Biblical Readings for each day's Mass,
(for the Liturgical Year 2021)

Friday, July 16, 2021
Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

1st Reading: Exodus 11:10-12:14

Passover is a reminder of our deliverance from slavery and death

Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh; but the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go out of his land.

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: "This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbour in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the Passover of the Lord. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance."

Responsorial: Psalm 115:12-13, 15-18

R./: I will take the cup of salvation, and call on the name of the Lord

How can I repay the Lord
  for his goodness to me?
The cup of salvation I will raise;
  I will call on the Lord's name. (R./)

O precious in the eyes of the Lord
  is the death of his faithful.
Your servant, Lord, your servant am I;
  you have loosened my bonds. (R./)

A thanksgiving sacrifice I make:
  I will call on the Lord's name.
My vows to the Lord I will fulfil
  before all his people. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 12:1-8

Jesus relaxes the sabbath rules; and God desires mercy more than sacrifice

Jesus went walking through the grain-fields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, "Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath." He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 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 of the sabbath."

Celebrating life

There are many ways of responding to God’s will. Exodus provides a careful set of rules for the celebration of Passover, while Matthew give examples of adapting the law to meet the circumstances. In fact, Exodus chapter 12 has two sets of regulations for Passover. They point to the festive origins of the liturgy, as the people’s joyful celebration. This is the background to why Jesus did not share the Pharisees’ prohibition of him "working" on the Sabbath. Anything that sustains and affirms life is exactly in tune with the purpose of the Sabbath.

The Passover was a feast to keep alive the memory of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and the protection of its first-born. After they settled in Canaan, the feast took on agricultural elements, praying for freedom from drought and famine and for an abundant barley harvest. Passover celebrated life, both as saved from oppression, and as the Lord’s gift of the fertile earth. Also in its celebration, blood had an important role; it was rubbed on the forehead of each worshipper and splashed on the doors of their homes. This blood symbolized the bond of life uniting the people with each other, and with their God.

In their argument with Jesus, the Pharisees emphasised what was forbidden on the Sabbath than its purpose, which was to be liberating and life-enhancing. When his hungry disciples walked through the fields on a sabbath day, they began to pluck heads of grain and eat them. This was not stealing, as the grain was standing unfenced, and farmers were encouraged to leave some grains on the edge for the poor (Lev 19:9); but as it seemed to violate the traditional rules for keeping the sabbath, some Pharisees blamed Jesus about it.

He himself did not reject the aabbath, and in general was careful to observe his people’s customs. But he countered the objectors on their own grounds by citing a biblical episode about king David and pointing out that priests on temple duty could do what was usually forbidden. Jesus could not endorse the strict Sabbath interpretation of the Pharisees. For if God "wants mercy, not sacrifice", then the Sabbath day is better celebrated by affirming life than by fencing people in. Indeed the function of the Sabbath is to celebrate life. Like David or the priests, the people are more important than the temple itself, so the disciples could act as they did with a clear conscience. Since Jesus interpreted the Sabbath regulations so freely, the later church concluded that he was "Lord of the Sabbath."

Greater than the Temple

His disciples were surprised when Jesus called himself "something greater than the Temple." They could not imagine anything greater than the magnificent Temple built by Herod in Jerusalem, considered to be one of the wonders of the world. It was the focal point of God’s presence to his people. But Jesus is greater than the Temple because he is the new focus of God’s presence. The Living God was present no longer in a building but through a person, his Son Jesus, whose other name is Emmanuel, God with us.

As the new Temple, Jesus is also Lord of the Sabbath. He is also Lord of the church, Lord of our lives. Willingly, we submit to his word so that his priorities become our priorities. He declares that feeding the hungry takes priority over any narrow understanding of the Sabbath Law. His hungry disciples are entitled to pick ears of corn to satisfy their hunger, even on the Sabbath. Jesus’ word, and his whole life, helps us to discern what is really important from what is less important.