Daily Reflection for July 3, 2020

DAILY REFLECTION  •  JULY 3  •  Martyr Hyacinth of Caesarea in Cappadocia

Love is all-powerful. It can, among other things, ease the judgment of the souls of deceased sinners. The Orthodox Church confirms this resolutely and continues to offer prayers and performs corporal works of mercy for the deceased. Abundantly rich in every spiritual experience, the Church knows that prayers and works of mercy for the deceased helps those in the other world. Before her death, St. Athanasia the Abbess (April 12) made the sisterhood promise that for forty days after her death they would prepare a table for the poor and needy. The sisterhood carried out her command for only ten days and then ceased. The saint then appeared in the company of two angels and said to the sisters: “Why have you transgressed my commandment? Know, that through works of mercy and the prayers of the priest for the souls of the deceased in the course of forty days, invokes God’s mercy. If the souls of the departed are sinful they, through this, receive forgiveness of sins from God and if they are not sinful then the corporal works of mercy performed for them serve to the salvation of the benefactor himself.” Naturally, works of mercy and prayer are thought of here in connection with great love toward the departed souls. Such works of mercy and prayer, in truth, do help. (St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue from Ochrid)

Fr. John’s Reflection

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!”
            But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:1-8)

One might get the impression from the gospels that the world (or at least the Pharisees and leaders) were at war with our Lord over the Sabbath. So many instances of the Lord being accused of “breaking the Sabbath,” even when He did miraculous things. There is no doubt that the Law given by God commanded that the Sabbath be kept holy and that, generally, no work was to be done in imitation of God’s Sabbath rest in creation. Had any Jew just been breaking the Sabbath as a profanity, one could understand the criticism, and even condemnation of such profanity. But this passage from the Gospel of St. Matthew is given to us first of all, to demonstrate that the actions of our Lord and His disciples were not profanities. There is a practicality and a mercy to every challenge the Lord makes to the Sabbath. This one is simply that His disciples were hungry and picked grain to eat; they were not “reaping,” which would profane the Sabbath. The criticism of the Pharisees is cast aside by the Lord. He shows that the Law is not absolute.

But there are two other aspects to this encounter that are vital for us to ponder. The first is that Jesus says, “…in this place there is One greater than the temple.” There is an old saying that “it is easy to be busy about the House of the Lord than it is to be busy about the Lord of the House.” The Pharisees had it backwards — the Lord transcends the Law AND the Temple. We can easily be convinced that had we been around then and had seen and heard the Lord, that we would have never been as ignorant as the Pharisees. We would have recognized the Lord for who He is. Would we? Don’t we get just as picky, just as judgmental, just as bound up in the “law of the Church” that we sometimes lose sight of the Lord Himself and His image in each other? Aren’t we oftentimes too quick to notice what someone is doing (or not doing) in the life of the Church (seeing them figuratively “pluck grain”)?

And then the Lord quotes Hosea to them when He says that if they understood what “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6) means, they would not have blamed the guiltless. He teaches us two things when He challenges them this way. He teaches us that mercy is so much more important than “sacrifice.” If we do all the things of the Church (sacrifice) but He has not been allowed to come into our hearts and lead us to mercy for each other, it is for naught. But He also says that the Pharisees had condemned the guiltless (i.e., His disciples did nothing wrong), teaching us that the mercy He desires cannot be fit into a box of rules and regulations. He never taught that Israel should not revere and follow the Law. But He did teach them that they should never worship it. So it is with us. Let’s be careful about watching our neighbors when they pick grain. They just might be more guiltless than us pious law followers.