Our reading today from Isaiah tells us three reasons why it is better to get what we need from the providence of God than to try to grasp after it ourselves. First of all, it is free. Second, it is better. Third, it is complete. God tells us that he will give us for free. “Come, without paying and without cost,” he says. This is a good deal. God also tells us that he will not just cover our basic needs. He is not only serving bread but “wine and milk” and “rich fare”. This is a very good deal. Usually, when you get something free, you get what you pay for, but God says that we can give us, for free, something better than we can buy with money. God also warns us that when we try to buy our happiness, it “fails to satisfy”. This is because we do not even know what we really want, but God does know. He can fulfill desires that we never even knew we had.
What great promises! We would be fools not to take God up on this offer. Except…. In the psalm today, we repeated, “The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.” This is great news, but is it true? We are told, “He answers all our needs”, but does he? Where is it? Where is this great, free, perfect satisfaction that we have been promised? This seems to be another case where the reality fails to live up to the advertisement.
Of course, it is about 95% true. Consider all those things that if you were suddenly lacking you would desperately want: life, oxygen, health, use of your body, water, food, safety. It is easy to miss the many ways that God does provide for our lives every day, in each moment of every day. We really do not notice the providence of God. We only notice the other 5%. Parents know what I am talking about. Your children do not notice that you do their laundry, feed them, and give them a place to live. If you stopped doing their laundry, if you stopped providing food, if you stopped paying the electric bill, they would suddenly become very aware of what you were not doing for them.
But what of this other 5%? The psalm promised that God would provide all of our needs. What is left over, what God is not providing, is also for our benefit. We would be ungrateful spoiled brats if we never knew what it was to need something. Isaiah, in the midst of the advertisement, repeats over and over again: “Come.” God has come almost all the way to us, but the other 5% is our room to come to God.
We are tempted to fill what we lack with inferior products: lust, greed, laziness, gluttony, envy, anger, and pride, but all these will fail to satisfy. A bag of potato chips, the latest gadget, a 10-hour I Love Lucy marathon all fail to satisfy us. For a moment, it seemed as if these sins were what we were looking for, but they only last for a time and we have to seek them out again. These inferior products do not give us a place to rest; they only pacify our desires for a little while. We need the real deal. We were made for God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in him.
We can see the reality of this in the great miracle of the Gospel today. I am not referring to the multiplication of the loaves, although that is nice too. I am referring to the words of the disciples: “This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.” The disciples, concerned for the well-being of the crowd (and probably for their own stomachs as well), tell Jesus to dismiss the crowd. Now, I understand that manners were different 2000 years ago in Palestine, but I am not ready to believe that 5000 families usually stood listening to a preacher until they starved to death. Most of you would not think of leaving this Church until I say, “The Mass is ended; go in peace”, but, if I stood here and preached until 9 o’clock tonight, I feel sure that the Church would be empty. Manners have their limits.
It is not even as if everyone would have to leave. A few hundred people could have gone to town and brought back wheelbarrows of food. Yet, as long as Jesus kept preaching and healing, no one was willing to leave. These people had found something, something that satisfied them. They came for many reasons, to be healed, to see a prophet, to hear a preacher, but they found the love of Jesus Christ, and they were not willing to give up that love, not even to go get some food.
The love of Christ is free, better than anything else we can get, and the only thing that can really satisfy us anyway. St. Paul gives us another reason why the love of Christ is the best: nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Our stuff can be stolen, and people can break our hearts; our reputations can be destroyed by lies or even the truth, and we can even disappoint ourselves, but not even death can separate us from the love of Christ. If Satan stood here in all his evil power and cunning, he could fool us, he could hurt us, but he could not make Christ stop loving us. Everything we love on this earth could be taken from us by a tornado, but not even a tornado could make Christ stop loving us.
No matter we do or have done to us, no matter how far we think we have run away from God, if we turn around we will find Christ right there. We would have to be fools to seek our happiness in food or TV or on the Internet, and we are fools. We have all often tried to satisfy our need for God with what is not God. Still, the invitation remains: “Come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk! Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy?” Come to God. He wants to give you everything. He is not going to shove it down your throat. He cannot give it to you unless you seek it, and you do want it, even though you do not know your own desires.
