18 January 2012

Repairing a ruin with love

2nd Week OT (W)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, New Orleans

Listen Here (8.30 Mass)

We read this morning about two battles. The first is a contest between a Jewish boy and a Philistine warrior and is fought with a slingshot and a rock. The second is a battle between ruin and repair, and it is fought with the mercy of God and the rock of the human heart. Faced with an army of Philistines, King Saul agrees to send David against the enemy's best warrior, a giant with sword and shield, in a one on one fight to decide the war. Calling on the Lord's protection, David announces to the enemy, “All this multitude. . .shall learn that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves.” He slings a rock, kills the giant, and wins the war. In the synagogue, Jesus too faces a hostile force: a crowd of Pharisees whose hearts have been hardened by the Law. A man with a ruined hand is called before Jesus and the Pharisees wait to see if Jesus will violate the Law by repairing his hand on the Sabbath. Jesus asks, “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” His question is met with silence. He grows angry at the Pharisees and “grieves at their hardness of heart.” Jesus repairs the man's ruined hand and the Lord's enemies conspire to have him executed not realizing that he has already won this war. The Lord's mercy repairs the ruin of this world despite our opposition, despite our hardened hearts. We can benefit by stepping forward to help him, or we can suffer by testing his strength as a foe.

Though the Pharisees think that they are testing Jesus in the synagogue, it is actually Jesus who is testing them. They wait to see if he will violate the Law and heal on the Sabbath. Jesus waits to see if they will obey the Law and extend mercy to the disabled man. When the Pharisees fail his test, Jesus grieves for their hardened hearts. Why does he grieve? We grieve over the death of a loved one. We mourn their passing. Seeing into their hearts, Jesus knows that the Pharisees live with dead hearts. They cannot/will not see that under the Law they serve there is the Law of Love. Every commandment, each rule and regulation enacts, embodies the Lord's will that we seek out and make real the Good for ourselves and one another. Think back to David's announcement to the Philistine army, “All. . .shall learn that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves.” Indeed. He saves by willing that our ruin be repaired in His love. The Law the Pharisees worship is the Lord's plan for our repair, but the Law is not itself our repair. 

Jesus grows angry with the Pharisees and grieves over their dead hearts. As the keepers of the Law, they should be the first to recognize that repairing a ruined hand is vastly more important to the fulfillment of the Law than obeying the rules against healing on the Sabbath. Their failure sets them against the Lord and blinds them to his already accomplished victory. As Jesus' brothers and sisters, we are vowed to battle against the hardened hearts of this world, and, more importantly, to battle against any temptation to hardened our own hearts when given the chance to show mercy. Lest we misunderstand, mercy does not create lawlessness. We are not called to abandon truth in order to be loving. No repair, no healing can come from a lie. When we speak the truth, we heal. And that healing will not always be comfortable. Sometimes, often repairing a ruin requires demolition. But no repair of another should begin before we have demolished and repaired our own ruin. First, we receive God's mercy for ourselves; then, we give it to others. This is the only path to victory.


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