Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Homily at Mass, Tuesday 17 January 2012

Mark 2:23-28

What is the Sabbath about? It is a memorial, in the formal and Biblical sense – that is, it is something which makes God’s action present and effective, just as in the Mass we “make the memorial of Christ your Son our Lord”. The Sabbath is a memorial of three things:

(i)                       God completing the work of creation, and seeing that it is good, and resting.
(ii)                 The liberation from Egypt
(iii)               The covenant of Sinai, where it is enjoined as a commandment.

What runs through these things is a principle of festivity. The goodness of creation is to be celebrated. God’s work in human history to restore the right ordering of creation – as in the liberation of slaves from Egypt – is also to be celebrated. The commandment to observe the Sabbath day is about festivity – the interruption of normal work so that creation can be enjoyed. So that we can pause and join in God’s act of seeing that creation is good.

So Jesus teaches and heals on the Sabbath, and even permits ordinary activities such as eating corn, because, on the Sabbath, these are acts of festivity. In such moments of festivity we see God completing his work and seeing that it is good. We in fact participate by grace in that one Divine act of completion, and seeing, and goodness. Meister Eckhart once said, “The eye wherein I see God is the same eye wherein God sees me”. Human existence, within God’s creation, is ordered towards the beatific vision, seeing God and seeing as God sees, in which blessedness consists. The purpose of festivity, as part of the rhythm of creation, is to help train our eye to that vision.

But to focus on mere external observance is not to see. So the Pharisees, dramatic characters who crystallise the opposition to the early Church community, object that what Jesus and his disciples do is forbidden. They don’t see what Jesus sees.

And Jesus responds by asking if they have not read the scriptures, and gives them a story about David and his followers entering the temple and eating the loaves of offering.

Now the intriguing thing about this is that the story Jesus tells isn’t in the Bible quite as Jesus tells it. The reference is to 1 Samuel 21 1-6, but in 1 Samuel the name of the priest is different, David is alone and not described as hungry, and although he takes the bread he doesn’t eat it.

In re-telling this story to emphasise the point perhaps Jesus is saying that if the Pharisees had really read the scriptures they would have seen the underlying meaning beyond the outward observance. They would have seen that creation is good and ordered towards human goodness and flourishing, because that is how God sees it.

For us too, because we are part of the same creation, festivity is vital. For Christians the observance of the Sabbath has been subsumed into Sunday, the Lord’s day, the day of resurrection. Beyond the seventh day of rest, when Jesus lay in the tomb, there is the eighth day, the day outside time, the day of eternity, which Jesus entered through the resurrection. In that day all is compassed by the vision of God and all is very good.

Our times of festivity, of pause and interruption, and most especially our celebration of the Sunday Eucharist, make present and effective that vision of God which restores and re-orders the right relationship of all creation. Even with the world as frantic and busy as it is, or maybe especially with the world as frantic and busy as it is, it is very important that the Church does not lose the distinctive character of that festive time, the Lord’s own service on the Lord’s own day.

For more on the Eighth Day, see here

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