Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Anthony of Padua Church, New Bedford, MA
23rd Sunday of OT, Year B
September 10, 2006
Is 35:4-7; James 2:1-5; Mk 7:31-37
1) In today’s Gospel we glimpse the awe of those who witnessed Jesus’ miracles and works live. Jesus, in the scene we encounter today, had already made their hearts burn with his preaching. They had seen him cast out demons, cure many who were sick, feed a multitude with few pieces of bread and fish, walk on water and even raise a young boy and a young girl from the dead. On the force of this reputation, several true friends brought a man who was deaf and mute to Jesus, begging him to lay hands on him. They were not to be let down. The Lord put his finger into the man’s ears, touched his tongue with spit, looked up to heaven, sighed, and cried out in Aramaic, “Be opened!” and the miracle was worked. Amazement seized them all. Even though Jesus told them not to say anything about the miracle, they couldn’t help themselves. They were astounded beyond measure and cried out “He has done all things well!”
2) “He has done all things well!” This line of joyful amazement in front of Jesus should be the Christian motto. “Jesus has done all things well!” In his preaching, in his miracles, especially in his salvific passion, death and resurrection, each of us should cry out with the residents of the Decapolis that the Lord has indeed hit a homerun on every swing. Everything He does flows from His infinite wisdom. He really does know what is best for his people in terms of our eternal salvation and carries it out. And his work hasn’t stopped. He continues to listen to us in prayer. He continues to grant miracles directly and through the intercession of saints. He continues to nourish us in the sacraments.
3) This motto, which really is the characteristically-Christian attitude, is being challenged in many segments of our culture today. This is really nothing new. The first pagans and Jewish leaders did not think that Jesus did everything well. Rather, they though he was a colossal FAILURE, a criminal executed shamelessly on the electric chair of his day, a so-called king who died crowned not with gold but with thorns. Little did they know what would happen on Easter Sunday! Little could they fathom what the small band of fishermen, tax-collectors and other relative nobodies would be do in his name throughout the globe.
4) Today, too, many in our culture treat the Lord and the Church he founded as “behind the times,” not “with it.” To them it is a modern irrelevancy. They will be in for a surprise one day, too! But as our society is becoming less Christian, more of these false ideas have been invading the minds of BELIEVERS, and this is a much greater concern.
5) I wonder if Jesus were here today and were to start to ask us whether we think he did all things well, how we would respond. In general, I think all of us, as his disciples, would want to respond that, yes, we do believe that He is the Lord and therefore wisely knows what he’s doing and does everything well; after all, if Jesus made mistakes, he could not be divine. But it’s when we turn to specific issues that we see whether we, like the residents of the Decapolis, truly praise him for doing not just SOME things well, but ALL things well. I think that we could propose several very relevant test questions Jesus might ask us and our contemporaries to determine if we really trust him as God to do everything perfectly for us and our salvation. Here are eight possible ones:
a. “If you really believe that I have done all things well, do you come to me with trust in the Sacrament I established to forgive your sins? Or do you think I should have established it so that you can forget about the priest and confess your sins straight to me? If you think that I have done well here, then show me by coming to my priests in the sacrament of confession. Show me by persuading your friends who need my forgiveness to come as well.”
b. “Do you believe that I did well in making marriage the indissoluble union of one man and one woman, in calling you back to God’s plan for marriage in the beginning? Or do you think I should have allowed you to divorce and remarry once, twice, or over-and-over again? Or do you think I should have allowed you to marry more than one person at the same time? Or do you think I should have permitted you to marry people of the same sex? If you truly believe in me and that I have done all things well, then show me by trusting in my teaching on marriage, and helping others you know to come to the same truth about marriage.”
c. “Do you believe that I knew what I was doing when I ordained only men to be my apostles and priests? Or do you think that I just didn’t think things through, or that I was caving in to cultural discrimination against women? If you do believe that I have done all things well, then show me, by trusting that I knew what I was doing when I ordained only men on that first Holy Thursday even if I didn’t tell you the reasons. Show me by pondering this mystery and reading what Church I founded has given you to help you to understand it. Show me by listening attentively to those whom I have chosen to carry on the ministry of Peter and the apostles, for as I’ve said to you before: when you hear them, you hear me . Show me by affirming my great love for women, beginning with my mother, who are called to great holiness and loving service in the Church but not to the priesthood.”
d. “Do you believe that I did all things well in reiterating for you the Ten Commandments, or do you think I should have eliminated some of them or made them optional? If you think that I did all things well, then strive to put them into practice, with love!”
