“Though you pray the more, I will not listen.”

Taken alone, these words from the first chapter of Isaiah (10-17) don’t seem correct.  Doesn’t God always listen to prayer?  Well, the run up to this is very important (always remember the maxim “any text without a context is pretext for a prooftext” when folks are tossing around Scripture quotes).  Just before these words, God rails against the wickedness of the people following ritual prescriptions but not living the Law.  Afterwards He speaks these ominous words:

Your hands are full of blood!

Then, immediately, He gives the prescription for authentically approaching Him:

Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes;
cease doing evil; learn to do good.
Make justice your aim: redress the wronged,
hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.

The Responsorial Psalm (Ps 50:8-9, 16bc-17, 21 and 23) reinforces this command:

Why do you recite my statutes,
and profess my covenant with your mouth,
Though you hate discipline
and cast my words behind you?…
He that offers praise as a sacrifice glorifies me;
and to him that goes the right way I will show the salvation of God.

Efficacious prayer does not require perfection or we would all be doomed.  What the Lord asks of us is sincere repentance and a firm purpose of amendment (which we should also pray for).  Unthinking rituals and fulfilling the basic requirements, thinking that these are a “Get Out of Jail Free” card, while obstinately clinging to sin (especially sins that are mortal) and vice are the recipe for eternal disaster.  We are to “cease doing evil,” to love “discipline,” and to not “cast [God’s] words behind” as we “offer[] praise [that] glorifies” God.

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“So they went off and preached repentance.”

As a follow-up to yesterday’s Gospel, where Jesus tells of the approach the apostles are to take in evangelizing, today He actually sends them off (Mk 6:7-13).  We hear of the appropriate manner of dress (simple) and the provisions to be taken (meager).  More importantly, the opening message is conveyed to us, which we see above.

Important?  Yes!  This is exactly the way John the Baptist (Mt 3:2; Mk 1:15; Lk 3:3) and Jesus (Mt 4:17) began their public ministries.  To get a sense of the value placed on repentance in Scripture, it can be found in some form of the word 117 times (RSV).

But is it important to us?  In a world where “nobody calls it sin anymore” or even worse, evil is called good and good is called evil, repentance is either passé or deemed unnecessary.  How fearfully wrong this is.  Looking at Mark 1:15 (cited above) we learn of two basic requirements of the Christian: “Repent and believe.”

https://i2.wp.com/www.tbo.com/storyimage/TB/20151002/ARTICLE/151009839/AR/0/AR-151009839.jpg

Maybe you, like me, have looked askance at the shabbily (or sometimes well) dressed man at the busy intersection with the sign declaring the imminent end of the world.  Well, you know, I’ve given that a second thought.  While we cannot know when Jesus will return (He even tells us that in the Gospels — Mt 24:36), we do know that our end is near (in relation to eternity) whether it is tomorrow or eighty years from now.  Maybe, just maybe, God has sent that odd man out to remind us of just that.  Have we repented completely and believed sincerely?  It is worth taking to prayer (and Confession).

 

“‘Here I am,’ I said; ‘send me!'”

We know that there is a cohesiveness to Scripture:

Be especially attentive “to the content and unity of the whole Scripture”. Different as the books which compose it may be, Scripture is a unity by reason of the unity of God’s plan, of which Christ Jesus is the center and heart, open since his Passover. (CCC 112)

While on Sundays the connections between Old Testament and Gospel readings is explicitly purposeful (and often obvious to the attentive listener) this is not the case with weekday readings (for a fine, short overview of the Sunday Lectionary see here).  But, I find that from time to time, the “content and unity” jump off the page at me.  Yesterday’s readings are a case in point.

From Isaiah (6:1-8) we hear the famous call of Isaiah from the Triune God (“Who will go for us?” [v. 8]) to the Chosen People gone astray.  Isaiah’s answer is in the headline.

From Matthew (10:24-33) we receive Jesus’ instructions to His apostles for evangelization.

What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light;
what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops….
Everyone who acknowledges me before others
I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.
But whoever denies me before others,
I will deny before my heavenly Father. (vv. 27, 32-33)

The apostles (Gk. apostolos: one sent on a mission [M-W]) were chosen to be sent.  All came along willingly and all, but the unfortunate Judas, with Isaiah, ultimately said to the Lord, “Send me!”  And, following the instructions above, all witnessed (from the Greek, martyr) to what they had seen and heard, all but one being murdered for the Faith.

