Reading (Exodus 11:10-12:14) Gospel (St. Matthew 12:1-8)
Our Lord telling us in the Gospel reading, There is someone here greater than the temple, and that He Himself is the Lord of the Sabbath lets us know very clearly that He is the One Who is to be worshiped in the temple of God, that He is God, that He is the One Who created the Sabbath and He is the One Who made the laws regarding the Sabbath, and that what He desires is mercy and not sacrifice. Now when we stop to think about that, the very reason He came into this world was to sacrifice Himself; it was to die for us. But it was out of mercy, out of love, that He did that. In Our Lord’s sacrifice, mercy and sacrifice are completely connected, just as justice and mercy are completely united in this one sacrifice of Christ.
So for us, it is mercy that the Lord is looking for from us. We offer the sacrifice of Christ every single day, and in the Church – somewhere in the world, every single second of the day – the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is being offered. And what the Lord requires from those who are offering this sacrifice is mercy. We need to sacrifice ourselves as the Lord has done because we are united with Him in His sacrifice. But we must be united with Him then in the mercy, in the love, which is what makes this sacrifice what it is.
Now to understand that sacrifice, we also need to look at that first reading from the Book of Exodus when we hear about the lamb that is to be offered as the Passover because it is precisely from this point that Saint John the Baptist gets the idea to call Jesus the “Lamb of God”. It is to understand that God has procured for His family a Lamb, a Lamb that was sacrificed on the fourteenth day of the month, the first month of the year, at the time of the evening twilight when the lambs were sacrificed. He was sacrificed for us so that we would be able to live. That is what the word “victim” means. That is what it means when we sing O Salutaris Hostia – “O Saving Victim” is what that means. That is why we call the Eucharist the “host” – hostia – the “victim” – the One Who gave His life so that we could live.
Also critically important in that reading is the last line from Exodus 12:14. It says: You shall keep this feast as a memorial. And it is to be a perpetual memorial. When we hear in the words of consecration everyday, Do this in memory of Me, that is where that line comes from. That is where Jesus is taking that line from: Exodus 12:14. And to do this as a memorial does not mean “Remember Me; think of Me; have some bread and wine and think about what happened a couple of thousand years ago.” That is not what He means. That is not the Jewish notion of a memorial. The Jewish notion of a memorial is “Make this real; continue, and make it real.” The Passover happened 3,500 years ago, but when the Jewish people celebrate the Passover this year and next year and the year after, they are not simply re-enacting something that happened 3,500 years ago – they are living the Passover, they are making it real once again. So when Jesus tells us to do this in memory of Him, He is not saying, “Remember Me,” but rather what He is saying is “Make it real; continue to offer this sacrifice; continue to sprinkle the doorposts and the lintel of your soul with my blood; continue to unite yourself with Me in this sacrifice which is being offered to our heavenly Father for the salvation of souls.” And so it is not merely looking back, but rather it is uniting ourselves and looking forward, being one with Christ in His sacrifice and offering ourselves with Him in mercy, in love, in justice, and in the sacrifice of ourselves to our heavenly Father so that we look forward beyond this life and into the next, so that we will be able to stand justified before our heavenly Father.
That is what He means by It is mercy that I desire and not sacrifice because the only way we can offer true sacrifice is if we unite it with the mercy of God and with the love that God has placed in our hearts so that the sacrifice we offer will be truly acceptable to our heavenly Father.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.