Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, New York, NY
Monday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. Justin Martyr
June 1, 2015
Tob 1:3.2:1-8, Ps 112, Mk 12:1-12
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted:
- Jesus tells a parable of the history of Israel, which, using imagery from the prophet Isaiah, is described as a luxuriant vineyard, but one in which the vineyard lessees never bore fruit despite prophets being sent. In fact, they abused and killed the prophets and did the same to the Vineyard owner’s Son, seeking to gain his inheritance through killing him. ‘This is the heir,” they said. “Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours,” words that were a prophecy of the “Crucify Him!” of Good Friday. But the stone that they rejected has become the cornerstone. Jesus’ suffering and death was the foundation for the new life of all believers.
- We see the same lesson in the first reading from Tobit and in the feast of St. Justin Martyr.
- The beginning of the Book of Tobit shows that he was righteous, sacrificing in Jerusalem even when many of those around him in Israel were sacrificing at the pagan temples. When they were all brought into exile by the Assyrians, he risked his life piously to bury the Jews who were being killed by Sennacharib, something that likewise got him hunted down to be killed, but he escaped. After Sennacharib’s death, he came back and as they were celebrating his son told him another Jew was dead in the streets. Tobit again sprung to action at great personal risk. Even though people mocked him, even though he suffered, even though he and his faith were rejected, his faith became a cornerstone on which he built his life and others were able to build theirs on his.
- St. Justin Martyr built his whole life on Jesus the Cornerstone rejected by many in the Roman empire and others eventually built their lives on the foundation of his faith. Justin was born about the year 100 in what is now the city of Nablus, which is now one of the Palestinian-controlled territories in the Holy Land. He was born of pagan parents and received a decent pagan education as a child. During his later teenage years, he began to feel a hunger within to know what made the world tick, to know what made him tick, to know whether there was a God and what his nature was. He started out on a search. He placed himself as a disciple under a well-known local Stoic philosopher — the Stoics were famous for their self-control and morality — but after some time found that he had learned nothing about God and that in fact his master had nothing to teach him on the subject. He then went to a Peripatetic philosopher, but after a short time this Aristotelian wanted money from him, and to Justin this showed that he was not a real philosopher, a seeker of wisdom, but just a philosophical mercenary who wasn’t living the truth that he claimed to had been seeking. Still searching for truth, he sought out a Pythagorean, but this Pythagorean refused to teach him anything until Justin had mastered music, astronomy and geometry. Justin didn’t want that likely-fruitless detour. Finally he found a Platonist and for a while Justin delighted that at least someone sought eternal truths and the real meaning of human life. He began to delight with his Master and fellow students. One afternoon, however, when he was in his late 20s, he was walking along the beach and, as he says in his autobiographical writings, met an old man with whom he began to converse. This Old Man listened intently to Justin pour out his heart in seeking the truth. The wise old man turned to Justin and said to him, “You’re not really in love with the truth. You’re in love with talking and discussing the truth, with philosophy, with thinking about thinking. If you’re in love with truth, you’ll live the truth.” Then the old man challenged him to read the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, bid him adieu and left. Justin was stung and intrigued at the same time. He reflected for a while on the old man’s contention that he was not really a lover of truth, but just a lover of intelligence, of being smart, of knowing more than others, and thought that the old man was reading his soul. His life did not depend or had not even much changed on the basis of his meditation upon Plato’s “eternal forms.” He was also captivated by the sage’s challenge to “live the truth.” Plato had always thought that if you knew the truth, you’d live it automatically. But spurned on by the old man, Justin reflected on his own experience and saw that knowing the truth and putting it into practice were two different things. Finally, convinced that the old man had a wisdom for which Justin yearned, he poured himself into the study of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures.
