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Daily Gospel Reading - January 20, 2010 PDF Print E-mail

Mark 3:1-6

A Man with a Withered Hand

1[Jesus] entered the synagogue. There was a man there who had a withered hand. 2They watched him closely to see if he would cure him on the sabbath so that they might accuse him. 3He said to the man with the withered hand, “Come up here before us.” 4Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” But they remained silent. 5Looking around at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out and his hand was restored. 6The Pharisees went out and immediately took counsel with the Herodians against him to put him to death.

Grieved at their Hardness of Heart

The Pharisees watch Jesus closely, ready to accuse him if he cures on a Sabbath. Jesus, in turn, accuses them of “hardness of heart” (Greek porosis tes kardias). Hardness of heart implies rebellion against the Lord, an unwillingness to listen to and be led by him. Alluding to the desert incidents when the Israelites quarreled with God and put him to the test, the psalmist wishes for an obedient heart: “O, that today you would hear his voice; do not harden your hearts as at Meribah, as on the day of Massah in the desert” (Ps 95:7-8). Elsewhere, Jesus declares that Moses permitted divorce and the writing of a bill of divorce in Israel “because of the hardness of your hearts” (Mk 10:5), which alludes to the people’s incapacity to live up to the will of God regarding the union of man and woman.

Here the Pharisees harden their hearts and close their minds against Jesus. They see Jesus as totally undermining their interpretation of the Law, their piety, and their actions. For them, Jesus breaks the tradition and confronts the authority. They do not rejoice that a man is delivered from a state of distress because it is done on a Sabbath. Ironically, they, the guardians of the Sabbath, determine to do harm and to kill—to let the man with a withered hand continue to suffer and to put Jesus to death. They reject life and redemption. This is the bitter fruit of that hardness of heart which provokes in Jesus both anger and godly sorrow.

Daily Gospel Reading - January 19, 2010 PDF Print E-mail

Mark 2:23-28


The Disciples and the Sabbath

23As [Jesus] was passing through a field of grain on the sabbath, his disciples began to make a path while picking the heads of grain. 24At this the Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the sabbath?” 25He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions were hungry? 26How he went into the house of God when Abiathar was high priest and ate the bread of offering that only the priests could lawfully eat, and shared it with his companions?” 27Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. 28That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”

Unlawful on the Sabbath

The Hebrew sabbat is connected with the root “SBT” which means to cease or to rest. Among ancient Mediterranean peoples, there was a day different from the rest of the days because it was special to the divinities. People ceased their normal activities on this “taboo” day. But in Israel, God’s rest after creation is the theological basis for man’s rest at the end of the week (Gn 2:1-3). Another reason is historical: the Sabbath is a day of rest for the Israelites, their animals and their slaves, because the Israelites, who themselves were once slaves in Egypt, should have compassion on those forced to labor (Dt 5:12-15).

To fence in and protect the sacredness of the Sabbath rest, the rabbis enumerated 39 types of work which were prohibited on this day, the third of which was reaping. Picking the heads of grain was considered reaping, and this violation is pointed out by the Pharisees to Jesus.

While prohibitions abounded, exceptions were also admitted, like the Temple duties (Mt 12:5), the unloosing of cattle (Lk 13:15), and other actions in which life was at stake. There were even rabbis who would agree with Jesus that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Here Jesus objects to the strict Pharisaic interpretation, the mere material observance of the Sabbath that admits no exception. He interprets the law in humanitarian terms, according to human needs, as God would have it. God established the seventh day as a period of joy and refreshment. Pope John Paul II interprets the sacredness of the Sabbath: “The divine rest of the seventh day does not allude to an inactive God, but emphasizes the fullness of what has been accomplished. It speaks, as it were, of God’s lingering before the ‘very good’ work (Gn 1:31) which his hand has wrought, in order to cast upon it a gaze full of joyous delight” (Dies Domini, n 11).

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