By The Reverend Monsignor Harry Entwistle
Sunday 3rd June , 2018
Preached at St Ninians & St Chads Parish, Perth
St Paul’s Catholic Church, Mt Lawley
Today’s readings seem to send mixed messages to any hearers. The Book of Deuteronomy tells us how important it is to keep the Sabbath holy for God. Genesis says that God rested on the Sabbath, so Jews do this, not only so they could worship God, but so the family could spend time together and rest.
We Christians do not observe the Sabbath as our holy day, but Sunday, the day of Jesus’ resurrection. Even so, it is the day for Christians to spend time in worship and also in resting. Until recently Sunday was a low activity day in Western civilisations, but secularism has turned it into a 24/7 culture in which there is no room for anything except work or individual indulgence. Interestingly, there are early signs of a push back, not so much to create time to worship God, but to create family time and time for rest.
In the gospel reading, Jesus appears to be deliberately breaking to Sabbath laws. It was permitted for hungry people to pick wheat as they walked through a cornfield but rolling the grain in the fingers to expose the kernel was considered to be threshing the wheat, which was work, so was not permitted on the Sabbath. When the Pharisees accused Jesus of law breaking, he pointed out that when King David and his companions were hungry they entered God’s house and ate holy bread which could only be eaten by priests. David was considered to be pious by the Jews, yet he was not beyond breaking the Sabbath law. Even priests of the Temple who broke Sabbath laws were not deemed to be guilty.
Jesus is making the point that his disciples can also break the Sabbath Law because they have superseded the priests of the Temple. This is because God’s holy place has shifted from a place to a person, namely himself, the Son of Man, who is Lord of all including the Sabbath.
We need to be clear though that Jesus is not some progressive reformer who says it is permissible to break all God’s laws if it suits us. The Sabbath is about rest and Jesus is the one who give us rest. Jesus is God and our rest is found in him. If we want to live according to God’s laws, we must rest in Jesus.
Jesus is demonstrating to the Pharisees who he is. They tended to observe God’s laws as a bargaining tool against God. “Look God, I have obeyed your laws, so what are you going to do for me?” In contrast, Jesus invites us to live and rest in the life of God’s Word, namely himself, and grow into God’s image. We either live in God’s life, the Catholic life, or we don’t live at all, we merely exist.
St Paul says the same thing. We have been created by God and the thing we call ‘life’ is God’s power. The secular world tells us that we can only be fully alive if we are healthy, rich, happy and sexually fulfilled in whichever variation we might choose. Live it up because instant gratification is the name of the game because when you are dead you are dead. Sorry my mistake, people don’t die any more, they ‘pass,’ but what they pass, and with what grade or to where is less clear.
Jesus says that real life flows from God and returns to God, and he came to us so that we might have life in all its fulness. The only model of what it means to be fully alive is Jesus, and that makes an authentic Christian life difficult to spot. After all. Jesus died the violent death of a loser at a young age, but he was so alive with the life of God that even death could not snuff him out. He is the source of resurrection life for the whole world. He is the Lord of all, the Lord of God’s dance which he offers to those who love him and follow his ways.
“They cut me down
And I leapt up high:
I am the life
That’ll never, never die;
I’ll live in you
If you live in me-
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.”
Shall we dance?
Monsignor Entwistle is the first Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross. Educated at St Chad's Theological College, he was ordained a priest in the Church of England Diocese of Blackburn in 1964. After reception into the Roman Catholic Church, he was ordained to the priesthood in St Mary's Cathedral, Perth on 15 June 2012.