St. Martha is probably better remembered for the Gospel story about when she complained to Jesus that her sister Mary was not helping her get the food ready, but this Gospel serves as an important counterbalance. If all we ever knew about Martha was the time she complained, we would not be aware of her remarkable faith. Today, as she mourns the death of her brother, Jesus comes to visit Mary and her. “When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him, but Mary sat at home.” Just a few days ago we were considering the amazing story of Mary, but here Mary sat at home. Mary is angry with Jesus. She is throwing a temper-tantrum.
Martha is our example today: when you hear Jesus is coming, go out to meet him. Martha, no less than Mary, was confused that Jesus had let Lazarus die; Martha loved her brother as much as Mary did; Martha was mourning his death in the same way as Mary, but Martha still went out to meet Jesus. Mary waits for Jesus to call her name, but Martha gets up and goes to meet Jesus. She knows that there is no point in being angry with God.
Then Martha, in the midst of her distress, shows the depths of her understanding. She confesses her faith in Jesus. This confession is to be ranked with the great confessions of the Gospel: the confession of Peter on which Jesus built the Church, the confession of the good thief nailed to the Cross next to Jesus, and the confession of the centurion who crucified Jesus. Indeed, Martha’s confession stands out even among these. Her confession is clearer; it shows more understanding.
Martha did not have Mary’s exciting life and amazing conversion, but, in this short conversation, she proves that an unexciting life can bear amazing fruit. In spite of all the rejoicing over a lamb that was lost and has been found, there is something to be said for the lamb who always stayed in the sheepfold. A convert often puts us old Christians to shame with an abundance of enthusiasm for their newly found faith, but a life-long “good person” has put down roots that will hold them steady in the worst storms. The slow conversion of a boring life is no less a conversion than the most famous conversions ever. If they can master humility and gratitude, their unexciting life will have prepared them well to understand the mysteries of God.
We can see how cautious the Lord is to prevent idol worship of any kind. Various cultures over the millennia set up statues in the shapes of animals or human beings and worshipped those statues, but the Lord had told his people that that would not be acceptable. These statues were attempts to see what cannot be seen, to make visible the invisible God. When the golden calf was made after leaving Egypt, it was supposed to be a statue of the Lord, but the Lord rejected any such symbols. He carefully taught his people that he is holy, entirely different from anything within their experience. No earthly image can capture his essence.
Now, a year after leaving Egypt, the Lord is giving his people a point a reference, a place to worship. So Moses, following the instructions of Lord, sets up the Dwelling Place. We see here the amazing wisdom of God. In order to teach the Israelites about the invisible, God has them build a tent. It is a very large tent, and, in the middle, there is a throne, but no one lives in the tent and no one sits on the throne. The Israelites carried this tent and this throne around the desert. When they stopped, this tent was placed in the middle of the camp. They were not worshipping a tent! The questions form in their minds: Who lives in that tent? Who sits on that throne? They already know the answer: the Lord, the Almighty, the invisible God, the One Who Is.
In the middle of all this, under the throne, there is a box. This box is an ordinary box, made of wood and covered in gold. It is called “The Ark of the Covenant”. Inside this box there were three things: the Ten Commandments written on stone, Aaron’s staff, and a jar of Manna, which is to say: the word of God, a symbol of the priesthood and the resurrection, and the bread from God. We too, in every church, have a box, an ordinary box covered in gold or silver or bronze. Whenever we enter or leave the Church, we genuflect toward the box. We worship toward the box. We are not worshipping a box! The questions should form in our minds: What is in there? Who is in there? We already know the answer: the Lord, the Almighty, the invisible God, the One Who Is.
As devoted as some people are to getting the perfect suntan, we Christians should be to getting the radiant glow that only comes from time spent with the Lord in prayer. Moses is a great example for us. He spent time talking with the Lord, and it changed him. Whenever he spent time speaking with the Lord, his skin became radiant. How wonderful it would be if we too could become radiant by spending time with the Lord. Not that our faces would glow with an earthly light, but that our souls would glow with a heavenly light.
