Jesus’ Response to the Pharisee’s Wickedness, Fifteenth Saturday (II), July 19, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Saturday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Votive Mass of Our Lady, Mother of the Church
July 19, 2014
Micah 2:1-5, Ps 10, Mt 12:14-21

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

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today we finish up a week in which we have been looking at the daily Mass readings through the prism of the Parable of the Sower, Seed and Soil Jesus gave us on Sunday, so that we can see the elements of good soil and the three types of infertile soil and take a soil sample of our own minds, hearts and souls.
  • Today we see the clearest example of hardened soil in the Pharisees we encounter in the Gospel. The Pharisees had the strongest reputation for living the law of God the best of any Jews. Whereas the typical Jew fasted once a year on the Day of Atonement, the Pharisees fasted twice a week. Whereas the typical Jew prayed once a day, the Pharisees prayed three times a day. Whereas the normal Jew tithed only those things that were explicitly prescribed, the Pharisees tithed everything. But as much as they had a reputation for religious zeal, many of them were “whitewashed sepulchers,” as Jesus would call them later. They looked great on the outside, but on the inside they were full of dead men’s bones. They seemed to be living by the law of God but on the inside they were hateful, unloving and even murderous. We see that in today’s Gospel when St. Matthew tells us , “The Pharisees went out and took counsel against Jesus to put him to death.” Why were they doing that? We see it in what immediately precedes this scene.
  • In yesterday’s Gospel, they criticized Jesus for allowing his disciples to eat pick the heads of grain and eat them — even though that was totally permitted in the Mosaic law — because they were “working” on the sabbath, picking grain and threshing it in their hands. The Pharisees would rather have the disciples starve than to do that simple, unstrenuous work because they thought that that work was a violation of God’s command to keep holy the Sabbath day. Then, when Jesus entered the Synagogue to teach, he saw a man with a withered hand and he cured him, and the Pharisees were outraged that he did the work of healing on the Sabbath, as if what pleased God more was to have someone suffer than to be healed. Jesus gave the example that they would all rescue their animal on the Sabbath if it fell in a ditch, but they didn’t want this handicapped man to receive God’s healing.
  • The whole scene shows just how ignorant they were to God’s will and how resistant they were to anyone’s indicating to them what that will really was. God’s whole plan was to have men and women share his very life, to receive and live in his love, and to grow in his likeness by loving others in the same way. They thought that God wanted people to starve and continue to live handicapped and burdened — which they considered part of sabbath worship! — and they were totally resistant to anything Jesus might say otherwise. Their real hypocrisy with regard to God’s law came out when they would conspire, against the fifth and eighth commandments, to murder Jesus. They are the ones about whom Micah was speaking in the first reading: “Woe to those who plan iniquity and work out evil on their couches.” They were lying on their beds plotting inquity despite their reputation for holiness. God’s word couldn’t penetrate the hardened soil of their hearts and despite all their religious practices, the devil would come and snatch away that seed.
  • What was Jesus’ response? He could have exposed their plans. He could have had a “preventive intervention,” eliminating them before they would eliminate him. Instead, when he realized what they were doing, St. Matthew tells us, “he withdrew from that place.” In doing so, he wasn’t running away. He knew his hour eventually would come. But he was leading the people away from them. “Many followed him,” the Gospel says, “and he cured them all.” He left the place of confrontation in order to continue his divine work of healing love and bringing people into communion with him. He told them not to speak about the miracles so that he would be able to continue to implant the seeds he was seeking to inseminate before those who were plotting his death would eventually catch up to him.
  • In doing all of this, he was showing himself to be the fulfillment of the meek and humble spiritual child he called all of us to be earlier this week when he told us to yoke ourselves to him and “Learn (from) me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” St. Matthew has God the Father speak out in praise of his son’s meekness and humility. God the Father speaks only three times in the New Testament — at Jesus’ baptism, at Jesus’ transfiguration and during the Last Supper. In the first, God says, “This is my Son, my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” In the second, he says, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!” In the third he responds to Jesus’ prayer to glorify his name and the Father replies, “I have glorified it and I will glorify it again.” In Matthew’s Gospel account, the evangelist has God the Father “speak” for a forth time in the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved in whom I delight; I shall place my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not contend or cry out, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory. And in his name the Gentiles will hope.”
  • The word translated as “servant” is the Greek pais, which doesn’t mean “slave” (doulos) but obedient child, like a child who respectfully helps out his Father. The Father praises his Son upon whom he places his Spirit and whom he chooses, loves, and delights. The Son proclaims justice to the nations. He doesn’t fight or cry out, he doesn’t break those who are bruised like reeds or those who have just a few burning embers of faith and life, but he strengthens and revivifies. In all of this, he shows his meekness, that he wishes to bring about his kingdom not by an earthly force of arms of armies but by the power of his love that dies even for those seeking to kill him. He sets for us the example of how to respond when we meet opposition and persecution. The temptation is to respond with human means and logic, to cry out, to fight back, to get the others before they get us. He shows us the way of the Gospel, the way of praying for persecutors, turning the cheek, and doing good to those who do evil. These are all very important considerations as we get ready for tomorrow’s Gospel, in which Jesus seeks to plant us as mustard seeds in an environment in which the evil one has planted his own seeds.
  • The great model of one who follows Jesus down this path of meekness and humility is the one from whom Jesus paradoxically learned these virtues according to his humanity: the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today we celebrate the Votive Mass of Mary, Handmaid of the Lord. She is the beloved, highly favored daughter of Zion in whom God was much pleased. She was the one chosen by God from all women and in whom God delights. She was the one upon whom God placed the Holy Spirit to overshadow her. She never fought or cried out at the time when Herod was trying to assassinate the infant Jesus, when his fellow Nazarenes were seeking to throw him off a cliff to his death, when she witnessed the naked body of him she used to bathe exposed for all to see on Calvary and bathed in blood. The only time she cried out was in exultation at the Magnificat, letting her soul magnify the Lord, her spirit exult in God her Savior, for all that the Almighty had done for her in her humility. With maternal care she tenderly comforts those who like broken reeds are about to crack and places her own warmth in those who are like smoldering wicks in order to keep the fire of love for God burning and growing.
  • The Preface for this Mass of Our Lady, Handmaid of the Lord — which we will pray in a few minutes — describes how she, united with her Son, fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy and prays for us likewise to to fulfill it: “In the Blessed Virgin Mary, you [God] were especially pleased, for by embracing your plan of salvation she gave herself wholeheartedly to the work of your Son as a faithful servant of the mystery of redemption. She who gave great service to Christ was given great honor by you, his Father. She who saw herself as your lowly handmaid was raised up by you to reign as queen in glory in the presence of your Son, where she intercedes for us in her goodness as the servant of your love.”
  • She is the perfect contrast to the Pharisees. She is the good soil from whom God himself received life according to his humanity in contrast to the hardened soil of those who sought to put Jesus to death. We pray through her intercession today that as we prepare to receive within us the same Jesus she bore in her womb for nine months, we may follow him apart from the crowds so that he can continue to heal us and form us to bear 100-fold fruit from all his intervention so that we, too, might be his true obedient sons and daughters chosen, beloved and Spirit-filled to proclaim his justice and love to the nations, especially to those whose faith is weak and whose lives are fragile.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
MI 2:1-5

