heard. “Can’t you see that one person will never make a difference – you’ll never be able to get all those starfish back into the water. There are just too many.”

“Yes, that’s true,” the boy sighed as he bent over and picked up yet another and tossed it back into the water. Then as he watched it sink, he looked at the man and smiled, and said, “But it sure made a difference to that one.”

We are not god. Jesus is. While Jesus was well capable of withstanding pressures beyond our capacity, we still are capable of withstanding those which he gives us. We can help just one. With His help, we can help as many as he places before us. The Lord that multiplied the loaves and fish, is fully capable of multiplying our acts of love and compassion in the world. It does require us, however, to take that first step: to reach out in faith to help that poor child through one of the Christian international organizations; to send that care package to one soldier in Iraq; to assist one day in the kitchen at. Let/s say,  St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality.

 

Let the following never be said of any one of us:

I was hungry……and you formed a humanities club and you discussed my hunger. Thank you.

I was imprisoned…… and you crept off quietly to your chapel in the cellar to pray for my release.

I was naked………and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.

I was sick……… and you knelt and thanked God for your health.

I was homeless…….and you preached to me  of the spiritual shelter of the  love of God.

I was lonely……… and you left me alone to pray for me.

You seem so holy; so close to God.

But I’m still very hungry……… and lonely…….. and cold.

So where have your prayers gone?  What have they done? What does it profit a man to page through his book of prayers, when the rest of the world is crying for help?  (M. Lunn, 1,500 Inspirational Quotes and Illustrations)

 

Instead, let us all go out — at least for today— and help just that one.

WHO IS JESUS?

Have you ever noticed how each gospel writer tells the story of Jesus in a somewhat different way? The basic story line remains the same, but each author emphasizes the different details, in keeping with the overall goal of the gospel he is writing.

Take Mark’s version of the way Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law. Mark highlights Jesus taking her by the hand and helping her to her feet as he heals her. Such a scene of intimacy and compassion fits with Mark’s overall goal of showing how Jesus is close to us, how approachable he is, and how deeply he is concerned for our well-being. In a similar passage, after taking a little girl by the hand and raising her from her deathbed, Jesus immediately asks her family to get her something to eat.

Because Luke often emphasizes the value of community and fellowship, he tells how the disciples interceded with Jesus on behalf of Peter’s mother-in-law. Elsewhere, Luke goes into detail regarding a group of women—a mini-community—who followed Jesus and supported him financially.

Then there’s Matthew, who highlights Jesus as the fulfillment of the Hebrew prophesies about the coming Messiah. At the end of his version of this story, Matthew tells us that Jesus performed these healings to fulfill what was written in the Book of Isaiah: “He took away our infirmities and bore our diseases.”

So, here we have three versions of one story, each on showing us something new and different about Jesus and his love for us. And because God designed the gospels this way, we can all come to a richer and fuller understanding of Jesus.

The next time you read a gospel story, make it a point to find that same story in another gospel and read it closely. Look for additional details or insights that this story gives you. Remember: God gave us the Bible so that we could grow closer to Jesus and love him more. What better way than to see him through the eyes of FOUR inspired writers, instead of just one?

HOW COULD THEY? HOW CAN WE?

According to the Casper, Wyoming, Star-Tribune, Charles Taylor was brought into the courtroom of Judge James Fleetwood. Taylor was accused of robbing a shoe store at knifepoint, taking a pair of tan hiking boots and $69. During the trial, Taylor propped his feet up on the defense table. The judge looked over and did a double take. Taylor was wearing a pair of tan hiking boots. Surely, nobody would be so stupid as to wear the boots he stole to his trial, the judge thought.

Nevertheless, as the jury deliberated, the judge had an FBI agent call the shoe store. He learned that the stolen boots were size 10 ½ from Lot 1046. They checked the boots that Taylor wore to trial and found that they, too, were size 10 ½ and from Lot 1046.

The jury found Taylor guilty, and the judge sent him back to jail in his stocking feet.

As a Judicial Clerk, I had my own opportunities to shake my head in wonder at the antics of some criminal defendants. I reviewed one case on appeal in which the defendants had ransacked an elderly couple’s home. They piled the TVs, stereos, jewelry and other items of value at the back door. Apparently, they had worked up an appetite. The men were arrested because the elderly couple called 911 when they looked in their kitchen window and saw the robbers happily gulping down a pancake breakfast at their kitchen table.

Some transgressors are apparently either very stupid or very brazen about their crimes.

It would seem that the 12 Apostles had the same IQ as the criminals we have mentioned above. I can’t even begin to imagine the frustration of Jesus.

I think, from this reading of Mk 9:30-37, that Jesus was in great need of comfort. He took the apostles and separated from the needy crowds: the crowds that needed His touch, His healing, His teaching, His constant presence and ministry. He separated because He wanted to forewarn the apostles—His closest and most intimate friends– about the horrendous events that were soon to enfold: events that would bring Him more pain and shame than we as human beings will ever be able to fully comprehend.

