Lectio Divina: Matthew 12:1-8
1) Opening prayer
God our Father,
Your light of truth
guides us to the way of Christ.
May all who follow Him
reject what is contrary to the Gospel.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2) Gospel Reading - Matthew 12:1-8
Jesus was going through a field of grain on the sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, "See, your disciples are doing what is unlawful to do on the sabbath." He said to the them, "Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry, how he went into the house of God and ate the bread of offering, which neither he nor his companions but only the priests could lawfully eat? Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests serving in the temple violate the sabbath and are innocent? I say to you, something greater than the temple is here. If you knew what this meant, I desire mercy, not sacrifice, you would not have condemned these innocent men. For the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath."
• In today’s Gospel we see that there are many conflicts between Jesus and the religious authority of that time. They are conflicts regarding the religious practices of that time: fasting, purity, observance of the Sabbath, etc. In our day, they would be conflicts regarding, for example, matrimony between divorced persons, friendship with prostitutes, acceptance of homosexuals, communion without being married by the Church, Sunday mass obligation, fasting on Good Friday. The conflicts were many: at home, in school, in work, in the community, in the Church, in personal life, in society. They were conflicts regarding growth, relationship, age, mentality. So many of them! To live life without conflicts is impossible! Conflict is part of life and starts at birth. We are born with birth pangs. Conflicts are not accidents along the way, but form part of the journey, of the process of conversion. What strikes us is the way in which Jesus faces the conflicts. In the discussion with His enemies, He was not trying to show them that He was right, but wished to make the experience which He, Jesus, had of God, Father and Mother, prevail. The image of God which others had was that of a severe Judge who only threatened and condemned. Jesus tries to have mercy prevail, since the objective of the Law is the practice of Love.
• Matthew 12:1-2: To pick grain on the Sabbath day and the criticism of the Pharisees. On a Sabbath day, the disciples went through the fields and they picked grain to eat them. They were hungry. The Pharisees arrived and invoke the Bible to say that the disciples were transgressing the law of the Sabbath (cf. Ex 20:8-11). Jesus also uses the Bible and responds invoking three examples taken from Scripture: (1) that of David, (2) that of the legislation on work of the priests in the temple and (3) from the action of the Prophet Hosea, that is, He quotes a historical book, a legislative book and a prophetic book.
• Matthew 12:3-4: The example of David. Jesus recalls that David himself did something which was forbidden by the Law, because he took the sacred bread of the temple and gave it to the soldiers to eat, because they were hungry (1 Sam 21:2-7). No Pharisee had the courage to criticize King David!
• Matthew 12:5-6: The example of the priests. Accused by the religious authority, Jesus argues beginning from what they themselves, the religious authority, do on the Sabbath day. On the Sabbath day, in the Temple of Jerusalem, the priests worked very much more than the other days of the week, because they had to sacrifice the animals for the sacrifices; they had to clean, sweep, carry burdens, kill the animals, etc. Yet nobody said that this was against the Law. They thought of it as normal! The Law itself obliged them to do all this (Num 28:9-10).
• Matthew 12:7: The example of the prophets. Jesus quotes a verse from the prophet Hosea: I want mercy and not sacrifice. The word mercy means to have the heart (cor) in the misery (miseri) of others, that is, the merciful person has to be very close to the suffering of the people, has to identify himself/herself with them. The word sacrifice means to have (ficio) a thing consecrated (sacri), that is, that the one who offers a sacrifice separates the sacrificed object from profane use and places it at a distance from the daily life of the people. If the Pharisees had had this way of looking at the life of the prophet Hosea, they would have known that the most pleasing sacrifice for God is not that the consecrated persons lives far away from reality, but that he/she places his/her consecrated heart totally in the service of the brothers and sisters in order to relieve them from their misery. They would not have considered guilty those who in reality were innocent.
• Matthew 12:8: The Son of Man is the master of the Sabbath. Jesus ends with this statement: The Son of Man is the master of the Sabbath! Jesus Himself is the criterion for interpretation of the Law of God. Jesus knows the Tanakh (the Hebrew bible) by heart and invokes it to indicate that the arguments of the others had no foundation. At that time, there were no printed bibles as we have today. In every community there was only one copy written by hand, which remained in the synagogue. If Jesus knew the bible so well, it means that during the thirty years of His life in Nazareth, He had participated intensely in the life of the community, where Scripture was read every Saturday. The new experience of God the Father made Jesus discover God’s intention in decreeing the laws of the Old Testament. Having lived thirty years in Nazareth and feeling as His own the oppression and exclusion of so many brothers and sisters, in the name of the law, Jesus must have perceived that this could not be the meaning of the law. If God is Father, then He accepts all as sons and daughters. If God is Father, then we should be brothers and sisters among ourselves. Jesus lived this and prayed for this, from the beginning until the end. The law should be at the service of life and of fraternity. “The human being is not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for the human being” (Mk 2:27). Because of His great fidelity to this message, Jesus was condemned to death. He disturbed the system, and the system defended itself, using its force against Jesus, because He wished that the Law be placed at the service of life, and not vice-versa. We need to know the bible in depth and to participate deeply in the community, as Jesus did.
4) Personal questions
• What type of conflicts do you find in the family, in society, in the Church? What are the conflicts which concern religious practices which cause suffering to people nowadays and which are a cause of discussion and polemics? What is the image of God behind all these preconceptions, behind all these norms and prohibitions?
• What has conflict taught you during all these years? What is the message which you draw from all this for our communities today?
For further study
To know the bible in depth can be difficult. Various passages may seem to contradict each other, unless put into a broader context where all of a particular reference can be put together in one place. This is one way people use bible quotations to distort their real meaning. The Vatican has tools online to help. The bible is online in searchable form in an approved version at http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/_INDEX.HTM along with a concordance which lists and links every word in the bible in an index at http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/_FA.HTM and allows a user to collect similar words and ideas in one place to help discern their real meaning. Look at these online and see if they can help you learn the bible to a greater depth and understanding.
5) Concluding Prayer
Lord, I muse on You in the watches of the night,
for You have always been my help;
in the shadow of Your wings I rejoice;
my heart clings to You,
Your right hand supports me. (Ps 63:6-8)