The Power of the Divine Physician’s Surgical Blade, First Saturday (I), January 17, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Saturday of the First Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. Anthony of the Desert, Monk
January 17, 2015
Heb 4:12-16, Ps 19, Mk 2:13-17

 

To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • During this first week in Ordinary Time, we’ve been hearing all week long about the power of the Word of God with the help of the Letter to the Hebrews and the beginning of St. Mark’s Gospel. We’ve stressed up until this point that Jesus is the definitive Word of the Father who has said all that the Father wanted to communicate. He’s taken on our human nature in order to speak to us in humanly intelligible ways, with human words and with human actions. And the message he has come to deliver is one of salvation and liberation, leading us through suffering and death to perfection and glory.
  • Today we come to the climax of this first week in the two parts of today’s first reading. The Letter to the Hebrews summarizes all we’ve heard, saying, “The word of God — by which it means both Jesus, the incarnate Word and the words he says and God inspires others to say for him — is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.” The Word of God is first alive and capable of raising us from the dead. It’s not a word from the past but one very much from the present. The Word of God is, second, effective, it’s performative, it has real power. We’ve seen the power of his word in the Gospel scenes of this week, how Jesus has called us to repent, believe, follow him and fish for others and how Peter, Andrew, James, John and today Matthew have indeed left everything to follow him, how at a word Jesus has cast out demons, forgiven sins, made paralyzed men walk, and healed countless sick people. That is the power of the word that at the beginning said, “Let there be light” and there was light. Third, the word of God is “sharper than any two edged sword,” the sharpest of all ancient tools and weapons. We would say today it is sharper than any surgeon’s scalpel or the finest razor blade. Fourth, that scalpel penetrates, it is able to cut through the finest of all articulations, separating “soul and spirit, joints and marrow,” and even excising from us our sins. Jesus the incarnate Word is so living, effective, sharp and penetrating that he can “discern reflections and thoughts of the heart” because “everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.” He is able to do this not only by his divine omniscience but also by his human experience. He has entered into our human reflections and thoughts, he has shared our transparency before God and looks at our reality not just with divine but human eyes.
  • That brings us to the second part of today’s passage, which I think contains the most consoling words in all of Sacred Scripture. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that because God the Son has entered into our our experience, entered into our suffering and death, we should be emboldened to follow everything he says as he leaves us on a passover through earthly vicissitudes to perfection and eternal glory. “Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin.” Jesus fully took on our humanity. He sympathizes, he literally “suffers with” us, because he has been tempted every way we are but never consented. He knows the challenges we face and has met them. Think about the temptations you’ve faced today, you’ve faced yesterday, you’ve faced in your life, Jesus faced every single one. We know that the devil subjected Jesus to “every temptation” (Lk 4:13), but Jesus never consented. So we’re being tested, he can help us pass that test since he knows what we’re going through. That leads to the conclusion, “So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.” Because Jesus knows what we need, we can approach him with confidence to receive forgiveness and grace to remain faithful. Notice that the sacred author does not say that because we have such a high priest who has experienced our temptations, “Just do whatever you want, because Jesus knows you’re a weak sinner. Give into the devil’s temptations because Jesus is an indulgent pushover who came into our world to die so that you could sin boldly.” No, the Letter to the Hebrews calls us to approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and help. God sits on that throne in a special way in the Confessional, where he gives us that forgiving love and strengthening assistance, to embolden us through all our struggles. Are Jesus’ words about repentance and forgiveness, about sending out the apostles to forgive and retain sins in his name just like the Father sent him as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world, living and effective in our life? Do we allow the double-edged sword of the Word of God to help us to cut off our hands and feet if they’re leading us to sin? (Mt 5:29-30). Do we allow the penetrating probity of the Word of God to help us to examine our consciences better, so that we can discern the reflections and thoughts of the heart in accordance with what God sees, so that we will render an appropriate account to him?
  • These thoughts bring us to what Jesus does and says in the Gospel today. He goes to St. Matthew (whose Jewish name was Levi) in the very act of collecting taxes — which was consider by the Jews a tremendous sin of collaboration with the Romans and basically a mafia-like extortion racket ripping off fellow Jews — and calls him with his living and effective word to leave his mammon behind and follow him, and Matthew does. Even though he was a notorious public sinner, Jesus called him to the throne of grace and mercy and Matthew left his customs post and came immediately to that merciful throne. The Lord’s double-edged sword cut him from his worldliness and his penetrating glance helped him to discern the deepest thoughts and reflections of his heart on the meaning of God, of his own life and what he needed to do. And St. Matthew’s first response was to invite his friends to that same throne of forgiveness and assistance. When people rejected Jesus’ drawing near, speaking to and having table communion by eating with “tax collectors and sinners,” he emphasized the whole nature of his incarnation. “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” In order to be called by God, we need to grasp that we’re sinners in need of a Savior, sick in need of a doctor. We need Jesus more than the most suffering cancer patient needs an oncologist to give chemo. We can have no part of Jesus unless we recognize that we need him to save us from our sins. We draw near his throne not to receive cotton candy and a pat on the back telling us to just go on doing what we’ve been doing, but to receive mercy and help. One of the reasons why Jesus doubtless called St. Matthew is to show everyone that he’s serious about calling sinners. He called one of the most notorious public sinners to be his disciple and then apostle. He’s likewise called us to be Catholic not because we’re better than everyone else — we’re not — but to be signs of the power of his merciful love among our friends just like Matthew was among his.
  • The power of the Word of God to call us to conversion and to strengthen us in a timely way to hold up against temptation really helps us to appreciate more today’s feast of St. Anthony of the Desert. When he was 18, both of his parents died and he was left with all of their rich lands. He went to Church one day when the story of the Rich Young Man was being proclaimed in the Gospel. Upon hearing the words of Jesus, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me,” he took them literally and responded wholeheartedly. The Word of God was living, effective, surgically precise and penetrating. He sold all that he had, giving some money to relatives, paying for his sister to enter with a community of faithful women and gave the rest to the poor. Then he went out into the desert for the next 86 years, where he famously was tempted by the devil in all types of ways. He knew who his High Priest was who was there with him in the desert to strengthen him to pass those tests. All types of people came to him to receive spiritual guidance and he helped them with confidence and awe to approach God like he had. Doubtless he’s interceding for us today to allow the Word of God to have the same impact in our life. Doubtless he wants us to be consoled by Jesus’ sharing all our temptations precisely so that we can have confidence to approach him. Doubtless he wants us to grasp that the same Lord who called him and called St. Matthew is pointing to us today and saying, once more, “Follow me” and wanting us to bring our friends to meet him, not just in our home, but right here in his home, where he feeds us from his throne of grace.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 Heb 4:12-16

