Ordinary Time – Cycle B
2 Cor 4,6-11
The biblical readings of this Sunday present Jesus as teacher of liberty and authentic interpreter of the Scriptures and traditions of Israel. Before the legalistic religiosity and ritual of the Pharisees, Jesus proclaims as supreme value of spiritual experience the good of man and woman. In the two scenes of today’s Gospel he restores to the Sabbath its authentic and original value, as day of joy and liberty, as time of rest and of communion with God and others. The joyful liberty with which Jesus and the disciples live the sacred day of the Sabbath teaches that it is more important to attend in helping needy man and woman that fulfilling a religious precept. Jesus places as the center of the Sabbath, not ritual prescriptions, but man and woman that by means of this holy day have the opportunity to find themselves again and find themselves with God as well.
The first reading (Dt 5,12-15) is taken from the Deutoronomic redaction of the text of the Decalogue and refers to the commandment that orders the Sabbath rest. God separates the days of men and women in two parts: six days for work and a day for rejoicing and rest. The sanctification of the Sabbath consists in making it diverse from the other days of the week. On this day the Israelite “sanctifies” the work of his/her hands, and in this way receives, in the same act of renunciation, the fullness of life that comes from Yahweh. God does not obligate Israel, for the sanctification of the Sabbath, any concrete act. He asks Israel the renunciation of all work, fruit of her effort, to go beyond her own works. In a certain way on the Sabbath rest the Israelite rejects any type of idolatry, that is not any other thing but wanting to produce salvation with one’s own hands, and at the same time proclaims that the fullness of life comes only from the Lord. The Sabbath is a time in which man and woman, through “not doing”, places him or herself in an ambiance of absolute gratitude so as to enter into communion with the God that is beyond all work and all creatures.
It is besides a “symbolic” day, a type of weekly remembrance, in which through the “not doing” the people of God relive the joyful experience of liberation from slavery. Each generation, keeping the Sabbath rest, assumes freely the God’s saving act in the past. For this reason, on this day man and woman rejoice in the gift of God liberating from slavery all that live with them: slaves, animals, foreigners, etc. “Remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord your God brought you out from there with mighty hand and outstretched arm; because of this, the Lord your God has commanded you to keep the Sabbath day” (Dt 5,15). On the Sabbath day, the Israelite gives to others that which he or she has freely received from God: liberation and life. That day, all men and women are equal, called to rejoice in pardon, health, liberty, joy, well being and peace. This is the authentic meaning of the biblical “Sabbath”. It is a time in which every man and woman, submitted to any type of slavery, is called to live and rejoice in the only gift that gives life to all: God’s salvation.
The second reading (2 Cor 4,6-11) presents the mystery of life and of death that is present in the existence and mission of the apostle. The faith that the evangelist announces and lives is similar to light the first act of God’s creation (Gen 1,3). With the light of faith in Christ, that God makes shine in the heart of the believer begins the new and definitive creation. God “has shone in our minds to radiate the light of the knowledge of God’s glory, the glory on the face of Christ” (v. 6). The apostle is called to proclaim this faith, through his evangelizing mission, marked by the cross and resurrection of Christ, living at the same time the humiliation and glory of the Lord. The image that Paul uses to express this mystery of the apostle is very descriptive: “we are only the earthenware jars that hold this treasure” (v. 7). The apostle is a man, fragile and limited, that suffers his own weaknesses and insecurities and that many times touches the limit of failure and death. Nevertheless, he carries within himself a mystery of life and fullness, carrying everywhere the valuable treasure of the Easter of Christ that has marked him forever. This man, that suffers the limits of human precariousness and runs continuously the risk of falling to the ground thrown down and worn out, is a sanctuary of the presence of Christ that saves through suffering and death. Paul affirms this convinced: “Wherever we may be, we carry with us in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus too, may always be seen in our body.” (v. 10). The apostle’s suffering, his apparent failures, and including his physical death, generate a life that does not end, for himself and for others. Rightly, Paul can tell the Corinthians: “In us, then, death is at work; in you, life” (v. 12).