We are called to be modern day apostles.  Will we shed blood for our witness?  May God spare us that fate!  But are we called to “proclaim [from] the housetops”?  Of course!  We are called to “acknowledge [Christ] before others” being “[a]lways…ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” (1 Pt 3:15)

This last quote is often used to emphasize the importance of learning the Faith.  And rightly so.  But one does not need to have a degree in theology to share his “reason for…hope.”  Let us strive to live the Gospel well, giving good example of Christian faith, hope, and love, and in so doing our enthusiasm for the Lord and how He has worked in our lives will be poured out as a result, becoming evident to all we encounter [let them say along with the early pagans “See…how they love one another” (Tertullian, (Apologeticum ch. 39, 7)].

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

These words of Jesus to Paul are often quoted for the benefit of those who are struggling mightily in some way with physical or mental suffering.  For Paul, this message came to him after begging the Lord thrice to halt the beatings that were being inflicted on him by the devil (2 Cor 12:7-10).  Now, it is not many of us who have to endure this sort of treatment, but everyone can certainly relate to those times when troubles weigh him down so severely that it seems there is no way out.

It is certainly true that we can overcome anything with the free gift of God’s grace.  But, if we are feeling as Paul did, we might ask ourselves: Are we as open to this gift as we ought to be?  Do we take advantage of the ordinary means of grace freely available to us daily, namely Holy Communion and Confession (not that one would usually need to go to the latter daily, but it is likely available, even if by appointment, every day)?  And when we do participate in these sacraments do we prepare well in advance and give thanks heartily afterward so as to make the most of the encounter?

An infinite amount of sanctifying grace is available in the sacraments.  Our problem is that we are not infinitely open to this grace, due to sin and its effects.  Thus, frequent recourse to Holy Communion and Confession, along with prayer, penance, and fasting, will help us to grow in holiness.  And, in doing so, when difficulties arise, Jesus words to Paul (and to us) will not seem far-fetched, but rather will be realized as we tap into these gifts for succor and strength.


This is the six hundredth post on this blog.  If even one person benefited from these musings, all praise and all thanks go to the Lord.  And as I did in my very earliest post, I always welcome your comments, questions, and challenges.  May God abundantly bless you and yours.

“The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.”

When Jesus is asked why the Pharisees and John’s disciples fast but His do not, He tells the disciples of John that they cannot fast while “the bridegroom is with them” but they will fast when He is gone (Mt 9:14-17).

It is true, of course, that Jesus is with us always, as He promised (Mt 28:20).  In particular, He “stays with us” in the mode par excellence in the Blessed Sacrament (see Lk 24:29).  We should visit Him there often and be properly disposed to receive Him at every Mass.

In recent posts I have touted the value of fasting.  Jesus says right here, and elsewhere, that we are to fast — it is to be part of the Christian life.  And while we know He is present always, it is not so obvious in our country and in our world when the moral fabric of society continues to be rent through so many sins, some enshrined in law, others by popular commission, against the dignity of all persons from conception until natural death.  In far too many ways, Jesus continues to be “taken away” through our actions, including the threat to religious freedom that looms larger and larger in the US and is much more severe in many other nations.

So, I encourage you to fast and abstain for a return of our world to Christian values and for the conversion of souls.  Skip a meal from time to time.  Eliminate eating between meals occasionally or permanently.  Make every Friday like Good Friday in demeanor and consumption.  Turn off the TV and phone and devote additional time to prayer and Scripture and other spiritual reading.  Make mini-Lents from time to time.  We know from Christ’s own experience how such actions fight the devil and temptation (see Matt 4:1-11).  The world benefits and we benefit personally.



Painting of Christ being Tempted by Satan, Luke 4:3-13; Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:13

John Ritto Penniman, Christ Tempted by the Devil (1818)

“Thy kingdom come”!

