Commentary on the Gospel of

Joan Blandin Howard - Creighton University - retired


“I desire mercy…”

Imagine Jesus with his “hungry” disciples walking “through a field of grain on the sabbath” encouraging them “…to pick the heads of grain and eat them.”  Jesus, his disciples and on-lookers knew it was “unlawful” to harvest on the sabbath!  Murmurs of confusion, possibly fear of what the Pharisees would say and do.  They were breaking the law.

Twenty years ago, I lived with a Peace Corps volunteer on an island in the middle of the South Pacific.  A primitive village. The people were welcoming and generous. Daily, families invited us into their thatched roofed, dirt floor homes to share their evening meal.  Families of old men with fascinating stories and children vying for attention.

One day, several young women invited us for a beach picnic and to swim.  Off we went, they swiping machetes to clear our path through dense vegetation.

To reach the fresh water lagoon, we had to cross through the “Master’s” plantation for permission to swim. Master and his French wife lived in a comfortable western style house overlooking the Pacific. Master was owner of the plantation. It was guarded by ferocious dogs.  They charged.  Sarah and I froze in place.  Our friends trembling in fear sprinted up the nearest trees to safety. Master’s wife appeared, called off the dogs.  Distrusting, our friends remained perched on tree limbs.

The wife invited Sarah and me into her home for “tea.”  I imagined comfortable chairs, beautiful view of the Pacific, a proper cup of tea and real sweets!  I admit, I was very tempted.  Sarah politely declined the invitation, gesturing to our friends – still up in trees “our friends are waiting. We are going to swim.”  The wife hungry for civilized female company, insisting we stop for tea, ignored four frightened young women perched like oversized birds in trees. Master gruffly informed us “those girls know that they are not permitted to trespass, or to pick my crops. It’s the law. They are not welcome here. You may pick my fruits, nuts and coconuts. You may swim, but not them.”

We were all hungry and forbidden something by some law. The wife was hungry for western female companionship.  I was hungry for missed comforts. We could not satisfy her hunger or ours at the expense of our friends. Each of us bound by law, civil or filial. We lived and suffered under the prejudicial laws, written or unwritten.
One day, on one small island in the Pacific, one man and seven women were confronted by the challenge of the gospel.  It may seem of little consequence in light of today’s global situations.  In truth, we all hunger for something – be it physical, social, spiritual, sacramental.

Who would have known or cared had we given into temptation - sipped tea and abandoned our friends?  In so many words, Sarah, my daughter, spoke for Jesus – “I care. These are our friends. They are hungry, they will be feed.” With God’s unrecognized grace, we chose compassion over cruel restrictive law.  Just as Jesus had done.  We have a directive, an obligation to feed the hungry, extend hospitality, befriend the abandoned, the marginalized, the suffering – to show compassion over compliance with paralyzing law.  Be it civil or church law.  The gospel is very clear on this. 

We are the hungry people of God.  And who cares?

Today’s good-news:   Jesus cares.  As followers of Jesus, we are to care.
The hungry will always be with us – but also will the call for compassion and mercy.



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