Moses and Aaron worked many wonders in the presence of Pharaoh. But the Lord made Pharaoh’s heart stubborn, and he did not let the sons of Israel leave his country.
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt:
‘This month is to be the first of all the others for you, the first month of your year. Speak to the whole community of Israel and say, “On the tenth day of this month each man must take an animal from the flock, one for each family: one animal for each household. If the household is too small to eat the animal, a man must join with his neighbour, the nearest to his house, as the number of persons requires. You must take into account what each can eat in deciding the number for the animal. It must be an animal without blemish, a male one year old; you may take it from either sheep or goats. You must keep it till the fourteenth day of the month when the whole assembly of the community of Israel shall slaughter it between the two evenings. Some of the blood must then be taken and put on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses where it is eaten. That night, the flesh is to be eaten, roasted over the fire; it must be eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled, but roasted over the fire, head, feet and entrails. You must not leave any over till the morning: whatever is left till morning you are to burn. You shall eat it like this: with a girdle round your waist, sandals on your feet, a staff in your hand. You shall eat it hastily: it is a passover in honour of the Lord. That night, I will go through the land of Egypt and strike down all the first-born in the land of Egypt, man and beast alike, and I shall deal out punishment to all the gods of Egypt, I am the Lord! The blood shall serve to mark the houses that you live in. When I see the blood I will pass over you and you shall escape the destroying plague when I strike the land of Egypt. This day is to be a day of remembrance for you, and you must celebrate it as a feast in the Lord’s honour. For all generations you are to declare it a day of festival, for ever.”’
Jesus took a walk one sabbath day through the cornfields. His disciples were hungry and began to pick ears of corn and eat them. The Pharisees noticed it and said to him, ‘Look, your disciples are doing something that is forbidden on the sabbath.’ But he said to them, ‘Have you not read what David did when he and his followers were hungry – how he went into the house of God and how they ate the loaves of offering which neither he nor his followers were allowed to eat, but which were for the priests alone? Or again, have you not read in the Law that on the sabbath day the Temple priests break the sabbath without being blamed for it? Now here, I tell you, is something greater than the Temple. And if you had understood the meaning of the words: What I want is mercy, not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the blameless. For the Son of Man is master of the sabbath.’
Now here, I tell you, is something greater than the Temple.
What could be greater than the Temple? The dwelling-house of God; the holy place of sacrifice; the seat from where we receive our Laws? These must have been the quizzical and angry thoughts of the Pharisees who heard Jesus’ words. The Temple is a site of holiness indeed. But Love – Love is a holier origin, journey, and destination.
The first reading today tells of the institution of the very first Passover feast. God tells Moses and Aaron in precise terms, exactly how they are to select their animal sacrifice, slaughter it, cook it, eat it, and mark their doorposts and lintels – a sign of their redemption from the plague that would strike Egypt. However, the pairing of the gospel reading of Jesus’ words suddenly seems to contradict the entire severity and absoluteness of God’s instructions! In the words of Heather King in her book Redeemed, Christ is “left of the furthest left and right of the furthest right, both radically liberal and radically conservative.” Our God is far wider than we can cast our sights from east to west.
“What I want is mercy, not sacrifice.” (Mt 12:7) If exacting sacrifice is ‘conservative’, then unconditional mercy would be ‘liberal’. Yet, anchoring and bridging these two poles is the heart of Jesus’ message – God’s deepest and most perfect Love for us. His love overlooks our imperfections and flaws, our sins and blemishes. And yet His love desires our very singular devotion and sacrifice. He wants us for himself, and He desires that we long for Him in the same way too! Haven’t we all been in love before? Yes, our love isn’t perfect, so we will always struggle with offering up a kind of ‘wormy’ inadequate devotion to Him. I know I do. But we must surely keep trying to fall deeper in love with Jesus!
It’s the same in our earthly relationships with each other. Husbands and wives, do you find yourself falling out of love with each other? Or simply just ‘losing that feeling’ because of those gnawing annoyances? Couples who’ve seen the worst in each other, are you wondering if you should ‘plow on’ or maybe ‘look around for true love’? Parents, are you wondering ‘how could this fellow grow to be such a rascal’? And children, have you just had the biggest row with the ‘most unloving father/mother ever’? The problem with our kind of love is that it never lasts – rather, we intuitively know there is ‘the one love that is forever’, but we realise we are completely incapable of giving it, much less recognising it! Much of what causes us to ‘fall out of love with’ one another is that, like the Pharisees, we desire sacrifice from each other more than we can afford mercy.
Mercy wants to know where the other person comes from – it seeks to understand and touch the weakness of the other. Weakness to weakness. It is not merely an effort at forgiving. Mercy acknowledges, “I know I’m not any better. I know I get like that too.” How does one find the tenderness to be merciful and keep choosing to love the other? Can we try to see the good that others see in the person who hurts us the most or whom we are angry with?
The realization hit me when I started watching “The Journey Home” on EWTN – wonderful evangelical interviews of various Protestant pastors or ministers who shared passionately on their faith journey leading them back to the Catholic Church. Everything about their demeanour, speech, and eyes… spoke to me of a kind of falling in love again! It was mesmerizing to behold and listen to!
There was a time I was lukewarm and even falling out of love with my faith. But witnessing the great sacrifices these men and women made, their deepening devotion to Christ, and catching so often the glimmer of fire in their eyes when they spoke of their growing love for the Church – made me sit back and ask myself, “What am I missing out here? What is it that I took for granted or thought I knew enough to make a decision about, and walk away from?” Then I realised I was really seeing anew, and being reminded of the love I once knew, through another’s eyes!
It’s not a universal remedy, but it could work for some of us. Maybe today, or tomorrow, spend some time with your partner’s or your child’s best friend. Make it a point to ask and share about all the good stuff about this person you’ve grown slightly worn-out over. And listen carefully to the wonderful things their best friend sees in them. Learn to love your loved ones again, through the eyes of another. You’ll realise that they’ve probably made more sacrifices for you than you’ve noticed. You’ll realise that they’re grander souls than you’ve belittled them to be. You’ll also realise that you’ve been missing out on a lot of love, simply because you preferred sacrifice over mercy.
Do the same thing for yourself too. We can be so harsh on ourselves sometimes. Yet we need to be gentle and merciful. Spend time with God to hear what He says about how loved you are. In the most radically beautiful plan, the painful sacrifice of Jesus is enmeshed with the loving mercy of God – just so you and I can witness how deeply and boundlessly He loves us.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)
Prayer: Jesus, today I love you. Tomorrow, I will love you again.
Thanksgiving: Father, I adore you. Thank you for loving me.