- Study of the Christian Scriptures brought him into contact, naturally, with both Christians and Jews. The Christians were the ones who fascinated him, because they took the search for truth to all new levels. Justin wrote his first series of impressions. He wrote of men and women who have no fear of death, who prefer truth to life and are yet ready to await the time allotted by God; of human beings who have a great devotion to their children, charity even towards their enemies, and a desire to save their enemies. He noted their patience and their prayers in persecution, their love of mankind, their chastity and their courage. These Christians, he concluded, were not hypocrites. They lived the words they preached, and they actually loved and joyfully prayed for those who were persecuting and killing them. Justin concluded either that it was the most benevolent, joyous and holy craziness he not only had ever witnessed but could possibly conceive, or the truth for which he had been searching all his life. The more he got to know the Christians, the more he became convinced that the truth for which he had been searching for most of his life, the truth which had captivated him and taken him through so many stages, a truth worth living for and a truth worth dying for, had a NAME, and that name was Jesus. “Seek and you shall find, ask and it shall be given to you, knock and the door will be opened to you.” These words of Jesus were, in a certain sense, Justin’s motto. He searched for the Truth and found Him, and once he found him, he accounted everything else as loss in comparison with the treasure he had discovered. How easily he could relate to St. Paul’s insight from the first reading. St. Paul described three types of wisdom, Greek, Jewish and Christian. The Greek sought the truth in philosophy. The Jews sought it in miracles and signs of God’s power. The Christians, St. Paul said, find it in the Cross of Christ. To the ancient Greeks, this is foolishness, that anything good could come from the brutal execution of a Galilean on a Cross, and Christians were still being mocked during Justin’s time for believing in the “absurdity” of a “crucified God.” To the Jewish authorities, the Cross was a scandal, the scandal of a Messiah-wannabee who claimed to be the Savior of others but who refused or couldn’t save himself. But St. Paul said, and St. Justin agreed, that the Cross is the greatest wisdom of all and the greatest sign of God’s power ever seen. The greatest wisdom in that it pointed not to the ignominious sufferings undergone by Jesus but to the love that made all of those sufferings worth it, that to love means being willing to lay down your lives, everything, for those you love. The greatest sign in that in dying, Jesus destroyed death and by rising restored life. This Christ crucified — the rejected Cornerstone — is the power and the wisdom of God, the way, the truth and the life, the foundation on which all of us can build our lives.
- And St. Justin followed all the way, building his life securely on Christ’s Cross, a sign of his rejection. He knew, as soon as he became a follower of that Crucified Savior, that he would be asked to pick up his cross and follow the Lord along the path of joyous, self-giving love. He wrote several years before his martyrdom, “I, too, expect to be persecuted and to be crucified by some of those” whose arguments he had publicly refuted. While Christianity was still illegal and punishable by death, he wrote a book to the emperor, refuting all of the attacks on Christianity, and proposing the Christian truth in a clear and understandable way, trying thereby to convert the emperor, Antoninus Pius, and through the emperor’s conversion, the Roman empire. That, of course, brought him to the clear attention of the Roman authorities as a very influential and persuasive Christian. He was rounded up with six of his disciples and brought before the prefect, Rusticus, in the year 165 AD. The actual record of his trial was kept in the Acta of the Roman authorities and has survived. We can see in it clearly that Justin’s lived his love for the truth, for Jesus.
- These are the last words of Justin’s life, and we can still sense all the drama:
- Rusticus: What branch of learning do you study?
- Justin: I have studied all in turn. But I finished by deciding on the Christian teaching, however disagreeable it may be to those who are deceived by error.
- Rusticus: And that is the learning that you love, you foolish man?
- Justin: Yes. I follow the Christians because they have the truth.
- Rusticus: What is this teaching?
- Justin then explained that Christians believe in the one creator God and confess His Son, Jesus Christ, of whom the prophets spoke, the bringer of salvation and judge of mankind.
- Rusticus: Tell me where you gather with your followers.
- Justin: I have always stayed at the house of a man called Martin, just by Timothy’s baths. I have never stayed anywhere else. Anybody who wants to can find me and hear the true doctrine there.
- Rusticus: You, then, are a Christian?
- Justin: Yes, I am a Christian.
- Rusticus: Listen, you who are said to be eloquent and who believes that he has the truth — if I have you beaten and beheaded, do you believe that you will then go up to Heaven?
- Justin: If I suffer as you say, I hope to receive the reward of those who keep Christ’s commandments. I know that all who do that will remain in God’s grace even to the consummation of all things.
- Rusticus: So you think that you will go up to Heaven, there to receive a reward?