That heavenly light is holiness. As we repeated in the psalm today, “Holy is the Lord our God.” Holiness means to be different, to be separate, to be set aside, to be the personal possession of God. Above all holiness applies to God himself. He is different from everything else. We can say that he is not bad, but when we say that he is good we have to remember that he is better than good, “good” and every other word in human language is inadequate for describing God.
Holiness applies by analogy to those people who belong to God. We are Holy. We belong to God because he made us. We belong to God because we were baptized. We belong to God as we give ourselves daily to him. It is possible to glow with holiness, a light shining in a dark world, but only if we newly dedicate ourselves each day to God.
Holiness is not that pretense of holiness that can be easily seen through. Holiness is not something which we do or that we generate from within. Holiness is the fire of God’s love. We can only acquire this healthy glow by spending time in a different kind of sunshine: the rays coming forth from the tabernacle in the heart of the church.
Moses covered his face with a veil, for the radiance was more than the Israelites could stand. Today we see God with unveiled faces. It would be foolish to leave this meeting, to go away from the source of our life, unless the holiness that we encountered here in the church, here in the Mass, shone forth in our souls. When one Saint lights up the world around them for a while, they are remembered for centuries Imagine if all Christians shone with holiness! The world would soon be converted. And why not? Holiness is available to all of us by God’s grace.
Today we remember the grandparents of Jesus, Joachim and Anne. It was in their home that the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and asked her to be the mother of God. They are an image for us of all those Jewish patriarchs who raised up families in the centuries before Jesus came. All those people who, as Sirach says, “were men of mercy, whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten.” All those people who, as Jesus told his disciples, “Longed to see what you see and did not see it.”
Joachim and Anne are to be praised in the first place because it was they who passed on the faith and the law to Mary which they had received from their parents. It is so important that children are taught the faith, not as a mere intellectual idea but in practice. Those parents who say that they will let their children decide about religion when they are grown are making a grave mistake. A child raised by wolves is unable to enter human society when they are grown. A child raised without religion will always be lacking a basic human characteristic. Childhood is the time when our minds are formed, and a mind formed without piety is a defective mind. Joachim and Anne instilled in Mary a faith that was able to easily accept the word of an Angel.
Joachim and Anne are also to be praised because they supported Mary in her unusual vocation. When Mary decided to dedicate her life to virginity, they found for her Joseph, a righteous man, to be her husband and protector. When Mary became pregnant before she was married, they trusted what she told them about the angel. As Mary went to fulfill her calling, first to Bethlehem, then Egypt, they watched and prayed for her, knowing that they had taught her all they could about God and doing what is right.
We remember Joachim and Anne today because they were good parents. They never worked a miracle, so far as we know, at least not the kind that amazes crowds. They never preached the Gospel like Peter and Paul. They were good parents, and that is enough to be a saint.
James and John, with the help of their mother, ask Jesus to be put in the highest place. The thing about the highest place is that everyone else is in a lower place. The other ten Apostles stand around holding their breath. Perhaps they missed their chance? What if he says yes? When Jesus denies the request, they are relieved and suddenly indignant that anyone would even ask such a thing.
So Jesus teaches James and John, and all the Apostles, about the true nature of leadership in the Kingdom of Heaven. Leadership is defined by service. Here on Earth, the leaders are served by those under them. In the Kingdom, the leaders are the servants of those they lead. Here on Earth, the weak serve the strong because the strong can force the weak to be their servants. In the Kingdom, the strong serve the weak because the weak need to be served. Consider how much more sensible the arrangement of Kingdom is.
God wants to do great things for the world, but he is prevented by our sins. Everything that we can do well is a temptation to pride. Everything that other people can do well is a temptation to envy. Do you see what God is dealing with? If he gives anyone a special ability which could help the world, it is a danger to them and a danger to others.
Instead of our normal way of acting, out of envy and pride, Jesus calls us to act in a more sensible manner. If we can do something well, we ought to put that ability at the service of others. Every talent that God has given us is given for the sake of others. This word “for” is foundational to the life and work of Jesus Christ. Everything he ever did was “for” others.
If we are acting for others, there is no reason for pride or envy. We are all one team. Just like any member of a team, we can be glad to see the good abilities in our teammates or we can be envious of the stars. It depends on whether we want to win games or impress people. It is a bad player who only wants to win the game if they can make the winning shot themself. The good player is glad to see that someone has made the winning shot.
