January 17, 2012
Memorial of Saint Anthony, abbot
Listen to the podcast version here.
As Jesus was passing through a field of grain on
the sabbath, his disciples began to make a path while
picking the heads of grain. At this the Pharisees said
to him, "Look, why are they doing what is unlawful
on the sabbath?" He said to them, "Have you never
read what David did when he was in need and
he and his companions were hungry? How he went into
the house of God when Abiathar was high priest and
ate the bread of offering that only the priests could
lawfully eat, and shared it with his companions?" Then he
said to them, "The sabbath was made for man, not
man for the sabbath. That is why the Son of
Man is lord even of the sabbath."
Introductory Prayer: Lord, the
most important moment of my day has arrived. I am
alone with you for a heart-to-heart talk. Who am I
that you should want to spend this time with me;
that you should want to pour yourself out to me?
What a joy, what an honor, what a glory to
be the follower of a king like you!
Petition: Lord, help
me to pray for and serve those who persecute me
and to win them over to the Gospel through love,
just like you did.
1. “Unlawful on the Sabbath.” How dire
was mankind’s need for a Savior! The Jews were God’s
chosen people; they had received God’s own revelation in the
Old Testament. The Pharisees were the religious leaders of the
Jewish people. Yet they buried God’s law so deeply beneath
layers of man-made precepts that hungry men were not allowed
to pick grain in order to eat on the Sabbath.
The law had become an end in itself and had
taken precedence over persons in need. How could mankind ever
be led safely along the true path to salvation without
becoming hopelessly entangled in the thickets of false rituals and
arbitrary precepts? The Son of God, the Eternal Word of
the Father, humbled himself to become the Son of Man
in order to bring us the fullness of truth. But
Christ did much more than bring us the fullness of
God’s revelation. He gave us the strength, through his own
life of grace within us, to live out that truth
in our lives. Am I sufficiently tapped into that source
of grace in my life?
2. Seeking to Win over Enemies.
If we were in Christ’s place, what would have been
our reaction to the Pharisees? Perhaps we would have yielded
to their imposing presence. Maybe we would have summoned up
our courage and dismissed their intransigence without even deigning to
reply. Christ reveals both his fearlessness and his goodness of
heart by seeking to win them over. He quotes the
Scriptures that they believe in and cites 1 Samuel 21:1-6.
David and his men, fleeing from Saul, eat the holy
bread of the Presence: twelve loaves placed each morning on
the table in the sanctuary, as homage to the Lord
from the twelve tribes of Israel. When they were withdrawn
to make room for fresh ones, these loaves were reserved
for the Levitical priests. Christ seeks to reveal to the
Pharisees, in a way they can accept, that they have
gone astray from true religion, in which love of God
and neighbor takes precedence over following rules. Christ sums up
the nature of true religion and points out the Pharisees’
error in one sublime sentence: “The sabbath was made for
man, not man for the sabbath.” Do I perceive the
burden Christ has given me as light? That is what
he intends and promises. If I do not, why not?
Lord of the Sabbath. Christ does not stop with revealing
the nature and purpose of true religion. He makes a
bold proclamation, one which must have stunned the Pharisees, and
perhaps even widened the eyes of his own disciples: “The
Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” Christ
declares in no uncertain terms that his authority is equal
to that of God himself, who instituted the Sabbath at
the dawn of man’s creation. Christ wants from the Pharisees
nothing less than an act of faith in his own
divine person. His heart longs to save them. Christ yearns
to bring to salvation everyone he encounters, including his enemies.
Does my own zeal for souls bring me to reflect
something of Christ’s courage and love when I am faced
with opposition? Do I desire and seek what is good
for everyone regardless of their attitude towards me?
Conversation with Christ:
Thank you, Lord, for becoming a man to save us
in our dire need for you. Thank you for loving
even your enemies and seeking to win them over to
your new life. Help me to love more like you
did. Help me to realize the value of a single
Resolution: I will pray and make sacrifices for someone who
is persecuting me or the Church. Forgetting about myself, I
will look for ways to bring them to experience the
love of Christ.