As someone who tends to be very detail-oriented, I know I often get stuck in the minutiae. I am also a “rule-follower” by nature. Rules can be important. They can ground us and ensure our safety, but today’s Gospel warns us about where I place both my attention and my security. Are they only in the rules?
On a Sabbath, Jesus is walking along with his disciples. They were hungry and started picking the heads of grain to eat. Labor was forbidden on the Sabbath, so the Pharisees were on the scene, ready to accuse them of breaking this law.
It can be easy to look on with disdain at their reaction, and it was indeed an unloving way to behave. How could they be so narrow minded and judgmental? How could they not see that this rule does not make sense? But I wonder if we should not take a moment to see if we sometimes fall into this way of thinking as well.
● Do I ever judge the action of another based on the externals (what I see) as opposed to the whole context (which I may not even know)?
● Do I ever cling to “rules” as safety nets instead of seeing the heart of the matter? For example, at times, is prayer time a box to check off my to-do list, instead of a relationship I allow to transform my heart?
Have you ever heard the expression: You cannot see past the end of your nose? In essence, Pharisaical thinking is short-sighted. It blocks us from seeing the bigger picture. The Pharisees felt safe within the confines of the rules, never stopping to consider their purpose, even if it meant consequences which would not be in the best interest of others. Therefore, their attention was based on a strict adherence to the letter of the law, without any focus to its heart. Jesus cleared this up for them so succinctly when he pointed out that the Sabbath was made for man and NOT the other way around.
The Heart of the Matter—Mercy
The heart is considered the center. It is the life within us – physically, spiritually, and emotionally. It all comes down to the heart of the matter, and what is at the heart of Christ? Mercy. That is what He desires. When the Pharisees condemned the disciples for their actions, they were not motivated by the heart, but rather by their obsession with the rules. They missed the fact that the rules are meant to help care for the people, not hurt them.
So, what does it mean that our Lord desires mercy? The word mercy comes from two Latin words miseria, which means misery or affliction and cor, which means heart. This would signify having a true heart for one’s misery, affliction, or suffering. If I have a heart for what you are suffering, then I
desire to relieve your suffering if I can. If one is hungry, I would want to provide food. If one is in doubt, I would like to offer counsel.
These examples point to the practice of both the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. These practices should be at the heart of our everyday lives. How long has it been since I reviewed these great spiritual practices? Do I consider how I can practice them in my daily life? Perhaps today, I can review the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. I can resolve to practice one or more to serve someone today in the way our Lord desires. Let me turn my attention and my security to the Lord’s Mercy, and then by extension freely pass it on to those who He draws into my path.