Jesus gives us four images today. The first image, of the treasure in the field, teaches us that we are getting a very good deal on the Kingdom of Heaven. The image is so wonderful because it appeals to our natural greed. We want to find a Picasso at a rummage sale for $5. We want everything, so long as we do not have to pay for it. What Jesus is describing here is called insider trading. It is why Martha Stewart went to prison. It is a serious crime. It is okay though; we are allowed to steal the Kingdom of Heaven. God wants us to steal the Kingdom of Heaven. Infinite treasure can be had for the price of a field. Is it too good to be true? No, it is too good to be false.
The secret to insider trading is not to haggle on the price of the field. Whatever the owner wants to charge, pay it. Do not be pennywise and dollar-foolish. Let us say that the asking price for this field is going to Mass 60 times a year, fasting twice a year and not eating meat on Fridays, confessing your sins, caring for the poor and the Church, loving your neighbor, loving God, and being humble. Does that sound expensive? There is an infinite treasure buried in the field; pay the asking price.
Sometimes people consider the next image as a repetition of the first. On the contrary, it is the opposite. Jesus does not say that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a pearl. He says that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant. What is the pearl then? You. Me. Each one of us. From our perspective, it is for us to seek the Kingdom of Heaven like a treasure. From God’s perspective, it is he who is seeking us. He created our souls and they are like a pearl of great price. We are so valuable to God that he goes and sells everything. Where does he go? From heaven to earth. What does he sell? Himself, his life on the Cross. Why does he do this? To buy us back, to redeem us.
St. Paul is writing about this in the second reading. He describes a process beginning with God’s foreknowledge and ending with our glorification. “Those he foreknew he also predestined.” If God knew, before you were created, that he could save you, he planned to save you. “Those he predestined he also called.” And if he planned to save you, he called you to salvation. “Those he called he also justified.” And if he called you to salvation, he will make you a good person. “Those he justified he also glorified.” And if he made you a good person, he will give you a new life after death, better than this one, lasting forever.
This is the process that God follows for every person on earth. The only place for our action in the process is responding to the call. It may seem strange to us that God calls us only if we will respond. How does he know? But he just knows. Before he calls anyone, he knows whether they will say yes. Why should he bother calling someone who will say no? It is not a case of him being relatively sure of what a person will say. God is omniscient. This means that he not only knows all of “what is”, but he also knows every “what if”.
Consider the case of Solomon. God offered to give Solomon whatever he asked for, but God already knew what Solomon would ask for. He would not have offered if Solomon would have asked for riches or a long life or the death of his enemies. He wanted something that God wanted to give him, so God offered to give him whatever he wanted. Consider the case of Mary. God asked her whether she would be his mother. He knew that she was going to say yes before he asked. She could have said no, but then he would not have planned the entire universe around her saying yes.
Some people think that predestination and foreknowledge take away our free will. They do not. Free will is completely present, but it would be unreasonable to expect God to act as if he did not know what we were going to do. We do what we want to do, but God has already taken our decision into account. If he can buy the pearl, he is willing to go and sell everything, but if the pearl is not for sale at any price, why should he try negotiating?
So the two images come together. We see a treasure that can be had for the price of a field. God sees a pearl that can be bought for a very high price. If we purchase the field, God will buy the pearl. If we respond to the call, God will call us. If you think God is not calling you, try responding and you will find that the call was always there.
The third image Jesus gives us today is the image of the net full of fish. He tells us explicitly what this image means. It is the relationship between the Kingdom of Heaven and the whole world. In the end, everyone will be caught in the net. Some will be worth keeping, those who were justified. They will be glorified. Some will not be worth keeping, those who did not respond to the call. They will be thrown away like a rotten fish.
The last image is the scribe instructed in the Kingdom of Heaven. He “is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.” Sometimes this image is used to point out why we have the New and the Old Testaments. Several times throughout history, people have tried to say that the New Testament is all we really need. This image includes the refutation to such an idea, but it is also means more than that.
Jesus says “every scribe” rather than “every person”. We are told that he gave these images to his disciples, but we do not know which disciples. What is unusual about the disciples he is speaking to is that they understand what he is talking about; usually his disciples need more explanations. Perhaps he is speaking to a group of scribes and telling them that if they become instructed in the Kingdom of Heaven they will be able to use both their new knowledge and their old knowledge.
