Isaiah 38: 1-6, 21-22, 7-8
Matthew 12: 1-8

The mission of Jesus from God was to make the rule and reign of God happen. He did this by gathering and sending out disciples, by healing the sick, and by teaching over and over again, how rich and deep, how strong and constant, is God’s love for us. But again and again in his work as teacher, he came under attack from a rival group of teachers, the Pharisees. At heart, they were good men, but in their teachings, they sometimes misunderstood the will and plans of God for God’s people. So, in our gospel today, we find them complaining to Jesus that, against the rule to do no work on the sabbath, the Jewish holy day, his disciples have been picking and eating ears of corn, as they walked on.

Jesus opposes their claims by quoting passages from the bible about what King David did in the House of God, and about the work of the priests on temple duty. He highlights the biblical text, that God ‘wants mercy, not sacrifice’. The sabbath, Jesus implies, is kept better by actions that affirm and support God’s gift of life than by observing every human rule. (The food the disciples picked and ate was to keep them alive). Since Jesus was so flexible in interpreting sabbath rules, the early church recognised him as ‘master of the sabbath’, and with the same flexibility changed the celebration of the sabbath (as the celebration of God’s gift of life) from Saturday to Sunday. That same value of human life as God’s gift, is affirmed in our First Reading from the prophet Isaiah. At the king’s request, God heals King Hezekiah of his critical illness and prolongs his life and work.

Brian Gleeson is a Passionist priest, and a member of the Passionist community in Endeavour Hills, Melbourne.