Friday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time
(Isaiah 38:1-6.21-22.7-8; Matthew 12:1-8)
In 1998 Pope John Paul II published an apostolic letter entitled, “The Lord’s Day.” In it he tried to awaken Catholics to the glory of reserving one day a week for prayer, family, and renewal. He also challenged the secularizing idea of “weekend” which stretches a day for giving thanks in beloved company into two days or more of fulfilling individualistic ambitions. The letter is vintage JP II: fully human, deeply reflective, and imminently devout.
In the Gospel reading today Jesus provides his own reflection on the Sabbath. Of course, for him it is the very end of the week, not its beginning. As in Orthodox Jewish communities today, the Sabbath in Jesus’ time is rigorously prescribed: no cooking, no walking beyond what amounts to a kilometer, no jumping or handclapping. Jesus does not doubt the validity of these disciplines, but he does allow for exceptions. What is truly remarkable here, however, is his reserving to himself authority to dispense with Sabbath restrictions by declaring that he is “’Lord of the Sabbath.’” As the Sabbath rest and its promise of eternal life are among God’s greatest gifts to humankind, Jesus here implies that he is God!
Do we feel a twinge of remorse when we head to the mall or go to the office on Sunday? It would not be unhealthy if we did. It is not that such actions are sinful in themselves. Jesus argues for the necessity of similar deeds in critical situations. But still we should not let exceptions prevent us from giving him definite consideration every Sunday. After all, he is “Lord of the Sabbath.”