At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests.
Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.
Two weeks ago (on July 7), Jesus gave the Pharisees homework: “Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’” (Matthew 9:13). Apparently they have not completed the assignment, so Jesus repeats the lesson today.
The lesson comes straight from the Pharisees’ Scriptures, in Hosea 6:6. There God tells the people what God wants: mercy, or in Hebrew, hesed. The meaning of hesed is actually quite complex. Besides “mercy,” it encompasses “kindness,” “steadfast love,” and “compassion.”
Today, Jesus links hesed with the sabbath. God expects us to work hard, but God also knows we need time to rest. So in an act of hesed, God gives us the sabbath. For the disciples, God’s merciful, loving kindness allows them to pick grain and eat. We are coming up on a sabbath ourselves; how is God inviting you to be kind to yourself and rest?
Come, my friend, the Bride to meet,
The holy Shabbat let us now greet.
“Keep” and “Remember” in one Divine word.
Our people at Sinai God’s command heard.
Our God is one; and One is God’s name,
God’s is the glory! God’s is the fame!
To greet Shabbat now let us go;
Source of blessing, it has ever been so.
Conceived before life on earth began,
Last in God’s work, first in God’s plan.
Yerushalayim, Shrine of our “King,”
Arise from your ruins, arise and sing.
Enough have you dwelled in the vale of tears,
Your God will mercifully dispel your fears.
Shake off your dust, arise from the mire;
Dress, my people, in your proudest attire.
Through a descendant of David, the poet-King,
Redemption and freedom God will bring.
—English translation of Lecha Dodi, the Jewish liturgical song sung to welcome the sabbath