The Gospel of Matthew: a commentary & meditation 
 "I desire mercy and not sacrifice"

Scripture:  Matthew 12:1-8

1 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. 2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, "Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath." 3 He said to them, "Have you not read what David did, when he was hungry, and those who were with him: 4 how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? 5 Or have you not read in the law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are guiltless? 6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7 And if you had known what this means, `I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of man is lord of the Sabbath."
Meditation: What does the commandment "keep holy the Sabbath" require of us?  Or better yet, what is the primary intention behind this command?  The religious leaders confronted Jesus on this issue. The "Sabbath rest" was meant to be a time to remember and celebrate God's goodness and the goodness of his work, both in creation and redemption.  It was a day set apart for the praise of God, his work of creation, and his saving actions on our behalf.  It was intended to bring everyday work to a halt and to provide needed rest and refreshment. Jesus' disciples are scolded by the scribes and Pharisees, not for plucking and eating corn from the fields, but for doing so on the Sabbath.  In defending his disciples, Jesus argues from the scriptures that human need has precedence over ritual custom:  In their hunger, David and his men ate of the holy bread offered in the Temple.  Jesus also quoted of the Sabbath work involved in worship in the Temple.  This kind of work  was usually double the work of worship on weekdays.  Jesus then quotes from the prophet Hosea (6:6): I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.  While the claims of ritual sacrifice are important to God, mercy and kindness in response to human need are even more important.  Do you honor the Lord in the way you treat your neighbor and celebrate the Lord's Day?

"Lord, make us to walk in your way: ‘Where there is love and wisdom, there is neither fear nor ignorance; where there is patience and humility, there is neither anger nor annoyance; where there is poverty and joy, there is neither greed nor avarice; where there is peace and contemplation, there is neither care nor restlessness; where there is the fear of God to guard the dwelling, there no enemy can enter; where there is mercy and prudence, there is neither excess nor harshness'; this we know through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord." (Prayer of Francis of Assisi, 1182-1226)


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(c) 2002 Don Schwager