Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Francis Xavier Church, Hyannis, MA
23rd Sunday of OT, Year B
September 7, 2003
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 us — 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 countless miracles through the intercession of saints. He continues to feed us with the sacrament of his body and blood. He has done, and continues to do, all things well.
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 thought Jesus 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. Today 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 has been becoming less Christian, more of these false ideas have been invading the minds of believers, and this is a much greater concern. 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, of course, 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; either He is God and does everything perfectly out of love for us, or he makes mistakes and is therefore cannot be God. But I’d like to propose four things which Jesus might ask us today, in this Church, to determine if we really do believe that he has done all things well and are willing to praise him like the residents of the Decapolis.
a) The first thing the Lord might ask is: “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?” There are many today who say, “I don’t need the sacrament of confession. I confess my sins directly to God.” When someone says this, one might not mean to accuse Jesus of not knowing what he’s doing, but that’s in effect what one is doing, because it was Jesus who founded the Sacrament on Easter Sunday evening. One of the first things Jesus did after he rose from the dead was to breathe on his apostles, tell them “Receive the Holy Spirit,” and instruct them “those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; those whose sins you retain are retained.” This is the essential outline of the sacrament of confession. He breathed on them the Holy Spirit because only God can forgive sins, but God was going to work through them for the forgiveness of sins just as he works through them to give us his body and blood. Notice that Jesus did NOT give them the ability to read minds and hearts, so in order for them to know which sins to forgive and which to retain, people were going to have to tell them their sins. That’s clear from the text. Theoretically, Jesus could have established another ordinary way for the absolution of sins — like confessing directly to God on our own in our room — but he didn’t. He established this way and wants us to come. And so Jesus asks us, “Do you believe that I have done THIS well too? Show me by coming. Show me by persuading your friends who need my forgiveness to come.”
b) The second thing the Lord might ask us is, “Do you believe that I did well in making marriage indissoluble, in calling you back to God’s plan for marriage in the beginning?” Many in our culture and even within the Church attack the Church because the Church is faithful to Christ’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage, but what such critics are really doing, although perhaps unintentionally, is attacking Jesus and his teaching and saying he should have done better. In the Gospel of St. Mark, we read that some Pharisees came to Jesus to test him and asked, ““Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? … Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he allowed this. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” On the basis of how he made marriage from the beginning, Jesus turned to his disciples and spoke very plainly the truth about divorce and “remarriage”: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” What Jesus was not saying here was that someone in an abusive marriage cannot get a divorce for the sake of personal protection or the protection and support of children. He’s also not talking about the case when God has NOT joined two people in marriage because they were lacking something essential to becoming married, as is determined in the process of a declaration of nullity. What Jesus IS saying — and this is very challenging in our culture — is that when two people come to Him to be joined in marriage, it is “for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death.” Even if marriage sadly has broken down through separation or divorce, one is still called to faithful to that spouse and to God until death; to treat someone else as your spouse while the first spouse is still alive Jesus says, very plainly, is adultery, one of the most serious sins one could commit. This is obviously not an easy teaching, especially for those who have suffered broken marriages. Even the first disciples commented to Jesus how challenging it was. But Jesus says here, again, “Do you believe that I have done all things well? Then trust in me in my teaching on marriage. In your difficult times, I will be there to help you, but start with living the truth, even when it’s hard. You CAN BE faithful, even in the midst of suffering, just as I have been.We will face this together.”
