How Desperate Are We for the Doctor?, Saturday after Ash Wednesday, March 8, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Saturday after Ash Wednesday
Commemoration of St. John of God
March 8, 2014
Is 58:9-14, Ps 86, Lk 5:27-32

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • “Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth,” we prayed several times today in the Responsorial Psalm. And the Truth incarnate responds in the Gospel, first for Matthew and then for all of us, by coming into our lives and saying, “Follow me!” And on this fourth day of our Lenten pilgrimage, it’s key for us to follow where the Lord seeks to lead us. He wants to lead us to a whole-hearted conversion.
  • Lent is fundamentally about the grace God gives us to convert and how he wants us to receive and respond to that help. For this to occur, we must first to grasp what an unbelievable gift that grace of conversion is. This is something St. Matthew was very much aware of. He was a despised tax collector who used to extort money from his own people to give it to the occupying Romans. He must have heard about Jesus and perhaps even stood at a distance to hear him speak, but likely thought that he would never be accepted among Jesus’ associates not to mention friends. Yet in today’s Gospel Jesus enters the place where he was working and says to him, “Follow me!,” and we see Matthew’s dual response. First, he immediately leaves everything to follow Jesus, all his money on the table, all his ledgers, everything. St. Paul implored the Christians in Corinth — words we heard on Wednesday — not to receive the grace of God’s gift of conversion in vain, and Matthew certainly didn’t! But his response didn’t stop there. He celebrated his conversion! He called together his friends for a party with Jesus, presumably as well so that they could not only share in his unbelievable turnaround but experience a similar one.
  • When the Scribes and the Pharisees saw Jesus not only in a sinner’s house but actually eating with him, they were scandalized. There’s an aphorism that we become like the company we keep and the Pharisees and Scribes totally avoided notorious sinners lest they become like them. They asked the disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” They didn’t think that it was possible that Jesus could lift all the sinners up. Jesus, overhearing them, said, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have come not to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”
  • What Matthew grasped, and the Scribes and Pharisees didn’t, was that he was sick. He knew his sins were a terrible cancer and he was dying. And then, when Jesus the doctor appeared and said he wanted to treat him, Matthew immediately responded and rejoiced. The problem for the Scribes and Pharisees is that they didn’t recognize they, too, were sick, that they, too, were sinners. One of their most harmful characteristics is that they didn’t recognize they needed Jesus. Most Catholics and Christians recognize that we need Jesus, but I’m not sure we grasp how much we need him. We acknowledge that we needed Jesus to save us. We needed him to do all that he did in order to make eternal life possible. But at a day-to-day level, many of us pretend as if we’re self-sufficient and don’t really need him all that much. Like the Pharisees, we can believe ourselves righteous, not sick, and therefore we’ll wait for the doctor until we are sick and are in some crisis. What Lent is meant to help us to grasp is how deep is our sickness and how desperately we need Jesus every day. We desperately need him to cure our selfishness. We acutely need him to treat our hardened hearts. We critically need him to remedy our pride, envy, lust, gluttony, laziness, anger, and greed. We’re never really going to appreciate who he is until we recognize that we have cancer and need the divine Oncologist.
  • At the end of St. Matthew’s account of his calling, he adds another detail from the scene that St. Luke omits. It’s the Communion antiphon for today’s Mass. Jesus tells his critics, “Go and learn the meaning of the expression, ‘It is mercy I desire, not sacrifice.'” If we’re going to be following the Lord, if we’re going to be learning his truth so that we may walk in his ways, if we’re going to be fasting for what he hungers, then we need to desire mercy as he desires mercy. Lent is not principally about our sacrifices but God’s superabundant mercy. The sign that we’re being healed by Jesus is that we begin to desire Mercy like he does.
  • In today’s first reading, we continue with the passage from the Book of Isaiah that we first encountered yesterday when God describes for us the type of fasting that is pleasing to him because it helps us to hunger for what he hungers for — the loving merciful concern for his sons and daughters — and helps us to feed their hungers and needs. In today’s passage, God continues to tell us the types of fasting and sacrifices he wants from us, the type of compassion that is part of our rehabilitation. He wants us to remove from our midst all oppression, false accusation and malicious speech. Is this something we’re really seeking to do? That we’re hungering for? That we’re as desperate as God is to see eliminated? He says he wants us to bestow our bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted. Are we actually sharing our food with others or helping the hungry to eat to satiation? This is one of God’s priorities for us this Lent and if we’re following him, if we’re walking in his ways, we will be as urgently trying to feed the hungry as a mother is to feed famished children. He continues that he wants us to follow his pursuits, not our own, on the Sabbath, and those pursuits involve not speaking with malice, not seeking our own interests but those of others. Is that the way we live Sundays?
  • If we’re honest, all but a few of us will admit that we’re not spending our Sundays the way St. John of God, whom the Church commemorates today, did. He went out to care for the poor. He opened hospitals for those who were sick. He spent his life seeking to care for those in need and to bringing others to join him in this work. He did all he could and his life is an inspiration for us to do all we can. The fact that we’re not as selfless as he is, the fact that we don’t love others as desperately as he did, is a sign of our own illness, of how much we need the Divine Physician. But the Divine Physician today comes with his healing power. He has another meal with sinners, not in Matthew’s house, but in his own. And he has invited us. Let us beg him for the grace to grasp that we are sinners who desperately need him each day to heal us. And let us, through the intercession of St. Matthew, respond to that help to leave our old habits, our old “customs” on the table, and immediately get up to follow him wherever he leads so that, having learned from him his way, we may walk in his truth all the way to the eternal banquet!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
IS 58:9B-14

Thus says the LORD:
If you remove from your midst oppression,
false accusation and malicious speech;
If you bestow your bread on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
Then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday;
Then the LORD will guide you always
and give you plenty even on the parched land.
He will renew your strength,
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring whose water never fails.
The ancient ruins shall be rebuilt for your sake,
and the foundations from ages past you shall raise up;
“Repairer of the breach,” they shall call you,
“Restorer of ruined homesteads.”If you hold back your foot on the sabbath
from following your own pursuits on my holy day;
If you call the sabbath a delight,
and the LORD’s holy day honorable;
If you honor it by not following your ways,
seeking your own interests, or speaking with maliceB
Then you shall delight in the LORD,
and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will nourish you with the heritage of Jacob, your father,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 86:1-2, 3-4, 5-6

R. (11ab) Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth.
Incline your ear, O LORD; answer me,
for I am afflicted and poor.
Keep my life, for I am devoted to you;
save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God.
R. Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth.
Have mercy on me, O Lord,
for to you I call all the day.
Gladden the soul of your servant,
for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
R. Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
abounding in kindness to all who call upon you.
Hearken, O LORD, to my prayer
and attend to the sound of my pleading.
R. Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth.

LK 5:27-32

Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the customs post.
He said to him, “Follow me.”
And leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him.
Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house,
and a large crowd of tax collectors
and others were at table with them.
The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying,
“Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus said to them in reply,
“Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.
I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”