Daily Homily: The Lord of the Sabbath

Saturday of the 22nd Week in Ordinary Time, Year Two

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1 Corinthians 4:6b-15
Psalm 145:17-18, 19-20, 21
Luke 6:1-5

The observance of the Sabbath rest is one of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8-11; Deuteronomy 5:12-15). It enabled the people of Israel to worship God without the distractions of work and recalled God’s original plan of creation: to have man enter into communion with him and share in his rest. The Sabbath expresses the covenant between God and Israel and it was a way for Israel to imitate God and share in his holy rest.

The Pharisees accuse Jesus’ disciples of violating the Sabbath since they are gathering crops (Exodus 34:21). Jesus responds to the Pharisees’ accusation in three ways. He first points out that his disciples are hungry and that, because of their need, their actions of gathering grain on the Sabbath and eating it do not violate the Sabbath rest.

Second, Jesus is also revealing himself as the new David: the exception made for David and his men can also be made for Jesus and his disciples. Jesus is also comparing himself and his disciples to the priests in the Temple, who are allowed to break the Sabbath when they replace the Bread of the Presence on the Sabbath.

Third, Jesus calls himself the «Lord of the Sabbath». He places himself above the Sabbath and, in doing so, proclaims his divinity. Jesus, with his community of disciples, forms the origin and center of a new Israel (Pope Benedict XVI,Jesus of Nazareth, vol. 1, Doubleday, 114). Jesus’ disciples will ultimately find the rest they seek in him. The new family of God is formed not by adherence to the Old Law of the Torah, but by adherence to Jesus himself and his New Law.

Jesus is God and is able to bring the Old Law (the Torah) to fulfillment in the New Law. In this way, Israel will fulfill its vocation to be a light to all the nations. What Jesus does in his teaching is bring the God of Israel to the nations, so that all the nations now pray to God and recognize Israel’s Scriptures as the word of the living God. Jesus «has brought the gift of universality, which was the one great definitive promise to Israel and the world. This universality, this faith in the one God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – extended now in Jesus’ new family to all nations over and above the bonds of descent according to the flesh – is the fruit of Jesus’ work. It is what proves him to be the Messiah. It signals a new interpretation of the messianic promise that is based on Moses and the Prophets, but also opens them up in a completely new way» (Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, vol. 1, Doubleday, 116-117).

The Apostles are servants of Christ and trustworthy stewards of the mysteries of God. The Corinthians can learn humility from Paul and Apollos, who stay within the limits set out by Scripture, by «what is written». «Paul reprimands self-righteous Christians for their egotism and unfair criticisms. Although he describes them as wise and prosperous, his rhetorical irony implies the opposite, i.e., they are ignorant and impoverished. Their refusal to embrace the foolishness of Christ exposes their pride and reveals how petty their problems look compared to the humiliation of the apostles» (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible).

On account of Christ, Paul and the other Apostles have become like publicly disgraced criminals, fools in the eyes of the world, weak; they are held in disrepute, hungry and thirsty, poorly clad, roughly treated, homeless; and they have to work and toil to sustain themselves. They are ridiculed and persecuted, slandered and treated like rubbish and scum.

Paul admonishes the Christians in Corinth, not to shame them, but to lead them to Christ through the Gospel. Paul considers himself a father to the Corinthians, having brought them new life through the Gospel (2 Corinthians 12:14). Paul here could be referring to the connection between priesthood and fatherhood. «In the patriarchal age, fathers and first-born sons exercised the cultic ministry of building altars and offering sacrifices for their families (Gen 12:8; 22:9-13; 31:54; 46:1; Job 1:5). In the Mosaic age, God elevated Aaron and his levitical sons (Ex 40:12-15) to be the fathers and priests of the tribal family of Israel (Judg 17:10; 18:19). The same principle carries over on a spiritual level in the age of the New Covenant, where Christ, our great high priest, ordains men to the ministry of spiritual fatherhood for ‘the priestly service of the gospel’ (Rom 15:16)» (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible).

Jesus, then, is the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through him. Through the calling of the twelve Apostles, Jesus forms the new Israel, the New People of God. As Christians, we are called to imitate Jesus’ humility and meekness of heart. Throughout the centuries many saints, like Paul, offer to Christians models worthy of imitation.

Readers may contact Fr Jason Mitchell at mitchelljason2011@gmail.com.

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Jason Mitchell

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