It reminds me of men who go into the seminary after studying something unrelated to theology. This knowledge is often able to assist them in their ministry. St. John Vianney, who was a farmer before becoming a priest, would go assist his parishioners who farmers and discuss angels while loading hay onto a wagon.
This is true not only of priests but of all of us. Taken together, we are experts in many different fields. Every scientist, every artist, every dancer, every advertising executive, every farmer, every machinist, every architect, every engineer, every social worker, every politician, every lawyer, and every salesperson who becomes a disciple of the Kingdom of Heaven is able to use their expertise for the benefit of the Kingdom. We already spoke about what the Kingdom can do for us; this is image is about what we can do for the Kingdom.
Mary Magdalene is called the “apostle to the Apostles”. An apostle is someone sent, particularly someone sent by Jesus to preach the Gospel. Mary is called the apostle to the Apostles because she was the one who told the Apostles that the tomb was empty. She was the first person in the entire world to preach the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. This makes her a pretty important person.
There is good reason to suppose that Mary Magdalene is the sister of Martha and Lazarus. Reading into the Gospels we find a kind of prodigal daughter. She left her family and became a prostitute. Not a low class prostitute by any means, perhaps even the mistress of a rich Roman official. She converted when Jesus came to her and cast out 7 demons who had possession of her. She went back to live with her sister and brother. We remember the story of Martha’s resentment toward her, not unlike the resentment of the elder brother to the prodigal son. We remember how she wept at the death of her brother Lazarus, she was even angry with Jesus. We see her pouring perfume on Jesus before his death; an entire jar of perfume worth over $10,000. She helps prepare the body of Jesus after he is taken down from the Cross, and she is the first person in the whole world to preach the Gospel.
Without a doubt, that story requires reading into the Gospel, between the lines, and there are many today who contradict this traditional reading. Some people say that Mary has been falsely accused, that there is no reason to suppose she was a prostitute or a mistress. A woman from a poor family might have had a $10,000 jar of perfume for any number of reasons. This story is not the only way to read the Scriptures, although it does all fit together nicely.
But those who say that Mary has been falsely accused of sexual immorality and try to liberate her from this unfair charge, it seems to me, are missing the point. It does not matter anymore. It does not matter anymore what Mary did before she met Jesus. What matters is what Mary did after she met Jesus. She was the first person in the whole world to preach the Gospel; she is the apostle to the Apostles, and today she is living happily in heaven. Wherever you were before does not matter. What matters is what you are going to do from now on. This is true for you, and it is true for me, and it is true for every prostitute and sinner you ever meet. Everyone is a potential Saint.
We modern people hold a strange contradiction in our minds. On the one hand, we think that times are changing so rapidly that there is almost no similarity between ourselves and people only a hundred years ago, let alone 3000 years ago. The response, “Things were different then” is used to explain away any difficulty we have in understanding the Scriptures. On the other hand, it surprises us that God acts so differently in the Old Testament, particularly in the early parts. This is a contradiction because if things really were so different back then, it is completely logical that God would act differently. God always speaks to us in a way we can understand, not only in our spoken language but using appropriate symbols and actions.
We tend to exaggerate how different people were 3000 years ago. They were a lot like us. There is nothing new under the sun. The only really important way that people have changed in the past four millennia is in our religious sense. Jesus could have come to Earth whenever he wanted to; he could have led the people out of Egypt himself. Instead, he used Moses and the prophets to prepare the people. For 2000 years after he called Abraham, he got the people of Israel ready for his coming. Many prophets and righteous people longed to see him but did not.
It has now been 2000 years since he came. Some people would say that the Gospel has made very little progress in changing the world but they cannot see properly. Nowadays, helping the poor is considered a good thing. Nowadays, slavery is considered a bad thing. Nowadays, human sacrifice is almost non-existent. This is not only true among Christians but worldwide. The Gospel has changed the world. Just as God, with fire and trumpets and smoke and Ten Commandments written in stone, taught a nation of people to respect him, so now the influence of the Gospel is evident in every corner of this world.