Woe to those who plan iniquity,
and work out evil on their couches;
In the morning light they accomplish it
when it lies within their power.
They covet fields, and seize them;
houses, and they take them;
They cheat an owner of his house,
a man of his inheritance.
Therefore thus says the LORD:
Behold, I am planning against this race an evil
from which you shall not withdraw your necks;
Nor shall you walk with head high,
for it will be a time of evil.On that day a satire shall be sung over you,
and there shall be a plaintive chant:
“Our ruin is complete,
our fields are portioned out among our captors,
The fields of my people are measured out,
and no one can get them back!”
Thus you shall have no one
to mark out boundaries by lot
in the assembly of the LORD.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 10:1-2, 3-4, 7-8, 14

R. (12b) Do not forget the poor, O Lord!
Why, O LORD, do you stand aloof?
Why hide in times of distress?
Proudly the wicked harass the afflicted,
who are caught in the devices the wicked have contrived.
R. Do not forget the poor, O Lord!
For the wicked man glories in his greed,
and the covetous blasphemes, sets the LORD at nought.
The wicked man boasts, “He will not avenge it”;
“There is no God,” sums up his thoughts.
R. Do not forget the poor, O Lord!
His mouth is full of cursing, guile and deceit;
under his tongue are mischief and iniquity.
He lurks in ambush near the villages;
in hiding he murders the innocent;
his eyes spy upon the unfortunate.
R. Do not forget the poor, O Lord!
You do see, for you behold misery and sorrow,
taking them in your hands.
On you the unfortunate man depends;
of the fatherless you are the helper.
R. Do not forget the poor, O Lord!

Gospel
MT 12:14-21

The Pharisees went out and took counsel against Jesus
to put him to death.When Jesus realized this, he withdrew from that place.
Many people followed him, and he cured them all,
but he warned them not to make him known.
This was to fulfill what had been spoken through Isaiah the prophet:Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
my beloved in whom I delight;
I shall place my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
He will not contend or cry out,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory.
And in his name the Gentiles will hope.