The Surgical Blade of the Divine Physician, 1st Saturday (I), January 14, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Mission of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Saturday of the First Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
January 14, 2017
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 leads 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’re facing today, you 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 when we’re being tested, he can help us pass that test since he knows what we’re going through. That leads to the most consoling 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 opportune help. The throne of grace is God the Father’s throne before which Jesus is interceding for us as our high priest. The throne of grace is God’s word enfleshed in Jesus. The throne of grace is in a special way the Confessional, where God gives us that forgiving love and strengthening assistance, to embolden us through all our struggles. And God encouraged us to approach emboldened by Jesus’ compassionate understanding and strengthened by his encouraging word.
  • We see how powerful God’s word is, and how he invites everyone to his throne of grace, in today’s Gospel. Jesus visits 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 so that he can heal them. 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. That’s what it means to be a priest, a Sister of Life, a Christian.
  • Doubtless St. Matthew is 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 is pointing to us today and saying, once more, “Follow me” and is desiring us to bring our friends to meet him, not merely in our “home,” but in his home, where he feeds us from his throne of grace with all the timely help we need to come to the place where we hope to surround him on the throne of grace forever!

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.”