Instead of comforting their precious Lord and assuring Jesus of their undying devotion and love, they decided that now was the perfect time to find out who was the greatest in God’s Kingdom. Who would sit at God’s right hand and usher in the political kingdom that they still expected Jesus to bring?

Now, I have the utmost respect for the Apostles who followed Jesus and ultimately did help to usher in His kingdom. But, really, with respect to this reading….how dumb and uncaring can you get!?!?!?

How could someone who has been so close to Jesus; living with Him, eating with Him, following Him on a daily basis, so miss the point? How could a person who claims to love this awesome Lord, who has given only of Himself and will continue to give of Himself even to death, not want to wrap Him in their arms and assure Him of their undying love? How could anyone who knew Jesus think of any of their own personal interests at a time so intimate, so filled with angst and despair? How could this be?

How could Jesus’ closest followers be so darn stupid and callous?

How can we?

Don’t we do the exact same thing every single time we sin? We, like the apostles, know of Jesus’ awesome and all encompassing love. We receive Jesus –often everyday in the Eucharist. We ask Jesus into our hearts and promise that we will strive harder to serve him over the course of the day. We leave the Church with the best of intentions; filled with love, gratitude and God’s blessing.

Then we stop at Wegmans and the person in front of us apparently can’t count to 10. She glibly places 12 items on the belt in the express lane. Then has the audacity to add a couple packs of chewing gum and breath mints. We have to get home to get the coffee pot a boiling or the bills apaid ….and here she is taking up our precious time—so much more important than her’s must be.

We miss our street and, in frustration, cut in front of another car so that we can turn around in the nearest driveway. Yes, that other driver has the technical right of way, but our needs to get to the bank are certainly so much more urgent than whatever that driver might need to do. We have the right to take some kind of emergency action.

I, for one, am ever thankful that these “dumb and uncaring” apostles were wise enough to include this self-deprecating story in the Gospels. They were willing to let us in on their weaknesses, because that is not the highlight of the story—only a necessary pathway to discerning the real truth; the real beauty and message of this Gospel.

It is not our stupidity or ignorance that matters to God. Indeed, God would prefer that we act like little children. For little children, the “smart factor” of your daily decisions is not what is truly important. Instead, the child is focused on the love of the parent. The child recognizes the need for and the authority of the parent. The child’s place in the family is not questioned. It is simply accepted.

Jesus shows us God’s mercy. He does not cry out in frustration at the apostles’ failure to provide the love and compassion that Jesus Himself so needs. He recognizes the child-likeness that is the true underlying character of the apostles and us. He does not condemn the apostles—or us—for their or our own stupidity, but, instead, offers continued reconciliation, love and mercy. This gift is and remains ours whenever we, too, like the apostles remember that we too are fumbling, bumbling children of God in need of constant reminders of the love, mercy and authority of God and God alone.

HOW GENEROUS IS GOD?

There are many readings taken from the Gospel that are intended to give us great comfort.

  • The wedding at Cana and the provision of wine for the newlyweds;
  • Jesus’ promise that all of our needs will be met and His warning us not to worry—
    • He tells us to consider the lilies of the field; and
    • He Opens His arms to comfort us whenever we are heavily burdened and need rest; and
  • And Mark 6:34-44–the provision of the crowd’s and our daily need for bread and the necessities of life.

These stories and promises certainly bring peace and joy to our hearts and rest to our souls. We know that the promises are true and we rely on the Word of our Lord. How is it though, that this is so much easier when things are going well?

          It is easy to rest on the truth of these promises when:

  • Your spouse has not lost his job, but instead has been promised a sizeable raise;
  • The stock market is bullish with only good fortune in the forecast;
  • Your son or daughter has not enlisted in the marines while a war is raging in the Middle East;
  • Your child has successfully completed his or her high school and is accepted and actually looking forward to the start of college at the school of first choice.

Is it really as easy to rest on these truths when:

  •  More and more people are worried about being employed next week?
  • The stock market is wiping out your retirement income and there is no time to make up the difference?
  • Your son has just grown out of all the clothes you purchased two days ago and the only money left is needed to purchase food for next week?

Perhaps not. But it is really for these times that Jesus spoke these truths.

 Jesus has. Jesus does. And Jesus will always meet our needs. Sometimes these needs are indeed met through miracles. I can tell story after story of how people have had needs that were miraculously met by some surprise check that showed up in the mail or an unanticipated invitation to a dinner just when the cupboards were bare. But, more often than not, Jesus relies on the work of those around us to meet the needs of the suffering—in the same way that Jesus relied upon the actions and service of his twelve apostles in today’s readings. The work is certainly that of God. The encouragement is provided by Jesus. But the actual doing of the good is by real life people just like the apostles…..just like us.

