17 January 2005: Tuesday of the 2nd Week in Ordinary Time
Mark 2, 23-28: The Sabbath
There are many things which we mechanically and brainlessly do: not for what it was originally meant but because we have been accustomed by it. Often we remember how things are done, but never why it was done. For example, have you ever asked why the priest after the offertory procession washes his hands? In the olden times, the priest received gifts literally from the produce of the land: fruits, crops, animals, etc. Usually the gifts were dirty, thus the priest had to wash his hands. Now the gifts are clean, and yet the ritual of washing hands was retained. The Gospel today tells us that Jesus’ disciples began to pluck corn to eat them. On ordinary days, the disciples were doing what was freely permitted, but on a Sabbath when all work was forbidden, the disciples broke all the rules and regulations on which the Sabbath was held. Jesus insisted that human need took precedence over human and divine law.
This is a great lesson for many of us in UP. First, we remember that religion does not consist in rules and regulations. Christianity should be freeing not restricting. Being Catholic does not mean attending plain rituals. If we forget love and forgiveness, service and mercy that are at the very heart of our faith, and replace them by the performance of rules and regulations--- the length of the skirt, that chalices and tabernacles should be gold, that the best way is receiving communion by the mouth, that sinners have no right to enter the Church --- then religion is at the decline. We forget the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians (1 Cor 12-13): “If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophesy, and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” Our religion is founded primarily on love; and the best way to use sacred things is to use them to help our fellow men and women.
There is a story of the Fourth Wise Man. His name was Artaban. He set out to follow the star and he took with his a sapphire, a ruby and a pearl beyond price as gifts for the King. He was riding hard to meet his three friends, Caspar, Melchor and Balthasar, at the agreed place. The time was short; they would leave if he was late. Suddenly, he saw a dim figure on the ground before him. It was a traveller stricken with fever. He stayed to help the traveller and healed the man. But then he was a alone, he had missed his friends and their caravan. He had to sell the sapphire to get them; and he was sad because the Kind would never have his gem.
He journeyed on and in due time came to
For years he wandered looking in vain for the King. More than thirty years afterwards he came to
On a sudden the skies were dark, and there was an earthquake, and a flying object hit Artaban’s head. He sank half-conscious to the ground. The girl pillowed his head on her lap, and heard what Artaban said, “When did I saw you hungered and I fed You? When did I saw you a stranger and I took you in? Thirty years and three years have I looked for You, but I have never seen Your face, nor ministered to You, my King.” And then like whisper, there came a voice, “Amen I say to You, what you have done to the least of my brethren, you have done it to Me.” And Artaban smiled in death because he knew that the King had received all his gifts.
And so my dear friends: let us look at how we regard people and friends. When we attend mass every day, what comes to our mind? Do we first notice how inappropriate the dress that some of our mass goers wear? Do we feel so troubled that the priest did not kneel, but rather bowed in reverence? In our organizations, do we have violent reactions to changing traditions when change is actually needed for the sake of the present need of the present generation? Or, do we seek Jesus in all of our lives, in the need of others, in the faces of our neighbors. This is not to say that rituals are not important, but the Gospels tell us that over and above form is substance; over and above ritual, is its meaning; over and above the letter of the law, is the spirit of the law; over and above all systems, is the need of each person. The Sabbath is made for man; and not man for the Sabbath.