July 15, 2011 - Memorial of St. Bonaventure, bishop and Doctor of the Church

Compared to what most of our society does on Sunday, walking through a field on the Sabbath, occasionally picking some heads of grains and chewing on them is a pretty restful activity. So we are inclined to think that the disciples are just being reasonable and the Pharisees are being, well, pharisaical, but Jesus’ answer is more complex than that. He does not merely say, “Seriously! Loosen up guys.” He puts forward an argument that is not easy for us modern Americans to follow.

First he reminds the Pharisees of how David made an exception to the Law in time of need. David and his men were starving, so they ate some bread that they were not supposed to eat. The Gospel says that the disciples were hungry, but it does not tell us how hungry. If they were fainting with hunger that would fit with what Jesus says later: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” The Pharisees’ first fault was preferring their own interpretation of God’s law to the lives of human beings. There certainly is nothing in the law specifically about picking a handful of grain to eat. The law only says: rest on the Sabbath; do no work.

Yet there is more here. Mixed in with this argument are some very impressive statements. Jesus claims to be “greater than the temple” and “Lord of the Sabbath”. Who is greater than the temple? Only God. Who is Lord of the Sabbath? Only God. The priests serving in the temple work on the Sabbath because the work they are doing, worshipping God is more important than the Sabbath. So Jesus is saying that the work the disciples are doing, walking with him, is more important than the Sabbath. Jesus is claiming to be God.

We no longer celebrate the Sabbath. Saturday is just another day for us Christians, and Sunday is our day of rest when no one rests. We could do better at resting on Sunday; it is not really a good day for going to the zoo or going to a ballgame, if only for the sake of those who have to work at the zoo and the stadium. In a Christian culture, stores would be closed on Sunday. But what we do not do on Sunday is not as important to the Christian life as what do do: go to Mass; spend time with Jesus. He is our Sabbath; he is our rest.