 This is certainly true with respect to the necessities of our daily lives. But it is even more true with respect to the spiritual needs of our souls. Nothing can satisfy the deepest longing and desire of the heart, except God alone.  Do you believe that is true? Of course you do.

Of all the miracles Jesus did, this is the only one which is repeated in all four gospels. It is so significant that I think it is worth reviewing the reading for just a minute or two. A great multitude had gathered to hear Jesus, no doubt because they were hungry for the word of life.  Jesus’ disciples wanted to send them away at the end of the day because they did not have the resources to feed them. They even complained how much money it would take to feed such a crowd – at least six month’s wages! Jesus took the little they had – five loaves and two fish – and giving thanks to his heavenly Father, distributed it to all until they were satisfied of their hunger. They took up what was left over, twelve baskets full so that nothing would be wasted.

What is the significance of this miracle? The miraculous feeding of such a great multitude pointed to God’s provision of manna in the wilderness for the people of Israel under Moses’ leadership. This food foreshadowed the true heavenly bread which Jesus would offer his followers. The sign of the multiplication of the loaves when the Lord says the blessing, breaks and distributes through his disciples prefigures the superabundance of the unique bread of his Eucharist or Lord’s Supper. Jesus makes a claim only God can make: He is the true bread of heaven that can satisfy the deepest hunger we experience. The feeding of the five thousand shows the remarkable generosity of God and his great kindness towards us. In the multiplication of the loaves and fishes we see a sign and a symbol of what God always does. When God gives, he gives abundantly. He gives more than we need for ourselves that we may have something to share with others, especially those who lack what they need. God takes the little we have and multiplies it for the good of others.

“Lord Jesus Christ, you satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts and you feed us with the finest of wheat (Psalm 81:16). Fill us with gratitude for your blessings and give us generous hearts so that we may freely share with others what you have given to us.”

A DATE WITH DESTINY

Alexander Blake’s book The Nureyev Image describes how totally committed Rudolf Nureyev was to dancing. According to Nureyev himself, ballet became his whole life, his only “avenue of fulfillment.”

 Blake writes the following about Nureyev’s dedication to his art: For its sake he has fought and sweated, suffered, quarreled, insulted and borne insults, schemed, dreamed and made bitter sacrifices. It takes priority in his life over everything and everybody; his loyalty to it is unquestioning. It is both the means of his living and the end.

The way Nureyev loved to dance and dedicated his whole life to it gives us an inkling of what Jesus meant when He said we should love God: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.”

This text from Deuteronomy, which is quoted by our Lord, is called the shema, the Hebrew imperative meaning “hear,” or “Pay attention.” The shema constitutes the basic creed of Judaism. It is recited every day by pious Jews and it is their last utterance when they die.

By quoting the shema, Jesus declares that it is also the foundation of his own faith and devotion. But then Jesus goes beyond the shema. He combines it with Leviticus 19:18 – the verse about loving one’s neighbor as oneself.

Both commandments were basic to Judaism. Was their combination into a single moral principle original with Jesus? ….I don’t know. The answer is not really all that important. What is important is that Jesus incorporated the two commandments into his own life and taught his disciples to do the same. For Jesus there can be no true love of God unless it expresses itself in love of neighbor.

But these texts (Lev 19:19; Mk 12: 28-34) tell us not only that we should love both God and neighbor. They also tell us how. We must love God with our whole being—heart, mind, soul and strength. We must love our neighbor as ourselves.

Rudolf Nureyev loved dancing with his whole being. He would rise in the morning with ballet dancing on his mind. He would retire at night the same way. He would spend six or seven hours a day practicing his routines, because he loved what he was doing. For Nureyev, dancing was not a duty. It was his destiny.

The same is true of people who love what they are doing with their whole being. Master artists, dedicated scientists, great actors and actresses, outstanding statesmen and stateswomen – all love their careers with their whole heart, their whole soul, and with all their strength.

Should we do any less in our love for God? Should we love God less when He is the source of all our talents and resources? Should we be less excited about the Creator of the order and the beauty of the universe?

Is our love of God a duty? Or is it our destiny?

If we love God with our whole being, then we will worship him even while we work; pray to him whenever we have an opportunity; read his word as well as the newspaper; listen to his voice just as much as we listen to our radios or television sets.

From loving God with our whole being will follow loving our neighbor as ourselves. We will look on their needs, feel their hurts and identify with their dreams as if they were our own.

By reaching out to love our neighbor as ourselves, we will find that the kingdom of God is very near and experience what someone once wrote:

I went to the mountains to seek wisdom, but did not find it.

I went to the sea to seek peace, but did not find it.

I went to the temple to seek God, but did not find him.

I went to serve my neighbor, and I found all three.

(author unknown)