Standing above all of history is the Divine Plan. The history of the world really is a story: the history of salvation. God is shaping the world, improving our religious sense, over millennia. He knows perfectly when to shout in fire from a mountaintop and when to come whispering. His intricate plan takes everything into account. Whether or not the world consciously accepts the Gospel, it is changing the world.
The dirt path is trodden down. The seed falls but it does not even go into the soil, which is too hard. Such a soul is very sure of itself; so sure that it cannot even listen. How can such soil be prepared for planting? It needs to be worked with a plow. It needs to be turned over. There is good soil underneath. Such a soul needs to have its life turned upside down. A crisis can force this (sickness, unemployment, loss), but it is better if such a person chooses to turn their life upside down before a crisis comes. If the Word of God has no effect on you, turn your life upside down.
The rocky soil takes in the Word of God but there is no place for it to take root. Such a person is excited about their faith for a time. They might be a new convert or a lifelong Catholic who is just learning to love the Word of God. The solution to rocky soil is to remove the rocks. The rocks are habits of sin or situations, or even friends, who are occasions of sin. If you are excited about the Word of God, remove the rocks from your life so that it can take root.
The thorns are weeds that choke the Word of God. Plants require sunlight, space, and water to grow. A field full of weeds has no place for a garden to grow. The Word of God requires time and effort. If you are giving your time and effort to other things, so that there is no time or effort left for the Word of God, how can it grow? Pluck the weeds. As an example, the Bible only requires 100 hours to read, cover to cover. Many people watch 100 hours of TV in a month. If the TV and work and the Internet and anything else are sucking up your time and effort, kill them off; let them starve. Feed the Word of God that is growing within you.
All of us have areas of deafness. All of us have rocks in the soil. All of us have thorns choking off what we ought to be fostering. Plowing, clearing rocks, and weeding are all hard work, but what is the point of being a Christian if we are not making space for Christ to grow in our souls?
There is a long tradition in Christian interpretation, going back to the Apostles, which considers the Red Sea to be a type of Baptism. As the Israelites passed through the waters of the Red Sea and came out the other side while the Egyptians drowned, so too we passed through the waters of Baptism and come out the other side while Sin is drowned.
Yet in one aspect, which you may have already noticed, this analogy breaks down: once the Israelites had passed through the Red Sea, the Egyptians no longer pursued them; the Egyptians were dead, but after we are baptized, we are still pursued by sin. I was baptized a month after I was born, why then am I not perfect now? An adult who is baptized steps out of the water completely sinless, yet all of them will soon return to their sins. Why do we need constant Confession as a renewal of our Baptism? Why does Baptism not free us as completely from the grasp of Satan as the Red Sea freed the Israelites from the grasp of Pharaoh?
But the Israelites were not free of Pharaoh after the Red Sea. They often spoke about returning to Egypt. Not until they had wandered in the desert for forty years were they ready to enter the Promised Land. Even after death, Pharaoh retained power over their minds. So too, even after we are free of Original Sin, its power over our minds remains. After Baptism, we have to wander in the world for 70 or 80 years before we can enter the Promised Land. God has freed us from the Pharaoh who pursues us; no one can compel us to return to Egypt, but now we need to be free from the Pharaoh who still lives in our minds trying to convince us to return to Egypt on our own.
How can we be free? The Israelites were not free until the whole generation died and new generation grew up who had never known Pharaoh. It is the same for us. When we recognize a part of ourself that wants to sin we should turn to it and say, “You have to die.” Eventually, if we are consistent and firm, that old generation will die off and the new humanity, Christ himself, will takes its place. Then we will say, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Then we will be perfectly free.
Compared to what most of our society does on Sunday, walking through a field on the Sabbath, occasionally picking some heads of grains and chewing on them is a pretty restful activity. So we are inclined to think that the disciples are just being reasonable and the Pharisees are being, well, pharisaical, but Jesus’ answer is more complex than that. He does not merely say, “Seriously! Loosen up guys.” He puts forward an argument that is not easy for us modern Americans to follow.
