19Jul 19 July, 2013. Friday of the Fifteenth Week

Exod 11:10ff. The ritual for Passover keeps in mind Israel’s deliverance from slavery and death.

Matt 12:1ff. Jesus relaxes the sabbath rules; and God desires mercy more than sacrifice.

First Reading: Exodus 11:10-12:14

Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh; but the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go out of his land.

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: “This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you.

Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbour in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the Passover of the Lord. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.”

Gospel: Matthew 12:1-8

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”

Celebrating Life

Ther are various ways of responding to God’s law. Exodus provides a careful set of rules for the celebration of Passover , while Matthew give examples of adapting the law to meet the circumstances. In fact, Exodus 12 contains two sets of regulations for Passover. Those in today’s liturgy are a later amplification of the earlier, less elaborate rendition found in verses 21-28. If we look at the origins of the liturgy, we will appreciate better Jesus’ reasons for not following the traditional understanding of “work” on the Sabbath.

The Passover was a feast to keep alive the memory of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and the protection of its first-born. After they settled in Canaan, the feast took on agricultural details, to include deliverance from drought and famine and the bestowal of new life through an abundant barley harvest. Passover, therefore, celebrated life – both as saved from oppression, and as the Lord’s gift from the fertile earth. In the Passover ritual, blood had an important role; it was splashed on the doors of each Israelite home and rubbed on the forehead of each worshipper. This blood symbolized the bond of life uniting the people, as well as between them and God. This symbolism of blood is stated succinctly in the Book of Leviticus (Lev 17:11).

In Jesus’ day the religious leaders put more importance on the ritual of the Passover than on its origin and meaning, which led to a head-on clash that arose quite spontaneously. As Jesus and his hungry disciples walked through the fields on a sabbath day, the disciples began to pull off the heads of grain and eat them. This was not stealing, as the grain was standing free and unfenced, and farmers were encouraged to leave some grains on the edge for the poor (Lev 19:9); but as it seemed to violate the traditional rules for keeping the sabbath, some leaders complained about it.

Jesus himself did not reject the traditions, for in general he was careful to keep the rules. But he countered the objectors on their own grounds by citing biblical passages about David and referring to the work of priests on temple duty. The Scriptures, he says, do not endorse the strict interpretation made by the Pharisees. For if God “wants mercy, not sacrifice”, then the Sabbath is better celebrated by affirming life than by ritual; indeed, life gives ritual its true meaning. The people in the temple, like David or the priests, are more important than the temple itself, so the disciples could act as they did for the sake of life. Since Jesus interpreted the Sabbath regulations so freely, then the later church concluded that he was “Lord of the Sabbath.” Similarly, the same early church changed the Sabbath celebration from Saturday to Sunday.