- Justin: I don’t think it, I know it. I have no doubt about it whatever.
- Rusticus: Very well. Come here and sacrifice to the gods.
- Justin: Nobody in his senses gives up truth for falsehood.
- Rusticus: If you don’t do as I tell you, you will be tortured without mercy.
- Justin: We ask nothing better than to suffer for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ and so to be saved. If we do this, we can stand confidently and quietly before the fearful judgment-seat of that same God and Savior, when in accordance with divine ordering all this world will pass away.
- The others agreed with what Justin had said. And so they were summarily sentenced to be scourged and then beheaded, which was carried out immediately at the common place of execution.
- Tertullian said about 40 years later that the blood of martyrs is the seed of new Christians and Justin’s blood shed in union with Christ’s was a firm foundation for many future generations of Christians. Today as we come forward at Mass and God the Father decides to send us his Son, saying “They will respect my Son!,” let us embrace the Lord as he deserves, bear fruit in union with him as branches to the Vine, and go out like Tobit and St. Justin to carry out all the works of mercy like burying the dead and teaching the ignorant.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 TB 1:3; 2:1A-8
on the paths of truth and righteousness.
I performed many charitable works for my kinsmen and my people
who had been deported with me to Nineveh, in Assyria.
a fine dinner was prepared for me, and I reclined to eat.
The table was set for me,
and when many different dishes were placed before me,
I said to my son Tobiah: “My son,
go out and try to find a poor man
from among our kinsmen exiled here in Nineveh.
If he is a sincere worshiper of God, bring him back with you,
so that he can share this meal with me.
Indeed, son, I shall wait for you to come back.”Tobiah went out to look for some poor kinsman of ours.
When he returned he exclaimed, “Father!”
I said to him, “What is it, son?”
He answered, “Father, one of our people has been murdered!
His body lies in the market place where he was just strangled!”
I sprang to my feet, leaving the dinner untouched;
and I carried the dead man from the street
and put him in one of the rooms,
so that I might bury him after sunset.
Returning to my own quarters, I washed myself
and ate my food in sorrow.
I was reminded of the oracle
pronounced by the prophet Amos against Bethel:
“All your festivals shall be turned into mourning,
and all your songs into lamentation.”
And I wept.
Then at sunset I went out, dug a grave, and buried him.
The neighbors mocked me, saying to one another:
“He is still not afraid!
Once before he was hunted down for execution
because of this very thing;
yet now that he has scarcely escaped,
here he is again burying the dead!”
Responsorial Psalm PS 112:1B-2, 3B-4, 5-6
Blessed the man who fears the LORD,
who greatly delights in his commands.
His posterity shall be mighty upon the earth;
the upright generation shall be blessed.
R. Blessed the man who fears the Lord.
His generosity shall endure forever.
Light shines through the darkness for the upright;
he is gracious and merciful and just.
R. Blessed the man who fears the Lord.
Well for the man who is gracious and lends,
who conducts his affairs with justice;
He shall never be moved;
the just man shall be in everlasting remembrance.
R. Blessed the man who fears the Lord.
Alleluia SEE REV 1:5AB
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Jesus Christ, you are the faithful witness,
the first born of the dead;
you have loved us and freed us from our sins by your Blood.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel MK 12:1-12
and the elders in parables.
“A man planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it,
dug a wine press, and built a tower.
Then he leased it to tenant farmers and left on a journey.
At the proper time he sent a servant to the tenants
to obtain from them some of the produce of the vineyard.
But they seized him, beat him,
and sent him away empty-handed.
Again he sent them another servant.
And that one they beat over the head and treated shamefully.
He sent yet another whom they killed.
So, too, many others; some they beat, others they killed.
He had one other to send, a beloved son.
He sent him to them last of all, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’
But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir.
Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’
So they seized him and killed him,
and threw him out of the vineyard.
What then will the owner of the vineyard do?
He will come, put the tenants to death,
and give the vineyard to others.
Have you not read this Scripture passage:
has become the cornerstone;
by the Lord has this been done,
and it is wonderful in our eyes?”They were seeking to arrest him, but they feared the crowd,
for they realized that he had addressed the parable to them.
So they left him and went away.