June 19, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Luke 6:1-5.
While he was going through a field of grain on a sabbath, his disciples were picking the heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands, and eating them. Some Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the sabbath?” Jesus said to them in reply, “Have you not read what David did when he and those [who were] with him were hungry? [How] he went into the house of God, took the bread of offering, which only the priests could lawfully eat, ate of it, and shared it with his companions.” Then he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”
As the Catholic Dictionary states, “Man is made to fulfill the law of love.” The sabbath was originally intended as a day of rest and relaxation, as a kind of gift from God for relief from work. Over the centuries Jews and Christians both have distorted into a juncture against all kinds of activities and exhortation to devotion to God that became in many ways more onerous than work in its faithful observance. The sabbath was transformed from gift to moral obligation and constraint on normal activity.
Jesus made it clear that the sabbath was subject to him and that man was to observe his law of love of God, oneself, others. People, especially ecclesial authorities, just can’t leave it at that. They have to conjure up all kinds of rules of behavior more as a means to exert their own authority than to liberate people as Jesus sought to do. Those in authority resent and resist being challenged just as the Pharisees in this scene. So, early in Jesus’ ministry we see the opposition of self-preserving authority to God’s overriding law of love and forgiveness and mercy.
Barclay comments on this, “They [Pharisees] did not bring to scripture an open mind. They came to scripture not to learn God’s will but to find proof texts to buttress up their own ideas. Far too often men have taken their theology to the Bible instead of finding their theology in the Bible.” We need laws and regulations and policies and procedures to govern how we live with one another in harmony. However, too often we enslave ourselves to the letter of the law rather than allowing ourselves to be guided by the spirit of the law. As Rohr in The Good News According to Luke writes, “Jesus was very clearly saying the law is not an end in itself.” He wasn’t advocating abolishing the sabbath; he harked back to God’s intent to use it to free oneself from the routine of work during the rest of the week as a gift of time to honor Him and to be kind to one another.
Freedom from what we impose on one another. That seems to be Jesus’ message to me. Rohr states, “God came to set people free to live and to live more abundantly….For the most part, our morality has reflected culture and been afraid of the true freedom of the gospel….Why are we not a people who have been freed by the gospel? Why are we not first to step forward and lead the world in seeing the freedom that God has offered? The answer is, we’re afraid. We’ve been under the law and held down by the law for so long, that we’re no longer a creative and imaginative people listening to the next word of the Lord.”
It is so much safer to live according to the law. I think Rohr is speaking to me; I have been afraid for much of my life to live in freedom, to live according to Jesus’ good news. It’s radical; it upends everything. It demands that I take a stand that will often be unpopular, maybe even illegal. The late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin spoke of moral integrity as a seamless garment, meaning that I can’t pick and choose what is moral and immoral. I have to apply the word of God consistently. As an example, Jesus teaches the principle of nonviolence. So, I can’t be opposed to capital punishment and in favor of drone strikes that kill. I can’t justify it on the basis of my fear of terrorism and from the denial of the reality that life is unpredictable and risky. That is not living the freedom of the gospel. “The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath” and everything else, not the law and not my fears.