Meaning of the Sabbath

Matthew 12: 1-8
Ex 11:10—12:14 / Psa 116

If you had known what this means, ‘I desire compassion and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.
(Matthew 12:8)

God asks but little of our time
For us to honor Him at Mass;
So let us leave all cares behind
For Him before this week will pass.

At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath.” But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions, how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for them to eat, but for the priests alone? Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and yet are innocent? But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire compassion and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:1-8)


Clearly, God did not intend the Sabbath to be a burden to man, but to be a day of rest. And easing one’s hunger by picking grains to eat could hardly be considered as work. Besides, human need must take precedence over the mere interpretation of the law of the Sabbath. As Jesus clearly states in today’s Gospel passage, the Sabbath is a day of rest and mercy, not one to be burdened with laws or sacrifice. He reminded the Pharisees that their priests in the temple actually took on more work during the Sabbath because of the sacrifices offered on this day, and yet they were guiltless. Why? Because they were merely fulfilling a ministry that had to be done, just as Jesus had to heal even on a Sabbath, and just as the hungry had to eat even the sacred bread of offering.

External rites of devotion do not a holy person make, nor do they guarantee passage to God’s kingdom. It is the purity of our intentions, motivated by the love of God and fellowmen that draws us and endears us to the Father. Jesus said, “I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:20). Going to mass daily does not make us any righteous if we are repulsed by the beggar at the gate who has made us “one of his regular clients.”. Unless the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist has moved our heart into charitable action, prompted by the Holy Spirit, then the whole exercise of the Mass was just a meaningless ritual. This was what our Lord Jesus cited as the failure of the Pharisees and scribes: their sense of righteousness never progressed beyond the external, but remained for all to see a banner of false piety.

Many people seek to be religious: receiving the sacraments daily, praying novenas, etc. But how spiritual are they? St. James said, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, his religion is in vain. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (Ja.1:26-27).

Let Your laws guide us in the right path, Father God, to understand their meaning in our life, to influence our thoughts and words, and act accordingly in love as Jesus has taught us. May we honor Your Sabbath by adoring You in practicing acts of kindness and compassion on this special day. Amen.

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