17 January
Mk 2:23-28

One sabbath Jesus was going through the cornfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?’ And he said to them, ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.’ Then he said to them, ‘The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.’

Picking ears of standing corn with the hand (not with a sickle) as you walked through a neighbour’s field was permitted in the Jewish scriptures (Deut 23:26).  The Pharisees’ objection, therefore, was not to the act itself, but to the fact that it was done on the sabbath. They considered this simple act of plucking a few heads of corn as a five-fold breach of the Law: reaping, threshing, winnowing, bearing a burden and preparing a meal. 

To Luke’s version of this incident, one manuscript adds an interesting (but the scholars say probably spurious) saying: “On the same day, seeing a man working on the sabbath day, he said to him, ‘Friend, if you know what you are doing, you are blessed; but if you do not know, you are accursed as a breaker of the Law.’”  In a Zen monastery I once saw a piece of calligraphy that said, “If you break the law you will never attain freedom.”  Grim, but true, I thought.  Then, underneath, part two: “If you keep the law you will never attain freedom.”  Compare this with Jesus’ statement in Matthew 5:19, “Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”  But remember to put that verse beside today’s reading (and tomorrow’s) and see the paradox that arises there too, like a koan. 

 

 
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This page gives a very brief commentary by Donagh O’Shea on the gospel reading for each day of the month. 

 

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