Summary: If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all.
Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount reveals the Gospel of Our Lord as the fulfillment of the Mosaic Law. To follow the Messiah, all of his disciples are challenged daily to take the narrow path, to pray without ceasing, and to seek blessedness by living and serving just as Jesus did.
Today’s Gospel is the next chapter: Our Lord illustrates whom we must all serve, and how. He performs three miracles, two spectacular and one rather domestic. A man afflicted with leprosy approaches Him and asks to be clean. Lepers were the outcast of Jewish society, literally untouchable. Because nothing was known about the way one contracts the disease, they lived in squalor, apart from society. They had to go about shouting “unclean” so the healthy could keep their distance. But no one is outside the mercy of God. No one needed to keep distant from the Son of God. With a touch of His hand and a word from His lips, the Lord heals him instantly.
A centurion, a Gentile representative of the Roman oppressor, comes. The scene is instantly recognizable, because every time we approach the communion rail we say what he said. His servant is afflicted with paralysis and is in great pain. Note the detail, missing in our English translation. The Greek and Latin are explicit: the servant is a pais, a puer, a boy slave. Imagining one of our eight or ten year old parishioners on that sick bed brings the poignancy of this scene to our mind’s eye. A child is suffering. Who in the world does not feel empathy? Our Lord is moved. He offers to come and touch the lad. The centurion demurs. “I am not worthy that Thou should enter under my roof. As a man who wields authority, I know how things work. I know that you can say only a word, and he will be healed.” Jesus sees His unusual faith, faith that is a pure gift of God. And a word of healing from the Word of God is enough to effect a miraculous cure.
The third healing is recorded after our passage today. Entering Peter’s house, the Lord sees Peter’s mother in law lying sick, feverous. Remember, in a day before antibiotics, fevers often killed. Without a word, Jesus touches the woman and the fever disappeared. Now when a fever leaves most of us, we are listless and useless for the rest of the day. This woman’s energy returned at once and she was able to perform her domestic work. Remember, when Jesus heals us, spirit, soul or body, He expects us to get back to our work of prayer and service. The healing can be by word only, by touch only, or by word and touch together. The miraculous hand of God was working through God’s Son. The miraculous hand of God now works through our hands, which are His hands, and through our words, which are His.
So let’s now turn to the words of St. Paul to the Church at Rome. Rome, the center of the ancient world. Rome, the haughty conqueror to whom the whole Mediterranean culture paid homage and tribute. Rome, with its stratified society that kept the poor dependent on government handouts of bread and circuses. And, if we are to believe the ancient authors, it was Rome, a moral sewer headed by a debauched imperator whose very name is a four-letter word: Nero. How should Christians live as followers of Our Lord in the midst of such depravity?
Paul was very clear: be radically counter-cultural. First, live in harmony with your fellow Catholics. Second: Jesus had special care for the lowly and outcast, so you associate with the ones society keeps at a distance. Be humble. Third: If someone does you harm, don’t seek revenge. The only one who may redress grievances is God Himself. Pray for and care for those who hate you. If you treat them in ways that are better than they deserve, they may even repent and change their lives. If you do evil, then evil wins. The only way to overcome evil is to do good yourselves.
So, when we are surrounded by evildoing, we must do good ourselves. Goodness is attractive; evil is repulsive. That is the true evangelism. Now, let’s hear a story of responding to evil by doing good.
It was a hot day about six months after President Truman declared the end of WW 2. A frightened young woman stepped onto the platform of the Missouri Pacific station just west of downtown San Antonio. She had been sent from Chicago after her condition was discovered by her Irish Catholic family. It certainly was the definition of a crisis pregnancy if the girl was sent 1240 miles away to the Texas Cradle Society. And she gave birth exactly seventy years ago today. I am the product of that family scandal seven decades ago.