_If you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:7-8)
Every religion has certain rules surrounding offering worship and sacrifices to God. For instance, in our first reading, God establishes the feast of Passover for the people of Israel, and we hear the rules attached to this feast.
There is an exact day to pick up the lamb, there is an exact day to slaughter the lamb, there is an exact way to prepare it (not to be boiled or fried but roasted), there is an exact way to eat it, there is even a way to dress to eat it, and there is a time frame within which it must be consumed. And not just that, a memorial must be celebrated every year.
Similarly, we know that there is a way to make the sign of the cross, a way to say the rosary, a way to genuflect in church, and a way to behave before the Blessed Sacrament. Etc. All these are rituals that help us connect with God!
However, as we see in our Gospel passage, there is an extent to which our worship of God becomes reduced to the mere observation of rules. This was the problem of the Pharisees.
It is like building a mansion and employing a housekeeper. One day, you travel to a distant place and instruct your housekeeper: “Do not let anyone enter this house.” A rule the housekeeper was determined to keep. Upon your return, your housekeeper would not allow you to enter your house because of your instruction.
It sounds funny, but this happens when we observe rules to the detriment of connecting with God. This is what happens when religious rules become nothing more than an avenue to oppress the poor and weak in society.
There is a story of a boy who is about to be stoned to death by a mob. They had pursued him for hours while throwing sticks at him, and people shouted: “Thief… Thief..!” A woman felt pity for him and decided to intervene, so she silenced the crowd and asked the boy what he stole. The little boy burst into tears, unable to mumble any coherent statement.
Then, a shop owner blurted out: “That bastard stole bread from my shop.” The boy’s mother, a frail old woman, came up and appealed to the crowd, saying that this boy had not eaten anything for almost a week now and she was so sorry for what had happened. The crowd became so ashamed of themselves, and one after the other, they started donating money to the poor old woman and her son.
Jesus was accused of breaking the law by eating on a Sabbath day. His simple response was: “If you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.”
Let us pray: Almighty ever-living God, may my worship of you be pure and sincere. Through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen
Bible Study: Exodus 11:10-12:14, Ps. 116:12-13,15-18, Matthew 12:1-8).*
@Rev. Fr. Evaristus E. Abu