Isaiah 38: 1-6, 21-22, 7-8
Matthew 12: 1-8
In today's first reading, when Hezekiah, the King of Judah, was told to put his house in order because he was dying, he prayed, "O Lord, remember how faithfully and wholeheartedly I conducted myself in your presence, doing what was pleasing to you!"
Now that's a remarkable prayer! I wonder if, when I am faced with my death, I will be able to offer a similar prayer with so much conviction. I fear my awareness of my many faults and sins would cause me to choke on those words. It's true that Hezekiah is remembered as one of the truly great kings of Israel because of his religious reforms and his compassionate administration of justice, but I'm sure he was subject to many of the same failures as most of us. Yet, when faced with his death, he prayed so confidently. Does he know something many of us don't?
Pair Hezekiah's confident attitude with the story in today's Gospel. The disciples of Jesus were travelling through a field of grain on the Sabbath and, being hungry, they picked the heads of the grain to eat. At the time of Jesus it was against the law to travel or pick the heads of grain on the Sabbath. They should have been in their homes keeping the Sabbath holy. It's surely no surprise that the Pharisees, guardians of religious practice, loudly criticized such irreligious behavior. Do the disciples know something that the Pharisees don't?
Jesus speaks up and defends the behavior of the disciples. He reminds the Pharisees of some of the things David and his followers did in violation of Sabbath law. Jesus concludes that the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
Both the confident prayer of Hezekiah and the teaching of Jesus about the Sabbath remind us that God is always on our side and that religious practice is intended to deepen our experience of God's love for us, not create fear and insecurity about God's compassionate care for us. Hezekiah surely knew his many faults but was convinced that God's great love for him would focus on his efforts to be faithful to God. The disciples knew they were not fulfilling Sabbath law but they were confident in Jesus' teaching that their well-being was more important than merely fulfilling the law.
What about us? Do we understand that God is more interested in the good things we do than in the bad? Are we confident in our relationship with God and His great love for us. Today we pray that God will help us trust in His love for us.
Fr. Michael Higgins, C.P. is the director the Development Office for Holy Cross Province and is stationed at Immaculate Conception Community in Chicago.