18Jul 18th July. Friday, Week 15.

First Reading: Isaiah 38:1-6, 21-22,

(King Hezekiah is cured of a serious sickness; as a sign of full health God turns the sun’s rays backward.)

In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.” Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall, and prayed to the Lord: “Remember now, O Lord, I implore you, how I have walked before you in faithfulness with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: “Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the Lord, the God of your ancestor David: I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and defend this city.

Now Isaiah had said, “Let them take a lump of figs, and apply it to the boil, so that he may recover.” Hezekiah also had said, “What is the sign that I shall go up to the house of the Lord?”Gospel: Matthew 12:1-8At 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.”

Gospel 12:1-8

(Jesus defends his disciples for eating on the Sabbath, for he is Lord of the Sabbath; and God desires mercy more than sacrifice.)

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

The religious leaders in Our Lord’s day put more importance on the rubrics of ritual than on its origin and inner, spiritual meaning. This led them to deep suspicion of Jesus and sharp, verbal clashes with him. 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.

Our Lord himself did not act against the traditions, for in general he was careful to keep the rules. However, 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.

This concern for authentic life is also underlined by Isaiah. God wonderfully heals King Hezekiah, whose death had already been predicted, and proves that the king will again go to the temple for prayer by turning back the shadow of the sun. Perhaps we can say that God breaks his own laws in order to celebrate life. We must always believe that deeper than all law is his loving solicitude for life, which must not be unjustly restricted in its exercise. Whether we live or die, or are healthy or sickly, God wants the goodness of life to be manifest in us, and eventually with eternal life in the heavenly Sabbath.