I say to you, something greater than the temple is here. If you knew what this meant, I desire mercy, not sacrifice, you would not have condemned these innocent men. For the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath.” (Mt 12:6-8).
Jesus continues to rock established regulations and practices. Here he is challenging the understanding of the Sabbath itself when justifying the accusations leveled toward his disciples who were picking and eating grain on the Sabbath, and he does so in a profound way by saying that, “something greater than the temple is here.” Present in the heart of the temple, the area called the Holy of Holies, was the ark of the covenant. Atop the ark was the lid called the mercy seat of God. Jews believed that this was where God sat and when the blood of atonement was offered from sacrifices, God’s mercy was offered to the people. In the temple then, was the mercy seat, the very presence of God.
Jesus’ claim that he is greater than the temple is putting him on the same level as God. A blasphemous statement to say the least, unless of course, he is God. Jesus even doubles down by claiming that he is the Lord of the sabbath; Jesus is God!
In quoting Hosea 6:6: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”, Jesus is not only saying that he is the something greater, but that his Way is something greater. One of the foundational points of the Way of Jesus is mercy. Through the incarnation, the Son of God dwelt among us, became one with us in our humanity. He restored our dignity in the midst of our brokenness. What Jesus said, in defending his disciples eating from the grains of wheat on the Sabbath, he is saying to us today: “What is owed to every human being on the basis of his or her human dignity is personal respect, personal acceptance, and personal care” (Kasper 2014, 202).
Each one of us, when we are willing to participate in the life of Jesus, strengthens our unity in the Body of Christ when we follow Jesus in bestowing acts of mercy on our neighbor. “The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his [or her] spiritual and bodily necessities. Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. 2447).
Are we willing to respect the dignity of each person, interact with and care for people different than us, journey together, and allow God to happen? Reviewing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy above is a good place to start. Praying about and deciding which one(s) to put into practice would be a good next step. We can write a broader and brighter chapter in the coming weeks and months ahead if we are willing to follow Jesus and lead with mercy, which is “the willingness to enter the chaos of another” (Keenan, 2015).
Photo: Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ, founder of Homeboy Industries has helped to rehabilitate gang members and guide them to re-enter and begin again since the 1980s.