Wednesday, January 19, 2011

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted

"All the good works in the world are not equal to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass because they are the works of men; but the Mass is the work of God. Martyrdom is nothing in comparison for it is but the sacrifice of man to God; but the Mass is the sacrifice of God for man." - Saint John Marie Vianney

Gospel text (Mk 3:1-6): Again Jesus entered the synagogue. A man who had a paralyzed hand was there and some people watched Jesus: Would he heal the man on the sabbath? If he did they could accuse him. Jesus said to the man with the paralyzed hand, «Stand here in the center». Then he asked them, «What does the Law allow us to do on the sabbath? To do good or to do harm? To save life or to kill?». But they were silent. Then Jesus looked around at them with anger and deep sadness because they had closed their minds. And he said to the man, «Stretch out your hand». He stretched it out and his hand was healed. But as soon as the Pharisees left, they met with Herod's supporters, looking for a way to destroy Jesus.

Today, Jesus tells us we must always do good: there is no such thing as a time to do good and a time to overlook our love for others. The love we get through God brings us to the supreme Law, Jesus left with us, in the new commandment: «Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another» (Jn 13:34). Jesus neither repeals nor criticizes Moses' Law, inasmuch as He is the first one to comply with its precepts and go to the synagogue on the Sabbath; what Jesus criticizes is the narrow minded version of the Law by its masters and the Pharisees, an interpretation leaving little room for mercy.

This Gospel reading always catches me off guard, but perhaps it shouldn’t. It’s easy to picture the scene. Jesus enters the Temple to pray on the Sabbath and is confronted by the well-off, well-educated and powerful Pharisees. Then Jesus sees the man with the withered hand and weighs the prescription against working on the Sabbath against curing the man. Of course, Jesus chooses the higher good of healing the man and in so doing angers the Pharisees to the point that they begin to plot his death.

On the one hand, the reading astonishes me. I have a hard time imagining how human beings seeing such a wondrous sign could retreat behind technical rules and use that as a reason to condemn to death the man who was performing such a sign.

But the more I think about it, the less it astonishes me. Of all of the sins that plague us, pride may be one of the most common and among the worst. I know I battle it constantly. It is so easy – almost reflexive – to lash out against someone who criticizes us without bothering to consider whether the other person actually has a point. It’s hard, so very hard, for me to admit that perhaps I was wrong, or that someone else’s idea is better than mine. It’s harder yet when the other person is someone with whom I have a difficult personal relationship.

Although an extreme illustration, the Pharisees’ actions were brought on by sinful pride. They were exalted citizens of their time and then along came Jesus of humble origins to upstage and embarrass them. Instead of thinking about the deeper significance of a man who could do such things, they see red because their pride is wounded. It’s easy for us to do the same thing; to ignore the small signs and instead focus on how important we are. It’s a common human mistake, but often a tragic one.

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