Friday, July 17, 2009

This Is A Day To Commemorate Forever

Exodus 11:10-12:14
Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his country.

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, "This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or cooked in water, but roast it over the fire—head, legs and inner parts. Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD's Passover.

"On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn—both men and animals—and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.

"This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD -a lasting ordinance.”

Matthew 12:1-8
At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, "Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath."

He answered, "Haven't you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven't you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent? I tell you that one greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."

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The first reading today is a narrative of the meal the people of Israel shared on the evening before the angel of the Lord passed over them. It is also the first reading of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday.

Saint Paul, in 1 Corinthians, writes, “Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed. Just as the blood of the first Passover Lamb saved Israel from physical slavery and death, so the blood of our Passover lamb saves us from spiritual slavery and death. Just as the first Passover lamb’s flesh was eaten by the Israelites, so the flesh of “our Passover lamb” is eaten by the people of the new covenant.

How do the two covenants fit together? “In the Old Testament, the New Testament is concealed; in the New Testament, the Old Testament is revealed.” (Saint Augustine)

“When nothing great or noble is happening, the Pharisees remain silent. But when they see people being healed, they are deeply offended.” (Cyril of Alexandria) The Pharisees were more interested in the appearance of religion than in its substance. But we should not allow them to hog the spotlight. We too are capable of the same offence. The substance of religion – the relationship of God’s people to their creator, redeemer and sanctifier – is so subtle and so deep, it is not surprising that we are often like them, focusing on what is shallow and obvious.

Jesus himself refers to the events of the Old Testament in his teaching: “Have you not read what David did…?” as if to imply that his own behavior was excusable because people in earlier ages had done similar things. John Chrysostom comes to the rescue. He doesn’t want us to think that this was how the Lord’s mind works, absolving himself from blame, “by noting that someone else committed similar offenses”, implying that David’s law breaking should become the norm for everyone. No, he said, “Jesus was not satisfied with such reasoning. Instead, he said something much more radical: that the deed itself in this case was no sin at all…! For here the Giver of the law was overriding the law.”

Clearly, there was nothing obvious or shallow about this. Laws are designed to be very clear and obvious. That fully satisfies the needs of some people. But there is the matter of spirit. Laws are always trying to be spirit; they try to cover every aspect of life – to go into every nook and cranny and guide us from within. But it doesn't work. We need spirit, or rather the Spirit, to guide us wisely. The Lord of the Sabbath is the one who is able to give us the Spirit.

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