First he reminds the Pharisees of how David made an exception to the Law in time of need. David and his men were starving, so they ate some bread that they were not supposed to eat. The Gospel says that the disciples were hungry, but it does not tell us how hungry. If they were fainting with hunger that would fit with what Jesus says later: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” The Pharisees’ first fault was preferring their own interpretation of God’s law to the lives of human beings. There certainly is nothing in the law specifically about picking a handful of grain to eat. The law only says: rest on the Sabbath; do no work.
Yet there is more here. Mixed in with this argument are some very impressive statements. Jesus claims to be “greater than the temple” and “Lord of the Sabbath”. Who is greater than the temple? Only God. Who is Lord of the Sabbath? Only God. The priests serving in the temple work on the Sabbath because the work they are doing, worshipping God is more important than the Sabbath. So Jesus is saying that the work the disciples are doing, walking with him, is more important than the Sabbath. Jesus is claiming to be God.
We no longer celebrate the Sabbath. Saturday is just another day for us Christians, and Sunday is our day of rest when no one rests. We could do better at resting on Sunday; it is not really a good day for going to the zoo or going to a ballgame, if only for the sake of those who have to work at the zoo and the stadium. In a Christian culture, stores would be closed on Sunday. But what we do not do on Sunday is not as important to the Christian life as what do do: go to Mass; spend time with Jesus. He is our Sabbath; he is our rest.
Do Jesus' words today surprise you? “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword.” It just does not sound like the Jesus in all the pictures that I saw as a child. He always seems so peaceful. The pictures must have gotten things very wrong.
“So do not be afraid,” Jesus tells us, “there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed, nothing secret that will not be made known.” “Nothing?” we wonder. Perhaps we have often thought that, if only they knew how much we have done for them, how much we have suffered, they would be astonished. If the world could only see all the good we do! But Jesus is going a bit far here. There is nothing secret that will not be made known. All the thoughts of our hearts and every action we thought would lie hidden forever, someday, is going to come out into the full light for everyone to see.
So if we are thinking that someday the whole world will be impressed by our actions, we probably do not know ourselves as well as we should. No, when we are in heaven someday and someone suggests that tonight we watch the video of my life or of your life, the video that is being recorded every second of our lives right now, we will not be the star of the show; we might often be the villain.
The star of the show is going to be the one who knows when a sparrow falls from the sky and how many hairs there are on top of our heads. The plot is going to be how the Holy and Perfect One managed to convince us to seek our own happiness, while we are sabotaging his every effort. When everything is revealed, when every secret is known, everyone will be astonished not by what we did but by what God did: his humility, his skillful care, his love that never gave up.
In the Old Testament we have the twelve sons of Jacob, who was renamed Israel. In the New Testament we have the twelve apostles of Jesus, who is the Christ. The twelve sons were the founders of the nation of Israel, the chosen people of God. The twelve apostles were the founders of the new Israel, the new chosen people of God, the Church. The sons sold one of their own, Joseph, into slavery for 20 pieces of silver. One of the apostles betrayed his teacher, Jesus, for 30 pieces of silver.
Joseph was sold because he was a tattletale and an arrogant dreamer. Jesus was sold because he was an innocent man. After being sold, Joseph suffered for a while, but eventually became second only to Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. After being sold, Jesus suffered for a while and died, but he was second to no one, the king of the universe. Though his brothers were evil for having sold Joseph into slavery, it was all part of God’s plan to save his people Israel in the midst of famine. Though Judas was evil for betraying Jesus to the Sadducees, it was all part of God’s plan to save the whole world in the midst of sin.
Joseph was responsible for enslaving all of Egypt to Pharaoh by unjustly selling the people back their own grain, which is the life of the body. Jesus was responsible for freeing the whole world from slavery to sin by unjustly having his life taken from him. When Joseph saw his brothers again, he toyed with them for years, as we hear in the reading today, before finally revealing who he really was and forgiving his brothers. Jesus forgave us in the midst of his sufferings, from the Cross itself he said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
So it is with the readings today; so it is with the whole Old Testament. The Old Testament is the word of God, and the New Testament is the word of God. The true meaning of the Old Testament is revealed in the New Testament by the similarities and differences. The Old Testament, beginning to end, speaks to us about Jesus Christ in a hidden way, which is why we still read the Old Testament, why we did not throw it away when we received the New Testament. They both tell us, one implicitly and one explicitly, about Jesus Christ.