 

 

“I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

These words, that conclude today’s gospel reading (Mt 9:9-13), come from Jesus and are directed to the Pharisees.  They see Jesus eating at the table of the just-called (former) tax collector, Matthew, and question His eating with “tax collectors and sinners.”

https://thinkingthroughscripture.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/ernst_zimmerman_christ-and-the-pharisees_700.jpg?w=482&h=372

This episode appears in all three synoptic gospels (also in Mk 2:17 and Lk 5:32 — which gives me plenty more commentaries to consult!), with the others worded nearly exactly as above.  This has always been a somewhat curious statement to me.  I have always taken “righteous” to mean “self-righteous.”  And there is definitely something to that:

Jesus uses the opportunity to reproach the scribes and Pharisees for their pride: they consider themselves just, and their reliance on their apparent virtue prevents them from hearing the call to conversion; they think they can be saved by their own efforts (cf. Jn 6:41).  (The Navarre Bible: St. Mark [Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1988], 80)

But, did not Jesus come to save everyone?  And who really is completely righteous, anyway, aside from the Lord and His mother?

All are sinners.  The only difference is that some admit their lack of righteousness and some do not (see 1 John 1:8-10), thus refusing Jesus’ messianic invitation (see Matt 22:3) and his medicinal grace.  Jesus is recasting the people’s whole understanding of the messiah.  His mission is not to vindicate those who keep the law, and condemn the rest; rather, it is to offer the healing of which all people are in need; healing from the devastation of sin.  Even sins of pride and judgmentalism [as displayed by the Pharisees in this episode] are among the sicknesses he came to heal. (Mary Healy, The Gospel of Mark, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008], 61)

We should further note that, with this statement, Jesus is indicating that He

did not come to prolong the Old Covenant with the nation of Israel.  This was an imperfect, provisional covenant designed to separate Israel from the Gentiles and their sins (Lev 20:26) while Israel was not ready to love God from the heart (Jer 11:8; Mt 19:8).  Jesus inaugurates the New Covenant to transform the hearts of his people (Jer 31:31-34; Mt 5:8) and so welcomes all into God’s covenant family.  Whereas the Old Covenant quarantined Israel from the world, the New Covenant embraces the world within God’s mercy (Rom 11:32). (Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch, The Gospel of Mark, Ignatius Catholic Study Bible [San Francisco: Ignatius, 2001], 20)

Let it never be the case that we, like the Pharisees, classify ourselves as righteous, in no need of the Lord’s mercy, because we consider our own works entirely sufficient to put us in right relationship with God.  Rather, we must always acknowledge humbly, in accord with reality, that we are sinners in need of grace to live righteously and to ultimately be saved.

 

“When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Courage, child, your sins are forgiven.'”

At Mass today, the priest-homilist gave a wonderful reflection on the gospel for this day (Mt 9:1-8), one I never really considered.  In the gospel story, a paralytic is brought in by friends in the hopes that Jesus would heal him.  Jesus tells the man his sins are forgiven.  which gives the onlooking scribes dark thoughts.  Then, to prove His legitimate ability to forgive sins, He physically heals the man, leaving the crowd awestruck.

http://images.nga.gov/?service=asset&action=show_preview&asset=55000Christoph Murer, Swiss, 1558 – 1614, The Paralytic Healed by Christ Picks up His Pallet, woodcut on laid paper

The priest pointed out that Jesus did not base the forgiveness and healing on the disabled man’ s faith, but rather on his friends’.  Maybe he read the man’s heart, saw a skeptical expression on his face, or even heard him complaining or doubting.  Yet, the unfortunate man’s faithful friends were enough to move Jesus.  Do you think that man ever looked at those companions in the same way ever again?

This is a call for us to bring to prayer family, friends, and acquaintances who seem to have little faith or explicitly say they are agnostic or atheist.  Don’t be afraid to tell them you are praying for them or have remembered them at Mass.  If someone is ill, or particularly troubled in any way, drop him a Mass card to let him know you are thinking of him and that he is receiving many — and ongoing — prayers.  Whether or not a healing occurs or the problem is resolved, the prayers and thoughtfulness you engender are bound to have an impact.  This is not something you should pound over the heads of others.  But, by living your faith, and sharing its importance, you may well win over a soul for Christ and have a faith-full friend for life.

I’m quite sure the (former) paralytic went away permanently changed in body and soul.  Through God’s grace so will the skeptics in your life.