HomiliesTreasures Old and New Homilies by Msgr. Mario Baltazar, OP
Today?s two readings are difficult readings. Their difficulty consists not only in what they say (many expressions and ideas are found in them which we do not readily understand) but also in determining what advantage they are supposed to bring us (neither is this readily apparent). It is not like the other readings we come across where meaning and significance jump into our eyes, so to speak, in the very act we read or listen to them.
But this should encourage us to pray more, study harder, and dig deeper so that the readings may release to us their hidden treasures of wisdom, knowledge and inspiration. Between the two readings of today, the first proves to be a harder nut to crack. For it contains words that Moses may have received personally from God and words that inspired authors have recorded some six or seven hundred years later but still in the line and spirit of Moses. As it stands, the first reading seems to imply that all the words were given to Moses by God.
But what perhaps we should pay more attention to in this reading, about the so-called first Passover Meal, is the decision taken by God to once and for all pressure the Egyptian Pharaoh in letting the Hebrews go free and take their righteous place in the Promise Land. The first nine attempts to convince the Pharaoh had proved unsuccessful. The tenth and last attempt will be the coup de grace. For the four hundred years of suffering and enslavement endured in Egypt by the Chosen People of God, all the Egyptians from Pharaoh down to the humblest peasant, including the livestock will suffer the loss of their first-born. A pestilence will strike them down in every Egyptian household. Only the houses of the Hebrew marked with the blood of lamb will be spared, as God?s avenging hand will pass them over. What happened after all this, you certainly must know. It is a story of deliverance that is very popular and repeatedly told in religious books, movies and cartoons.
The first Passover Meal must have been a simpler affair. But generations after Moses have refined, embellished and added more elements to make the ritual more impressive, more easily understood and, above all, more accessible for succeeding generations to participate in it.
It is like our Last Supper, which while remaining substantially the same as Jesus and his disciples celebrated it, more elements have been added to it to make the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass more pastorally effective, more appealing and accessible for later Christians to participate in it. You know for instance that the First Mass celebrated in that upper room by Jesus and his disciples did not have the penitential rite, the ?glory to God in the Highest,? the three bible readings, the ?I believe in God? and many other things that we now have to do. Yet our Mass and that upper room Mass is the same Last Supper.
From the first Passover Meal begun by Moses at God?s behest, we pass on the second reading which deals about the law of the Sabbath, also originally received by Moses from God to be observed by the Hebrews. ?Thou shalt keep holy the Sabbath Day,? said the third commandment. Jesus is excusing his hungry disciples for helping themselves with the corn as they went through a field on Sabbath, did not show he was anti-Sabbath. He was against overzealous and burdensome interpretations of the law of the Sabbath by the Pharisees and the Rabbis in his time. It was they who were anti-human. With their interpretations and regulations they so overloaded the simple third commandment given to Moses by God that even to eat grains of corn when hungry by rubbing them with the hand is a forbidden action on the Sabbath.
Jesus says that God desires ?mercy? more than rigid fidelity to observances of rituals, which after all were prescriptions of men. God desires mercy to be shown by men to their fellowmen, and God himself will be showing his divine mercy to men in varied ways, for men are in great need of it.