“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” I suspect all of us have heard that phrase many times before. Surely, at least every time we’ve read this Gospel passage. But, we’ve also been hearing it from our Holy Father, Pope Francis. He’s been reminding us that Divine Mercy is at the heart of the Gospel. He tells us that we must always begin with mercy if we are ever going to understand who God is and what God wants from us.
This Gospel story about the disciples of Jesus breaking the Sabbath Law by picking and eating the heads of grain while going through a field is an interesting one. Jesus is challenged by the Pharisees since his disciples are so publicly breaking the Sabbath Law. They see the disciples, and probably Jesus himself , as guilty of breaking the law. Jesus responds by reminding the Pharisees of other occasions from their history when ordinary people have broken the Law by eating food reserved for the priests of the Temple. He also reminds the Pharisees that Priests break the Sabbath Law whenever when they serve in the Temple on the Sabbath. Jesus points out that all these people were innocent. They were not guilty but forgiven because of extenuating circumstances. No, they were innocent.
Jesus then concludes, “If you knew what this meant, I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
you would not have condemned these innocent men. For the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath.”
This Gospel account raises some interesting questions for us. What is the source of our judgments of others? Where do we begin? Do we most often start with the law and draw our conclusions from there? Or, do we always initiate our judgments in mercy? Jesus reminds us that only if we start in mercy will we ever be able to recognize the innocent.
Lord, teach us how to begin in mercy so we may never condemn the innocent.
Fr. Michael Higgins, C.P. is the director of Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.