Featured, Prelate's Sermon


The Prelate’s Message (June 13, 2021)

Today, on the fourth Sunday of Pentecost, according to the Armenian Church calendar, the Gospel reading is from Saint Matthew 12:1-8. On a Sabbath day, the hungry disciples of Jesus pluck heads of grain and eat them; their action was not in keeping of the Commandment to observe the Sabbath. The Pharisees rebuke them and their Teacher too. Jesus reminds the Pharisees about the historic actions of David on Sabbath day, as well as of the Priests who served in the Temple. Jesus concludes by saying, “I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not condemn the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

I would like to focus our attention on the following messages derived from our reading.

  1. There is no doubt that the Sabbath law is highly revered as one of the cardinal commandments of the Decalogue. Is it possible that the Lawgiver Himself was unaware of its importance? Without going into details about the entire core of laws and commandments, Jesus refreshes in the collective understanding of the authorities two major points.
    • The commandment to keep Sabbath holy, as given by the Lord, was to rest from all the worries of the weekdays, mainly of laboring, and to devote ourselves to God and whatever pleases Him. If we carefully analyze the character of our works, its centerpiece is our Ego. We work for our welfare to accomplish our dreams and aspirations and to secure our comfort. Actually, God is asking us to be distracted one day from our hectic schedule, in order to reenergize us for the next six days. For the progress and success of our businesses, if we consult with professionals, there is no doubt that to spend some precious time with our Creator and Father, besides being a privilege, is also beneficial to our advantage.

      God’s command to take a rest does not mean to deny taking care of necessities as well as doing good works. Out of their extreme cautiousness and zeal, Jews had burdened the commandment of keeping Sabbath holy with extreme details, specifying the walking distance allowed, the heaviness of an object to be carried, etc. Like an archeologist, who after cleaning all the layers of stones and soil discovers a valuable antiquity, Jesus, the spiritual Archeologist, invites the attention of the critics to deal not with the petrified external embellishment, but with the living core of the commandment: to meet the Lord, to renew our Divine image distorted under multiple layers of sin, and to practice the vertical caring love of God on a horizontal level with human beings and nature at large.

    • The Pharisees were intimately familiar with the entire Scripture, i.e. the Old Testament, by heart, and what Jesus quoted was not a secret. Our Lord’s intention was not to ridicule those whom He cited—David and the priests—but to rebuke the hypocrisy of the Pharisees who were employing double standards: they were tolerant of the trespassing of the Law by the authorities, yet they were so harsh against the common people. For this reason, Jesus deplored the blindness of their hearts and pronounced the series of Woes against them (Mt 23:16-36).
  1. As much as preservation of the Law is highly praiseworthy, Jesus reminds His audience about the core of the Prophetic message that “God desires mercy and not sacrifice.” It is true that in the Pentateuch, sacrifices were mandatory and were ordered for the remission of sins. Yet the great king and prophet David did not hesitate to confess that his sin could be washed away not by sacrifice but by the humility in his heart (Ps 51:17). Later, the prophets warned the people on behalf of the Lord, as Isaiah said, “I do not want all these sacrifices; the blood of bulls, lambs, or goats does not please me” (Is 1:11), and Hosea said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Hos 6:6).

    All forms of sacrifice, be it for thanksgiving or for atonement, assume the reception of something in return from God. It is based upon reciprocity. We thank God for recovering from an illness, for a success, etc. God expects us also, as His image, to pour out our love unconditionally towards our own, but most especially toward those who are not directly ours. As much as this approach includes material sharing, it should not be understood as being limited within this scope. Saint Nerses the Graceful provides us with an exemplary teaching when he prays, “All-merciful Lord, have mercy upon all those who believe in you, on those who are mine and those who are strangers, on those I know and those I know not.” Yes, praying and caring for those in need all count and make us the authentic children of God.

The Armenian Church celebrated yesterday the feast of Saint Nerses the Great, a champion of charity in the fourth century. He reminds us, following after our Lord Jesus Christ and the prophets, about the will of God. Let us all make our offerings to all those who are suffering in different parts of this world and are deprived of basic necessities. And, surely, our action in love will be pleasant more than any other offerings to our heavenly Father, to whom is befitting glory and honor, together with His sacrificed Son and ever-perfecting Holy Spirit. Amen.