Today’s Gospel (Mk 2,23-3,6) is a narration composed of two scenes: the first is developed in the middle of cornfields, place of work and human fatigue; the other, in the synagogue, the sacred place reserved for worship and where religious traditions are jealously conserved. In both cases Jesus confronts the legalistic pharasaism of the times returning the biblical “Sabbath” to its original meaning, as a day of liberty and joy in service of man and woman. Some religious currents of the time of Jesus had converted the Sabbath into a time of slavery and of oppressive ritual observance for men and women, exempting it from the daily life of the people. Some Jewish writings had made a list of almost forty prohibitions in relationship to the Sabbath (cannot start a fire, cannot prepare food, it was necessary to fast, can walk only a certain distance, etc.). Jesus, in line with the ancient prophetic preaching that proclaimed the inseparable unity between worship and life, restores to the Sabbath worship its true value. For Jesus, it is a time of salvation in which is stressed with greater force the liberating power of God, and in which liberated man and woman by God, manifest their own faith in love.
In the first scene (in the midst of the cornfields) the disciples of Jesus that pick ears of corn to eat, are accused by the Pharisees of violating the Sabbath rest (Mk 2,23-27). Jesus, as true interpreter of the Scriptures of Israel, places before them a scene of David’s life to justify the conduct of his own. Jesus gives to the Sabbath its true sense with the help of the Bible. He reads the Scripture to illuminate life, discovering its most profound sense and with a key to liberation. In the case of David he demonstrated that human necessity is more important than the sacred law of the priests’ reserved and consecrated bread (1 Sam 21,2-7); now also counts the same principle: hunger, the necessity of the disciples, is more important than any religious law. For Jesus, the hungry man or woman cannot be disregarded and ignored, but appropriately helped, and even more on the “Sabbath” day in which is celebrated the liberation from slavery: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (v. 27). Jesus is the “Son of Man” that ransoms man and woman from legalism and places them, as in creation’s original plan, in the center of God’s saving plan. Jesus is the man that reveals the deepest truth of man and woman. He goes beyond Judaism’s legalistic schemes of his time, demonstrating that “The Son of Man is master even of the Sabbath” (v. 27).
In the second scene (in the synagogue), Jesus heals a man that has a withered hand (3,1-6). Jesus poses an incisive question: “Is it against the law on the Sabbath day to do good, or to do evil; to save life, or to kill?” (v. 4). His words remind one of the fundamental ethical decision of the law: “today I place before you life and good, death and evil…choose life and you and your descendents will live” (Dt. 30,15.19). This words of the law are concentrated clearly on the helping one’s needy neighbor: an action that supercedes any law of religious institution, and even more, that is superior to the legalistic and inhuman interpretation that the Pharisees made of the Sabbath. For Jesus, the sick man or woman ought to find health and consolation, above all on the Sabbath day in which are remembered the great benefits received from God. The Pharisees sacrifice man and woman to the institution; Jesus places the human person in the center and proclaims with his conduct that the institution ought to always be at the service of man and woman. Jesus’ enemies, that are attempting to trip him up to have a motive to accuse him, react with an obstinate silence. Marks calls it “hardness of heart” (that translates the Greek phrase: pôrôsis tēs kardías; that in other texts the same Evangelist calls also: sklerokardía: Mk 10,15; 16,14). It is the obstinacy of man and woman that closes in on oneself consciously before God and therefore, is incapable of hearing and opening oneself to the newness of salvation. Paul speaks of pôrôsis, “hardening” of a part of Israel (Rm 11,25), and the letter to the Ephesians refers to pôrôsis , “hardening, stubbornness”, of those that “are in the dark, and they are estranged from the life of God” (Eph 4,18). The hardness of heart provokes the anger of Jesus (the Greek text uses the term orge, with which is signaled out in the New Testament as “divine anger”) (v. 5). God does not tolerate such an attitude. As Paul says: “The retribution of God from heaven is being revealed against the ungodliness and injustice of human beings who in their injustice hold back the truth” (Rm 1,18). In today’s Gospel, the Pharisees’ and Herodians’ hardness of heart overflow into the decision to put Jesus to death.
This Sunday’s texts are a call to an authentic religious experience, that lives communion with God in joy and liberty and places the good of man and woman as the supreme norm of conduct. Jesus’ attitude with relation to the Jewish Sabbath ought to bring us to reconsider our Sunday liturgy on the day of the Lord, liberating it from the simple etiquette of precept or legal obligation, without making it isolated in a series of rights and exterior sacred acts. Sunday, our Christian “Sabbath” is the day of weekly exodus, when we pass with Christ from death to life, making it a periodical rebirth with strength for love of God and brothers and sisters in contact with the Word and the Sacraments.