In today’s lesson we hear a story that showcases an essential piece of Jesus’ message. I say essential because Matthew, Mark, and Luke all include this same story in their accounts of the gospel. Jesus and his disciples were followed by crowds who were sick, homeless, outcasts because of their caste, economic status, or because of choices they had made in their lives. The people who surrounded Jesus were starving for good news. But Jesus was also followed by his critics, the Pharisees, Temple authorities who had a particular obsession with keeping the religious Law to the letter. They were educated, wealthy, upper-class, people of means……and they were also starving for good news. And so it’s no mistake that food is at the center of today’s gospel lesson.
Jesus and his disciples were hungry, there was corn available in front of them to eat and so they did what anyone would’ve done: they picked the corn, threshed it, and ate it. This was met with opposition from the religious authorities because it was the Sabbath and it was against the Law to do any work or labor. The threshing of the corn which made it ready to eat, was labor. They had broken the Law which to the Pharisees was a matter of life and death. Jesus counters their opposition with a story from the scriptures that they would’ve known well.
In the first book of Samuel, David is on the run from King Saul and he takes shelter in the Temple. He lies to Ahimelech, the priest, saying he is on a mission for the King and asks for something to eat. The only thing available is the “bread of the Presence,” which is only consumed by the priests after new bread is made to replace it. In an act of mercy, Ahimilech, after asking if David is ritually clean gives him the bread to take and eat. David clearly was in the wrong because he lied and Ahimilech was in the wrong because he gave the bread to someone who was not authorized to eat it in the first place.
Jesus message is that justice should always be melded with mercy. I like how the gospel writer of Matthew clarifies this. In his account Jesus says: “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.”
If you are like me, you are probably very aware of the need for mercy. As wonderful as life is, it can be a difficult to navigate sometimes. No matter who we are, where we’re from, or what we’ve done in our lives, we are all hungry for the mercy of God. As we come forward in few moments to receive the ‘bread of the presence,’ bring this need and hunger to God and be fed. God desires mercy and He has an abundance of it. And as we have received, so may we give. Like Jesus, we are also surrounded by people who are hungry for the gospel message. In the words of William Shakespeare:
The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
- Matthew 12:1-14; Mark 2:23-28
- 1 Samuel 21:1-9
- Crowther, John, ed. “No Fear The Merchant of Venice.” SparkNotes.com. SparkNotes LLC. 2005. Web. 2 Sept. 2014.
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