Scripture commentary for Friday of the 15th Week in Ordinary Time

Today’s Readings from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops

The field of grain that Jesus and his disciples were going through was probably wheat. They would rub the grains in their hands to free them from the outer shell so they could eat them. They did this on the Sabbath which was the day of rest. The Pharisees were always on the watch to find something to condemn Jesus. They pointed out to him that his disciples were breaking the Sabbath day of rest by their actions: “…on the seventh day you must rest even during the seasons of plowing and harvesting” (Ex 34:21). They were overly strict when they considered the disciples to be harvesting the wheat. The law also said, “When you go through your neighbor’s grain field, you may pluck some of the ears with your hands, but do not put a sickle to your neighbor’s grain” (Deut 23:26).

We must be careful not to be overly strict in interpreting God’s laws. Having compassion for others’ needs is also important. That is also a requirement of God’s law: “Love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom 13:10).

In attempting to loosen up the Pharisees from being overly strict, Jesus pointed out to them an incident in King David’s life when he and his men ate “the bread of offering” which only the priests could lawfully eat (1 Sam 21:1-7). This was allowable because David and his men were hungry—just as were Jesus’ disciples. Jesus also pointed out that for a special reason the priests break the Sabbath law in order to minister in the temple. In doing this sacred work they were perfectly innocent of any wrongdoing.

What did Jesus mean when he said, “…something greater than the Temple is here?” Jesus is the new and greater Temple of God (Jn 2:19). If the priests of the Old Testament could serve in the Temple on the Sabbath and remain guiltless, so can Jesus’ disciples work with Jesus on the Sabbath and remain sinless.

External sacrifices are meaningless when the heart of a person is not in them. The sacrifice must be an expression of the heart’s desire for it to have worth and be acceptable to God.

The Pharisees focused too much on the extra rules they added on to the law to the detriment of the respect and mercy due to persons. Jesus is saying that they need to start having merciful hearts for people and their human needs. They ought to focus their concern more in that direction than trying to catch them breaking the endless rules that they fabricated. They need to be more humane in their treatment of others. Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6 to show that God’s word supports his interpretation and reason for acting the way he did: God desires mercy.

As a Son of Man (who is also divine: Dan 7:13-14) Jesus has the authority to interpret the law: he interprets it in a merciful way. The Sabbath law does not oblige a person to go hungry in order to keep it.


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