c) The third thing the Lord might ask us: “Do you believe that I knew what I was doing when I ordained only men to be my apostles and priests?” There are many today, inside and outside the Church, who are pushing for the ordination of women as priests. Even after the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, basing himself on Scripture, tradition and the constant practice of the Church, using the formula of the Second Vatican Council for teaching infallibly, stated that the Church does not have nor ever will have the authority to ordain women as priests, some are still pushing for it. But what this comes down to, ultimately, is whether we trust that Christ knew what he was doing when we chose and ordained on males as his apostles and bishops. Some people say that Jesus was just giving into the inequality of the time period, and caving into the pressure of a culture that wouldn’t accept women priests. But this is to say that Jesus was a coward, or incapable of doing the right thing, or that he discriminated against women, which would make him a god unworthy of our worship. But this clearly goes against the facts. In many places in the Gospel, as the Pope writes about in his beautiful document on the Dignity of Women, we see how Jesus exalted women. But he didn’t ordain them apostles and priests. Jesus didn’t give us the reasons why he was reserving priestly ordination simply to men (although we can posit good theological reasons for it), but as believers, we really shouldn’t need them. To believe in Jesus means to trust that he knew what he was doing when he ordained only men to priestly service. And so Jesus asks us: “Do you believe that I did what I did for a reason, or do you believe that I didn’t know what I was doing? If you do believe that I have done all things well, then show me, by pondering this mystery, reading what the Pope has written, and trying to persuade others to trust in the way I’ve done things.”
d) The final question that the Lord might ask us this morning is, “Do you believe that I did well in establishing the Church as I did, on sinful men?” Especially in the past couple of years, many have been clamoring for “structural change” in the Church. The essential structure of the Church was given by Jesus, who established his Church on St. Peter, entrusting to him the keys of the kingdom of heaven. He trained the twelve and made them the pillars of the spiritual edifice which is his Church. He told them, “He who hears you, hears me!” He gave them the power to bind and loose in heaven and on earth. He promised to send them the Holy Spirit, whom he promised would “lead them into all Truth.” But, as is clear, he was founding his Church on frail men, men who were sinners that the Lord was calling to be saints. Among the first 12 there was Judas who betrayed the Lord to death. While the Holy Spirit throughout the centuries has prevented the Church from ever officially TEACHING anything erroneous relevant to our salvation — what we need to believe (faith) or do (morals) to enter into heaven — many of those in the hierarchy have failed, like Judas, to put those teachings into practice. We’re well aware of some of those failures (sins and crimes of commission and omission) from the newspapers in the past couple of years. This has led many to question the Church’s essential structure established by Christ. Those calling for “structural change” in the Church normally mean making the Church more democratic. While we must readily admit that the Church is always in need of reform — which is an ancient idea in the Church — that reform means the renewal of the individual members, from the newly-baptized Christian to the Pope, all of whom are constantly being called to conversion, to ever greater fidelity to Christ, to real holiness in the ordinary things of every day, to lovingly serving and washing the feet of others. The attempts to try to make the Church more “human” at the cost of her divine foundation and constitution are really tantamount to doubting whether the Lord acted wisely in founding the Church as he did. And so today, Jesus says, “If you believe that I have done all things well, trust in the way I founded the Church. Show me this confidence by loving the Church, as I love her and laid down my life for her. Even if some of those I have called to serve me have failed you and failed me, I will call others to love you and serve you as I do. Trust in me working through my Church.”
4) To believe in Christ means to trust his words and actions, to believe in what he said and what he did. As I mentioned above, this isn’t always easy to do. 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 took bread and wine and turned it into his flesh and blood at the Last Supper. 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.” Jesus calls us to trust in him in the same way.
5) In the scene in today’s Gospel, “Jesus said 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. Sometimes human life challenges our faith in Christ, but these are times when we need to ask the Lord to renew that baptismal grace, so that we might both hear and spread that word better. Jesus, who has already opened our ears and mouths, wants to open up our hearts anew today with his grace. He asks us: “Do you believe that I have done ALL things well? If so, then join the chorus of proclaimers and spread my Gospel, even the most challenging parts of it, to this culture which so desperately needs it. … If you’re not yet sure, then I ask you to commit yourself to come to me in prayer, to read the documents published by the Church I’ve founded, and to go with your questions to the priests I’ve sent you. I’ve promised you that he who seeks, finds, and if you seek the truth, you will find me. I promise you.” As we prepare to receive the Lord Jesus’ own flesh and blood inside of us as our nourishment, we ask him to strengthen us to believe more deeply in him and his saving truth and to give us the courage to proclaim this Gospel in our society. Jesus has indeed done all things well! And we, as his followers, have so much to be proud of. We are, after all, the DISCIPLES OF THE SAVIOR OF THE WORLD!