The word of God is living and effective,
sharper than any two-edged sword,
penetrating even between soul and spirit,
joints and marrow,
and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.
No creature is concealed from him,
but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him
to whom we must render an account.Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens,
Jesus, the Son of God,
let us hold fast to our confession.
For we do not have a high priest
who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but one who has similarly been tested in every way,
yet without sin.
So let us confidently approach the throne of grace
to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 15

R. (see John 6:63c) Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
The law of the LORD is perfect,
refreshing the soul;
The decree of the LORD is trustworthy,
giving wisdom to the simple.
R. Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
The precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
The command of the LORD is clear,
enlightening the eye.
R. Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
The fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever;
The ordinances of the LORD are true,
all of them just.
R. Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
Let the words of my mouth and the thought of my heart
find favor before you,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
R. Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.

Alleluia Lk 4:18

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The Lord sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor
and to proclaim liberty to captives.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Mk 2:13-17

Jesus went out along the sea.
All the crowd came to him and he taught them.
As he passed by, he saw Levi, son of Alphaeus,
sitting at the customs post.
Jesus said to him, “Follow me.”
And he got up and followed Jesus.
While he was at table in his house,
many tax collectors and sinners sat with Jesus and his disciples;
for there were many who followed him.
Some scribes who were Pharisees saw that Jesus was eating with sinners
and tax collectors and said to his disciples,
“Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus heard this and said to them,
“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.
I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”