e. “Do you believe that I did well in establishing the sacrament of my body and blood as the source of our personal loving communion and stating that unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you? Or do you think I was grossing you out or only speaking figuratively? If you think I did this well, then come to receive me with clean hearts and souls, not just because you have to, but because you want to. Then come to spend time with me in prayer, as I know you would if you knew I was truly here.”
f. “Do you believe that I did well in setting a high standard for discipleship, or do you think I should have made it easy? Do you think I did well in calling you to love others as I have loved you, which means: to sacrifice yourself to the point of death to save others; to be merciful to others just as I have been merciful to you — seventy-times seven times and more; to humble yourself to wash others’ feet and do other tasks that the world thinks are disgusting and demeaning; to value me more than you value your mother, father, wife, husband, children and friends; to deny yourself, pick up your cross every day and follow me along the path to Calvary; to be willing to sell all that you have to advance your faith — the pearl of great price — to follow me through the eye of the needle, to detach yourself from all that you have, especially your money, selling all that you have, distributing your talents and gifts to the poor and then coming to follow me? If you believe that I taught well, then put these words into practice and become a disciple through-and-through in this way.”
g. “Do you believe that I did well in teaching you the path to happiness when I gave you the beatitudes? Do you think I was right in blessing the poor in spirit rather than the wealthy, the pure of heart rather than the sex symbols, the meek and peacemakers rather than the strong and powerful, those who mourn rather than those who laugh, those who hunger for holiness rather than fame, and those who are persecuted for the sake of holiness rather than those whom everyone praises and likes? If you think I did well, then show me, by becoming men and women of the beatitudes, and striving after these values more than money, fame, sexual fulfillment, popularity and human pleasures.”
h. “Do you believe that I did all things well in establishing a heaven and a hell, or do you think I would have been more loving if everyone were to get to heaven no matter what he or she does in life? Do you think I was fair and just in telling you that whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me, and that I will judge you for either caring for me or neglecting me in them when I was hungry, thirsty, naked, ill, a stranger or imprisoned? Do you think I was fair and loving in describing to you that, in order to enter into eternal life, you needed to keep the commandments, to be baptized, to receive my body and blood, to repent and cut out of your life whatever leads you to sin? If you do, and you trust that I did this well, too, then show me by striving first for the kingdom of heaven in your life, by hungering and thirsting for it, and by ordering every choice you make to whether it leads you to greater union with me or not. And show me by bringing the message about heaven and hell out to others so that they may make the right choices and be with us forever.”
6) To believe in Christ means to trust his words and actions, to believe in what he said and what he did. This isn’t always easy to do and Jesus never promised that it would be. We can recall from the Gospel last month how hard it was for the Twelve to believe in Jesus’ words that they needed to gnaw on his flesh and drink his blood — a full year before Jesus made sense of these words by taking bread and wine at the Last Supper, changing them into his body and blood and giving them to his apostles to eat. When Jesus asked if they wanted to abandon him as a result this teaching, St. Peter, with real faith, said, not that he understood everything, but “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” In other words, Peter said, “Jesus, you have done everything well until now and we trust that in this, too, you’re doing perfectly and precisely what we need.” Jesus calls us to trust in him in the same way.
7) In today’s Gospel, Jesus says to the deaf-mute, “Ephphatha!,” “Be opened!” and his ears were opened to hear God’s word and his lips were opened to praise God and spread his Good News. On the day of our baptism, Christ through the priest who baptized us touched our ears and our lips and said the same words, “Be opened!” God wants us to use the ears he gave us to listen to His word and the mouths he gave us to spread that saving word, with enthusiasm, to others. At the end of the Gospel, Jesus told those who had witnessed the miracle not to say anything, so that in the hype of the miracle people would not get a false impression of the type of Messiah he had come to be. We know what happened, however. They couldn’t restrain themselves and they ran and told everyone. Today, now, we know what type of Messiah Jesus is and he wants us to tell everyone. He has opened our ears to hear deeply his words and our mouths so that we may echo them. Jesus has indeed done all things well and our way of our showing this is by our unabashedly and proudly taking his message to others. He wants us to trust that in his choosing us to be his disciples and apostles, he knew what he was doing and that he can strengthen us to be the saints of our own day. As we prepare to receive now his own flesh and blood as our nourishment, we ask him to renew in us the graces of our baptism, so with great courage and holy pride we made take the message he has given to us today as a lifeline to the whole world. Jesus has done all things well, and he wants to continue doing things well through us. May he help us to become his instruments, so that we may rejoice with the residents of the ten cities forever.