Third Sunday after Epiphany—22 January A.D.
“To no man render evil for evil....”
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
Today’s epistle is taken from Saint
Paul’s letter to the Romans—an instruction on the Faith to converts from
both Paganism and Judaism. The twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth chapters
are something of an exhortation to worship God through good behavior,
humility and charity, submission to legitimate authority, and concern for
those who are weak in the Faith. Today’s selection is part of that
exhortation, demanding that Christians love even those who might seem to be
The Church unites this exhortation
with our Lord’s example, as related in Saint Matthew’s Gospel.
The leper and the centurion were clearly outcastes from Jewish society. In
the Old Testament leprosy was presumed to be punishment for sin. It made
the subject ritually unclean, and required him to live apart from Jewish
[He] Shall have his clothes hanging loose, his head bare, his mouth
covered with a cloth, and he shall cry out that he is defiled and
unclean. All the time that he is a leper and unclean, he shall
dwell alone without the camp.
Even if the leprosy seemed to be
cured, the leper was required to have the cure verified by an examination by
the priest. And, if the cure were verified, the man would bring offerings
to the priest to offer “sacrifice for sin and to perform the rite of
The procedure for this is very involved, and its description takes up the
entire fourteenth chapter of Leviticus. In fact, few were cured, and one
with leprosy remained a pariah, doomed to a lonely and wasting death.
The centurion was an officer of the
Roman Army, that hated foreign force that occupied the holy land of God’s
chosen people; that foreign force that took away Jewish freedom, and
demanded that taxes be paid to an Emperor far away. Occasionally hatred for
Roman officers and men escalated to the shedding of blood—eventually this
bloodshed would bring about the destruction of Jerusalem and the very Temple
where God dwelt amongst His people. (Predicted in Matthew xxiv.)
To many Jewish people of Jesus’ time the centurion was even more of an
outcaste than the leper!
It is to these two outcastes that
our Lord shows mercy, both giving us good example, and demonstrating His
divine power. With just a few words He healed the dread disease—the cure
was immediate, so there could be no doubt that it was effected by Jesus.
With just a few more words He healed the servant of the centurion—without
even being in his presence! To the “great crowds [that] followed Him,” this
was cause for amazement, demonstrating both divine power and compassion—a
very practical lesson in loving one’s enemies and the outcastes of society.
From this Gospel account we also
learn respect for God’s law. The leper was cured by the Son of God, but
that did not exempt him from examination by the priests of the Temple, and
the offering of sacrifices for sin and atonement. The Mosaic Law was still
in effect at that time, and, as such, represented God’s will on earth. Only
later would Jesus Christ replace the sacrifices of the Temple with the
Sacrifice of the Cross, renewed, as it is, in the Sacrifice of the Mass.
From the centurion we learn a lesson
in faith. Apparently the centurion had spent enough time learning about
Jesus to know that His miracles were not mere physical cause and effect, but
were, rather, acts of authority over creation. As a military officer
the centurion understood the nature of authority. “I too am a man subject
to authority, and I have soldiers subject to me....” The centurions faith
was based on direct observation of the works of Jesus Christ. It was faith
so impressive that it caused our Lord to favorably contrast this foreigner
with all of the children of Israel—a warning not just for the descendants of
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but for all who have known God’s truth, but who
are slow to acknowledge that truth by faith and word and work.
But to return to the central theme
of this Mass, we are to “be at peace with all men,” doing good always,
insofar as it lies within our power, not being overcome with evil, but
overcoming evil with good.