Summary: The true path to peace lies through repentance and forgiveness of sins.
18th Sunday After Pentecost 2015
Saint Matthew would have had a vivid recollection of the stories of that day in Galilee, because just down the street at the tax office, Matthew the sinner, the tax collector, was sitting. And as Jesus passed by, Matthew heard the most important words of his life, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. Are not those words, whenever we may have heard them, the most important words of our lives? The voice of Jesus echoes in our hearts and minds and ears from the moment of our call. His words are words of total, selfless love: “follow me.” “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” “Take up your cross and follow me.” His words are the only directions we need if we are to be perfectly happy. He created us out of love, redeemed us out of love, sanctifies us out of love. Why would he ask us to do anything that would give us eternal misery?
Christ’s intention for each of us is also His desire for the whole of humankind. And so, as the political season of 2016 begins to heat up, and as we all wonder who will control the White House, the Congress, and the economy, it would be wise to consider that the psalmist is the one who gives the best political advice. Over and over again the psalms tell us “put not your trust in princes.” From the vantage point of the Second Temple, which had to replace Solomon’s magnificent edifice because sin and the Babylonians had conspired to bring that original down in fire, the psalmist knew what he was singing about. Over and over the politicians–kings and emperors and leaders both religious and secular–had led Israel and its surrounding countries into sins of injustice, perversion, idolatry and violence. It seemed to the singers of the Temple that every generation saw some invader ravage the Holy Land. Babylonians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, Syrians and Romans followed one upon the other. Peace–especially peace that was something more than a cessation of war–true shalom seemed impossible to achieve.
So let’s for a moment consider the words of today’s Introit antiphon and verse: Da pacem, Domine. “Give peace, O Lord, to those who trust in Thee, and let Thy prophets be found faithful. Hear the prayers of Thy servants and of Thy people, Israel. I rejoiced when it was said to me, let us go into the house of the Lord.”
Our Lord told us the truth about peace. He was the greatest of prophets, because He not only spoke the word of the Lord, He WAS the Word of the Lord. At the Last Supper, the beginning of His Paschal sacrifice, He told us: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” The absence of peace, and its horrible follow-up, war, comes because of conflict between human wills. It happens in families, when one spouse conflicts with another over money, children, or sex, or when parents and children fight each other over just about everything. It happens in neighborhoods, in school boards, in city councils. Limited resources meet unlimited wants. It happens between nations. The fundamentalist warriors of ISIS see the moral depravity of the West and take up arms to restore Muhammad’s vision for the Middle East and the world. What Russian politicians want conflicts with what Ukrainians want. And when negotiations fail, armed conflict too often ensues. We all know that in the long term, spilling blood leads only to spilling more blood.
So how does the Lord propose to establish peace with justice? You see what He does in today’s Gospel, back in His own home town? Remember, these are the people who just months earlier listened to his homily on Isaiah, realized that He was going to ask them to change their behavior, and tried to run him out of town and hurl him over a cliff. He returns and finds a paralyzed man brought to His feet by some friends. What were His first words? Jesus knew that paralysis of the limbs was not the real problem in this man, just as it is not the real problem in me. He sees the glimmer of faith, of desire to do God’s will, and solves the real problem: “take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven.” Sin is the paralyzing poison of the heart. Sin keeps us doing evil and avoiding good. Sin prevents us from loving God and loving neighbor. So Our Lord fixes the real problem, and then raises him from his immobile state. Moreover, He proves to the world by healing the man that He, and the Church, have the power to forgive sins.