In today’s Gospel Our Lord reminds us that the true measure of a rule, law, or precept is whether it serves the Lord and serves man, especially our fellow man, but also us. Specific laws are given for specific circumstances, and sometimes it can be challenging to determine how a law is to be applied, or whether it is to be applied at all. The Pharisees saw the disciples’ behavior as a violation of the law, plain and simple. Jesus responded that if the disciples were breaking the law, so did David when he was fleeing King Saul, and so were the priests every Sabbath who attended to the things of the Temple on a day when no work should be done. In these two example we find one instance where the law doesn’t apply (priests serving in the Temple on the Sabbath), and another whether circumstances required that the law not be followed for the sake of a greater good (David needing food because he was fleeing Saul–see 1 Kings 21:1-6).
In the case of the disciples they needed to eat, because they were doing the Lord’s work, and their “Rabbi” required them to work on the Sabbath. The “Rabbi’s” interpretation of the rules regarding the Sabbath were not as strict and inflexible as the interpretation the Pharisees had followed. We know too that the Lord was providing the authoritative and authentic interpretation, because he was God. However, in responding to the Pharisees he describes the “Son of Man” as Lord of the Sabbath, and usually when he refers to himself by that title he is speaking of a human criteria being established. That is why even in the case of David we mentioned above the priest had to allow that David and his men eat the bread that was normally not reserved for them. When we are discerning in prayer whether circumstances call for the application of a certain rule, precept, or law, Our Lord has established authorities to help us make the right decision based on all the goods, greater and lesser, that are at play. The most basic criterion is whether we are serving the Lord and serving others by our actions.
Let’s ask Our Lord to foster in us a spirit of prayer and discernment in following any laws that oblige us, and to help us see the best way to serve God and serve our fellow man by following them.
Readings: Exodus 11:10–12:14; Psalm 116:12–15, 15, 16bc, 17–18; Matthew 12:1–8.