Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Saturday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel
July 16, 2016
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:
- It is quite an opening sentence to today’s Gospel. “The Pharisees went out and took counsel against Jesus to put him to death.” The Pharisees, as we know, had the reputation for being the most religious of 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. They were the ones who tried to practice to the letter all of the Scribes’ prescriptions. 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. In the first reading, Micah says “Woe to those who plan iniquity, and work out evil on their couches,” who “mark out boundaries [of poor persons’ property they want to seize] by lot in the assembly of the Lord.” The Pharisees were those who would come in and out of the Synagogues and Temple areas, who would practice the faith, but who would then conspire to have someone killed. It’s a practical hypocrisy that remains stunning 2,000 years later but is a prelude to every religious scandal and an illustration of the ancient aphorism corruptio optimi pessima, the corruption of the best is worst of all.
- Why did they want to put Jesus to death? Because of Jesus’ whole approach to the Sabbath and to the law in general, which went against their rigid interpretation. 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. Both scenes show 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 was exposed in all its ugliness when they would conspire, against the fifth and eighth commandments, to murder Jesus.
- 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 his Messianic work and the formation of the Church 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.” In Matthew’s Gospel account, the evangelist has God the Father “speak” a word about his Son as 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, whose feast day we celebrate today under the title of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Like Isaiah’s words about Jesus, she, too, was 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. Through devotion to her under the title of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, we seek to place ourselves under her protection — under the mantle of her scapular — and emulate her virtues. Anyone who has ever formally received the brown scapular dedicated to our Lady of Mt. Carmel has been inducted into the Confraternity that pertains to the Carmelite family. When we wear that scapular properly, it signifies three things: belonging, consecration and imitation. The scapular symbolizes that we have taken on ourselves Mary’s own garment. We enter under her mantle, into her school or seminary. That leads to the second element, consecration. We entrust ourselves to her in life. We transfer the ownership of our life to her so that she may guide us more and more into the mysteries of the kingdom her Son came to reveal. We enter into her meekness and humility, derived from her Son. Finally it commits us to imitating her in her becoming a true handmaid or servant of the Lord, of seeking to help others grow in faith and in the real living of the Lord’s law. Today we turn to her and ask her to intercede for us for these graces and fulfill the promises made through the Confraternity for all who devoutly wear her scapular: namely that we may be united with her Son in glory!
- She is the perfect contrast to the Pharisees. 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 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:
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.
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.
PS 10:1-2, 3-4, 7-8, 14
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!
to put him to death.
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:
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.