In today’s Gospel, the Pharisees challenge Jesus because he has allowed his disciples to pick grain from the fields as they pass through. The investigator in me really wants to know where they were going on the Sabbath, and what they were talking about just before this exchange… Were Jesus and his disciples on their way somewhere to celebrate the Sabbath and the Pharisees interrupted his teaching? Were the Pharisees already engaged in a debate with Jesus, or was this just a group of men following Jesus around, looking for something to complain about?
So why then does Jesus get so irritated with them? The Pharisees just want to uphold the Law, to honor God’s commandments. There are several reasons, I think. The first might be that Jesus had been trying to teach something very important that day and those criticizing Jesus were so distracted that they were not even listening. Once again, their preoccupation with unattainable perfection in human action had prevented them from seeing what was most important—being present with the Lord and listening to His words.
The second might be that in being obsessed with following the letter of the Law, they completely missed the fact that the disciples were hungry. They seemed to feel that it was better to go hungry than to risk violating the prohibition against work on the Sabbath. And that is why they were wrong the spirit of the Law requires that men refrain from unnecessary work on the Sabbath, but it also maintains that mercy is paramount. How was it merciful to require people to go hungry to satisfy their need for perfection?
They should have been concerned with following the spirit behind the Law, not the letter of the Law. The greatest commandment of all is to love the Lord with all your heart, mind and soul. The Lord of all was right there in front of them, but they were so intent on their own agenda that they could not see him, and they certainly were not worshiping him..
This should be a reminder to us as well. How often are we so intent on rectifying what we see as wrong practice that we totally miss the effect of our words and actions on others? This is not to say that we shouldn’t correct —privately and gently – when necessary. We need always to remember that our words and actions should be drawing others closer to Christ, not pushing them away. If we can remember to put mercy first in our actions, we might find others more willing to listen to our words.
©Carol Ann Chybowski, 2016