REFLECTION FOR TODAY,
January 19, 2021
By Fr. Andrew Ibegbulem, OSA
As Jesus was passing through a field of grain on the sabbath, his disciples began to make a path while picking the heads of grain. At this the Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the sabbath?” Mark 2:23–24
The Pharisees were greatly concerned about many things that were distortions of the law of God. The Third Commandment calls us to “Keep holy the Sabbath Day.” Furthermore, we read in Exodus 20:8–10 that we are not to do any work on the Sabbath but are to use that day for rest.
From this Commandment, the Pharisees developed extensive commentary on what was permitted and what was forbidden to do on the Sabbath. They determined that picking the heads of grain was one of the forbidden actions on a sabbath.
In many countries today, the Sabbath rest has all but disappeared. Sadly, Sunday is rarely set aside any longer for a day of worship and rest with family and friends. For that reason, this hypercritical condemnation of the disciples by the Pharisees is hard to relate to.
The deeper spiritual issue seems to be the hyper “nitpicky” approach taken by the Pharisees. They were not so much concerned about honoring God on the Sabbath as they were interested in being judgmental and condemning. And though it may be rare today to find people overly scrupulous and nitpicky about the Sabbath rest, it’s often easy to find ourselves becoming nitpicky about many other things in life.
Consider your family and those who are closest to you. Are there things they do and habits they have formed that leave you constantly criticizing them? Sometimes we criticize others for actions that are clearly contrary to the laws of God. At different times, we criticize others on account of some exaggeration of fact on our part.
Though it is important to speak charitably against violations of the external law of God, we must be very careful not to set ourselves up as the judge and jury of others, especially when our criticism is based on a distortion of the truth or an exaggeration of something minor. In other words, we must be careful not to become nitpicky ourselves.
In the passage that follows our gospel reference today Jesus reminds the Pharisees of the original intent of the Sabbath, which is to remember God’s creative work and liberation of the Hebrews from slavery. We could use a similar reminder ourselves. God gives us this day of rest to remember the purpose of work, to serve our neighbor, and to celebrate our salvation.
Reflect, today, upon any tendency you have in your relationships with those closest to you toward being excessive and distorted in your criticism. Do you find yourself obsessing over the apparent minor faults of others on a regular basis? Try to step back from criticism today and renew, instead, your practice of mercy toward all. If you do, you may actually discover that your judgments of others do not fully reflect the truth of God’s law.
My merciful Lord and Judge, give me a heart of compassion and mercy toward all. Remove from my heart all judgmentalness and criticalness. I leave all judgment to You, dear Lord, and seek only to be an instrument of Your love and mercy. Jesus, I trust in You.