Summary: Jesus gives us the power and strength to grow in virtue and spread the word of His salvation.
The Introit of today’s Holy Sacrifice affirms that “God is in His holy place, the God who makes those of one mind to dwell in a house: He will give virtue and fortitude to His people.”
Where is this holy place in which God dwells? Is it the same as the place where those who are of one mind dwell? And how will God give virtus–strength–and fortitudinem–courage–to His people? St. Paul and St. Mark will answer those critical questions for us today.
First, however, let’s talk about how the Gospels came to be. Most scholars today hold that St. Mark was the earliest of the Gospels. It’s brief–hardly more than a Passion narrative with a few stories. Its Greek is pretty crude, and, many think, its theology is very basic. That makes St. Matthew’s Gospel written much later, and St. Luke’s even later. The scholars tell us that Matthew and Luke were highly embellished with the experience of the early Church. Some go so far as to say that in those Gospels, and in St. John, most of the sayings coming from the mouth of Jesus were really not his original words.
To that I say, “prove it!” The tradition of the Church, going back well into the early first millennium, holds that St. Matthew wrote the first Gospel, not long after the events it relates. Some first-rate scholars have shown that what makes most sense is that Matthew wrote his Gospel in Hebrew or Aramaic, and that it was translated later into Greek. Mark, then, shortened Matthew’s Gospel for the Roman church. That explains why the Greek is so far from classical–it is just transliterated Semitic words. Today’s Gospel even retains the Aramaic word for “be opened,” the original word of Jesus, Ephphatha, which also appears in Matthew.
When Our Lord healed the man who could neither hear nor speak, he implored the witnesses to tell no one. That’s the so-called “Messianic Secret.” Jesus came as a Messiah much different from what the Jews expected. They wanted a military genius who would unite all peoples and destroy the Romans. Jesus came to His holy place, the place we even today call the Holy Land, and preached repentance, forgiveness, even love of one’s enemies. No wonder He refused to be called Messiah, or Son of David, right up until the week before His crucifixion.
But the people who witnessed His mighty deeds did not obey. The more he charged them, the more they spread the news. Today, by contrast, Jesus implores us to spread the word of His mighty deeds, of His Bride, the Church, of the healing in baptism and reconciliation, of the greatest deed of all, His divine presence in the breaking of the Bread, Holy Mass. He gives us here the strength and courage to tell the tale, to do deeds even mightier than His. The first question today, then, is “are we doing His will and spreading the Gospel?”
St. Paul was the apostle to the ends of the known world. Why was he so effective in spreading the Gospel. He was short–his nickname, Paulus, means “shorty.” It appears that he was not the strongest of preachers. He wasn’t a Christian from the beginning. Indeed, he labored always under the suspicion that he was just a Jew wrapped up in Christian trappings. Hadn’t he persecuted the early Christians? He was effective for one reason only: the grace of God worked with his meager natural abilities in a powerful way. He could argue in the classical Greek style; his knowledge of the OT was vast. He could meet each new group of Jews and Gentiles with charity and perseverance. That is the secret of his effectiveness, and it will be the secret of ours, as well.