Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
In today’s Gospel we find the Pharisees keeping an eye on our Lord – observabant eum. The expression evokes the kind of malevolent gaze one might be subjected to in the company of people who want to hurt you. Their eyes were on His every move, their ears open to His ever word, not to learn but to catch anything they might use against Him. The opportunity arises when a man suffering from dropsy is brought in. Our Lord gives the Pharisees their chance by asking: “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath or not?” In a similar circumstance in St Mark’s Gospel (3:5), we are told that Our Lord then looked around at them with anger. He was angry because of the blindness of their hearts. So intent where they on catching him in what they deemed to be unlawful activity, so peevishly immersed in their petty ceremonial, that they do not see the obvious: God wants mercy and love before anything else. To heal a man matters much more to God than minor details of the law. Besides, was the sabbath not given for the precise reason that it allows man to be healed of his spiritual infirmities by returning to God? So what more fitting thing to do than to heal on the sabbath? There is none so blind as he who will not see.
A couple days ago, on Ember Friday, we heard these concluding words of the prophecy of Hosea: Who is wise, and he shall understand these things? prudent, and he shall know these things? for the ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them: but the transgressors shall fall in them (Hos 14:10).Yes, the ways of the Lord are straight. They are good. They are holy. The way He has shown us is His Son: I am the Way, He Himself tells us. The humble understand His way and accept to be led in faith with and by Him. The proud will always find fault as the Pharisees did. There will always be something they will not want to accept.
For some, Jesus is too strict; for others He is too lenient. The fact remains that the way of the Lord is straight. Today many in the Church fabricate their own Jesus, one who exists only in their own mind, who condones their sinful ways, who never condemns; an effeminate Jesus who doesn’t know how to say no, who doesn’t really know what He wants. While the German synodal way proclaims belief in a Jesus who condones sodomy, and the American president a Jesus who blesses the murder of the unborn, here in Australia we have a Jesus who doesn’t mind if we break the First Commandment by invoking unknown spirits. Such a Jesus doesn’t really care what religion people belong to or what symbolic gesture of hommage one might offer to the supreme being. Of course, such a Jesus does not exist except in the muddled minds of those who invent him. What we have here is the culmination of the modernist march to victory in the Church: the faith has no definitive content; it evolves with each believer. Today it may be this, tomorrow that, but all that matters and all that Jesus is concerned with, is that I am sincere and true to myself and that I am nice to others.
Such is the modern Pharisee who, in his rigidity, is unable to see that true spiritual freedom from the authoritarianism of any century’s gurus, lies in the Gospel of Truth and Life and Love that was revealed to us in the Person of Jesus Christ, the real, historical Jesus Christ, not the one that we invent in our puny heads, and frequently reinvent in the course of our lives to accommodate our evolving egos. But let’s leave aside the despicable Pharisees and their modern-day counterparts, and consider how we should really look at Our Blessed Lord.
To observe the Lord with care, to keep our eye in Him, is indeed one of the duties of the Christian soul. That is precisely why God became incarnate, so that we could see Him, admire Him, follow Him. Isaiah had prophesied centuries earlier: Thy eyes shall see thy teacher (Is 30:20). But how do we see Him? How do we look at Him? Is it with hostility, seeking to discover some plausible reason for abandoning Him? Is it out of pure curiosity, as we would watch a new television series or listen to a trendy politician? Is it with mistrust, wanting to sift everything He has to say, making sure we have a pair of scissors in hand when we open the Gospel just in case we encounter something that hurts our sensibility? Archbishop Alban Goodier, in the first volume of his marvellous Life of Christ, wrote these admirable words:
“By the majority of men Jesus is not known at all; He is observed, He is watched, He is dissected, He is discussed, He is summed up, sentence is passed upon Him, and He is voted to be after all little more than others. The secret of Himself, the Light, the Life, the Way, the Truth, the Love, the All-in-all, is absolutely missed; only a few, who have looked with self-forgetting eyes, and have caught the vision, and in turn have themselves been captured, awake to a new understanding, and are lost in an all-consuming love to which all other love is as nothing, and live to a new life from which all other life drops away. They cannot speak of it to others, even to themselves it cannot be expressed; if they attempt it, their words seem almost a mockery, a description of a shadow and no more. Nevertheless they know it to be true, even as a man knows he is alive and can say no more about it; they know it to be true, and can only say so. Others may listen, and may smile at their folly, and may call them ‘drunk with new wine’, and so may pass them by as out of hinge with the world of men about them, but they cannot change. They know what they have seen and they know it to be true, and they can do no more than reassert it, in the hope that at least some few, nay, let it be only one, may listen, and catch a glimmering of the light, and fall in love with it, and then go forth as they go forth, crying to all the world: ‘Jesus Christ, yesterday, today and the same forever’” (The public Life of Jesus Christ, vol. 1, p. 191).
Beloved Friends, let us have our eyes fixed constantly on Christ, desirous to know Him better, to lovingly catch His every word and gesture, longing for a glance from His divine eyes. Will He deign to look our way and have mercy on us? In today’s introit we were reminded that He is Copiosus in misericordia, rich in mercy towards all who call upon Him. He does not neglect or abandon those who truly seek Him. If, for a while, He does not seem to notice us, it is not because He is indifferent, much less because He is cruel. It is because He wants to increase our longing to see Him. Last week I mentioned the need to endure in the marathon of the spiritual life, to wait for His time. So, when we are tempted to think that maybe Jesus doesn’t really have any time for us, we need to be reminded that in fact, He is only making us fast, so that our hunger for Him will grow. The most important thing to never forget is: never run away. If you do, where will you go? He who loses Jesus, says the Imitation of Christ, loses more than if he lost the whole world.
But if we stay and fix our eyes on Him with love and longing, then we begin to discover that love of Christ which surpasses all knowledge and of which St Paul speaks so marvellously in today’s epistle to the Ephesians, so that we may be filled unto all the fullness of God. We will come to know the breadth and length and height and depth of the charity of Christ, revealed to us in full on the cross. As we look at Jesus on the cross, we are reminded that its length downwards denotes stability in the depths of gratuitous grace – if we stay with Christ we stand firm forever on solid rock. Its height upwards reminds us that Christ is the supreme desire of our souls, leading us to a blessed eternity and giving us the hope that we will reach it – for it is within our grasp thanks to His sacred passion. As we consider the breadth of the transversal beams, we learn to practice good works with both hands ever open to God and neighbour, – and so we ask in today’s oration that Divine Grace may give us to be intent upon good works at all times.
St Edith Stein said that she learned more by contemplating the crucifix than in the many books she had read. So let us turn to Him with growing confidence and love, certain that if we truly seek Him, then our hearts shall rejoice in finding Him. Let us not fall victims to pride and concoct a Jesus to our own liking, but rather humble ourselves and accept Him as He is, so that we may one day be exalted.