Friday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time
(Isaiah 38:1-6.21-22.7-8; Matthew 12:1-8)
Sixty years ago, all Catholics were to abstain from meat on Fridays and adults were not to eat between meals during Lent. The practices distinguished Catholics from others and instilled a sense of sacrifice for the Lord. However, they also fostered criticism of those who did not abide by these penances. As much as anything else, this third result probably led the bishops to withdraw the obligations. In today’s gospel Jesus gives his position on imposed dietary regulations.
He does not oppose such restrictions, but he is open to exceptions. He defends his disciples’ eating grain on the Sabbath as akin to David’s men eating the Temple bread. He further points out that just as priests do not violate the law by working on the Sabbath, neither do his disciples who are on a kind of mission. Jesus clinches the argument by citing the prophet Hosea who said that God wants “mercy, not sacrifice.” That is, God is more pleased when we judge mercifully than when we abstain or fast. The latter is not to be forsaken, but the former is to be pursued.