Isaiah 38:1-6; 21-22
Matthew 12: 1-8
When any of us hears the name Alfred Nobel we immediately think of the Nobel peace prize. But that wasn’t always the case. Nobel was the inventor of dynamite and that’s how he made his fortune. But the day after the death of his brother he opened the newspaper and found his own obituary. In identifying the wrong Nobel, the newspaper described him as a “merchant of death” who had accumulated a fortune from the sale of explosives and weapons of war. Horrified at the thought that this would be the world’s assessment of his achievements, Nobel revised his will that very day. Wanting to be known as a proponent of peace and mercy, he established the coveted prizes which are awarded every year for the advancement of peace among the peoples of the world.
It’s sometimes said in error that the God of the Old Testament is a God of judgment and the God of the New Testament is a God of mercy. But Jesus gives the lie to that in our gospel today when he rebukes the Pharisees for condemning the actions of his disciples – as if they were flouting the Sabbath law by breaking off grains of wheat and eating them because they were hungry. He reminds them of what David and his soldiers did in eating the holy bread in the temple and he quotes the prophet Hosea, “It is mercy I desire and not sacrifice”.
While the law of refraining from working on the Sabbath was as sacred to Jesus as it was to all Jews, he allowed exceptions to the law when necessary, and reminded the Pharisees elsewhere that ‘the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath’.
When Jesus reminds his hearers that God desires mercy and not sacrifice, he’s not condemning the act of ritual sacrifice. Rather he wants them to understand that the purpose of sacrifice is to bring us into closer union with God. And in fact such worship should make us more like God.
And what is God like? Today’s first reading from the Old Testament shows us: he is compassionate! Even though the king deserved to die because of his sins, God listened to his plea for mercy and spared him. Our daily offering of the sacrifice of the Mass should make us more like God. It is not God-like to turn aside from someone in need because we judge that he or she doesn’t deserve help. It is not Godlike to look with contempt on peoples’ weaknesses and addictions. God wants us to be loving, understanding and merciful as he is. We may not walk off with the Nobel peace prize, but we’ll indeed be considered blessed in God’s eyes.
- Fr. Damian Towey, CP is a member of the community at Our Lady of Florida Spiritual Center,North Palm Beach,Florida.