Friday, July 20, 2018
Today, in Mercy, Jesus breaks the law. He and his hungry disciples, walking through a grain field on the Sabbath, gather the corn and eat. The Pharisees condemn their actions as a violation of Jewish Law. Jesus says no – that some laws supersede others.
The concept of “law” is complex. For centuries, Catholic social teaching has tried to guide us through its complexity. This body of teaching draws on St. Thomas Aquinas’s early definitions that there are four types of law: eternal, divine, natural, and human.
- Divine law: The law that pertains to “our last end” – which refers to our ultimate fate after divine judgment
- Eternal law: The set of timeless truths that govern the movement and behavior of all things in the universe, including non-human things.
- Natural law: That portion of the eternal law that applies to the behavior of human beings.
- Human law: Law that “purports” to have a human source.
When any of these laws come into contradiction, we must obey the higher law.
That’s what Jesus does in this situation. He emphasizes the rightness of his action by reminding the Pharisees of God’s pronouncement through the prophet Hosea, “I desire mercy not sacrifice.”
What are we to learn from this reading? Our modern world is filled with laws, many of them in contradiction to each other. Like the people of Jesus’ time, we like our world to be ordered in a way that benefits us personally. But this inclination can lead to laws which disadvantage others. We end up in a place where law and justice are at odds.
Consider the current dilemma at the Mexican – US border. Some US citizens believe that the “illegals” deserve family separation and incarceration because they have broken “the law”. Others see that the refugees critical need for asylum, and their natural rights as a family, far supersede the imposition of any arbitrary human law.
When we think about the border situation, we may realize that it is not too different from Jesus’ dilemma. Today’s immigrants are “hungry” for safety, justice, and compassion. Even though a man-made law inhibits them from satisfying their “hunger”, they are driven to challenge it. In God’s eyes, – the one who desires Mercy, not sacrifice- what does true justice require?
Let’s pray today for clarity and merciful justice in ourselves and our governments as we interpret and impose our human laws.
Music: I Will Delight