One Sabbath Jesus was going through a field of grain, and his disciples began to pick heads of grain, crushing them in their hands for food. Some of the Pharisees asked them, “Why do you do what is forbidden on the Sabbath?” Then Jesus spoke up and asked them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his men were hungry? He entered the house of God, took and ate the bread of the offering, and even gave some to his men, though only priests are allowed to eat that bread.” And Jesus added, “The Son of Man is Lord and rules over the Sabbath.”
Some laws of God have to be obeyed in all circumstances and by all, because to break those laws would amount to commit what moral theologians call an “intrinsic evil.” Such evil, for example, would be ethnic cleansing (cf. GS 80), direct abortion (cf. GS 51), infanticide (cf. GS 51), murder, adultery, oppression of the poor, etc. But such absolute laws are rare. What we have are laws which admit of exceptions, depending on one’s circumstances. Today’s gospel reading gives two examples where breaking the law is acceptable when there is an urgent human need to satisfy, such as hunger. Now, because it is sometimes permissible to break some laws (either of God, of the Church, of the State, etc.), some Christians are confused and never know when they can or cannot break a given law.
One basic principle should guide them in this moral minefield. And it is this one: what is the purpose of this law? Once that is clearly answered, then they can act in consequence, trusting that the legislator, who could not foresee every possible contingency, would not want his law to become unreasonably burdensome. When this is the case, people can disregard that law with a peaceful conscience.
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