Tuesday of Week 2 of Ordinary Time – Gospel

Commentary on Mark 2:23-28

Today we have a third confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees on the place of the Law in people’s lives. His disciples are accused of violating the sabbath by picking ears of corn (“heads of grain”) as they walked through a field. Stealing was not involved, as “gleaning”, especially by the hungry poor, was tolerated. But the Law forbade reaping on the sabbath. One could hardly call what the disciples were doing, ‘reaping’, but with the casuistic mind of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, the bias was on the side of safety. The perfect observer of the Law would not do anything that could even be regarded in the slightest as a violation.

Jesus solves the issue by appealing to the Hebrew Testament, which, of course, the Pharisees recognised as the word of God. He reminded them how King David and his followers, because they were hungry, went into the house of God and took the loaves of offering, even though only the priests were allowed to eat them. Jesus then enunciates two principles – the first was:

The Sabbath was made for humankind and not humankind for the Sabbath…

The second was that:

…the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.

The first principle is a very important one, namely, that all laws are for people and not vice versa. They are not ends in themselves, and moral perfection is not in their literal observance. The hunger of David and his men transcended a religious regulation (that only the priests could eat the bread of offering). For the Jews of Jesus’ time, virtue was in perfect observance of the Law. For Jesus, observance of the Law was only perfect when it was for the good of others and oneself.

The second principle was that Jesus, as the Son of God, was not bound by human laws, however lofty their motive. We would do well to remember those principles in the living out of our Christian faith.  It is possible to lead rule-centred Christian lives rather than love- and people-centred lives.

There is only one law in our faith:

Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. (John 13:34)

Even God will not violate that law because God is love. Any law which, in a particular situation, does not serve this overriding law can be set aside, and should be set aside. Positive laws are necessary for smooth functioning in society, but they are never absolute.

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