This morning in our class we reviewed the possible readings of Matthew 12:1-14, and then tried to think about what those different readings might mean for us.
I had to point out that in the first story of the pair, Jesus compares himself and his disciples to David and David’s men, and to the priests in the Temple. We compared the story in 1 Samuel 21, where David, on the lam from Saul who’s trying to kill him, lies to Ahimelech the priest about his mission [which startled a couple of members of the class … “oh, he does, doesn’t he?” … but there it is] and eats the sanctified bread. We thought about what the significance of the reference to David would have been in Jesus’ first century context: namely, it looks like Jesus is making a fairly up-front pitch to be as worthy of an exception to the Shabbat norms as David would have been, which would be very close to saying something like “Look, it was OK for David to do it, and it’s OK for David’s descendant, the messiah, to do it, too.” Maybe this explains why the Pharisees were so full of animosity.
But there is a message of compassion in the face of restrictive regulations in the text, too, because in saying “if you had known what this meant, ‘I will have mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless” Jesus seems [to me, at least] to be saying “you would not have condemned the guiltless (like me and my disciples) because you wouldn’t have been condemning anyone, even the ‘guilty,’ because you would have been making totally appropriate allowances for human need on the Sabbath.”
The whole discussion of these texts led us to think about things that happen to us and around us, as a matter of fact: who are we in a position to be making allowances for, whether or not they are “justified”? We don’t always get it right. Learning to strike the right balance between setting and maintaining reasonable boundaries in our relationships, and extending compassion to people in need even when it is less than convenient for us, is still a hard lesson for us. But we keep working on it.
Probably not coincidentally, the lectionary passage for today that came up in worship was this same pair of stories, as told in Mark. Our pastor talked about the various meanings of Shabbat – rest and harmony for the creation (as outlined in Exodus 20:8-11), and freedom from slavery (as outlined in Deuteronomy 5:12-15), and about the meaning of the greeting “Shabbat shalom!” (Sabbath peace, Sabbath well-being), and heard Jesus saying that of course the Sabbath is a time to cease and desist from our daily toil, but it’s not a time to not do justice. Those are two entirely different kinds of “doing work.” Because “no justice, no peace” – so we don’t expect people to wait for justice so we can have “peace.”
It was one of those Sundays when all the ideas bounce off each other.
On top of which, because it’s graduation in our little town this Sunday, we gave the congregation’s graduating senior a new study Bible and noticed that wow, we really have had the privilege of watching her grow up and become the amazing young woman that she has become, and clapped, and felt suddenly old, and proud, and part of something bigger than ourselves. I thought of what her parents must be going through on this day when their youngest child is graduating from high school, and noticed that this was the day the latest grandchild in the congregation came to his first children’s message, so that the formerly youngest member of the congregation is now the second youngest, and this morning, maybe because he was the oldest one at the children’s message, or maybe just because he is getting older, too, he was completely, politely and patiently engrossed in the seashells our pastor had brought along to illustrate the idea that each one [of them, of us] is unique …