Third Sunday of Lent —24 February AD 2008
“Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep
[Ordinary of the Mass]
[English Mass Text]
[Latin Mass Text]
Since it is Lent, I want to urge all of you to make the
effort to attend Mass a few days during the week in addition to the Sundays.
Be aware that we making the Stations of the Cross before Mass on Friday
evenings, and that we have Mass a little bit later in the morning on most
Wednesdays—consult the Bulletin. If you really just cannot make it to
the weekday Masses, I would suggest at least reading the Epistle and Gospel each
day in your Missal—the Lenten Masses offer a variety of Scripture readings
that you will not hear during the rest of the year.
If you were at Mass on Ember Wednesday you heard Saint
Matthew’s account of the Gospel we just read from Saint Luke’s writing.
The two are complimentary and I am going to borrow a few of Matthew’s details
in order to better explain what Luke wrote.
On this occasion our Lord healed a man who was unable to
see or to speak.
Certainly, this was an impressive miracle in itself—something that, of itself,
was strong proof of our lord’s divine mission. But, almost immediately,
the Pharisees attempted to discredit our Lord. You may remember that the
Pharisees were the descendants of the Jewish family that fought and sometimes
died so that the Law of Moses might be kept in Jerusalem while it was under
foreign occupation by the successor kingdoms of Alexander the Great, roughly 150
years before Christ. But by the time of Christ, their devotion to the Law
became one of appearances, quite foreign to the intent and spirit of the Law.
These were the men we heard about on Ash Wednesday, and just this past Tuesday,
“the hypocrites, that love to stand and pray in the synagogues and corners
of the streets, that they may be seen by men ... the men who widen their
prayer bands and the tassels of their cloaks, and take the first seats at dinner
and in the synagogue, and demand to be called ‘master’ or ‘teacher.’”
Although these Pharisees had just witnessed the miraculous healing of the dumb
and blind man, they demanded of our Lord, “We must see a sign”—something
glorious and spectacular that would prove our Lord’s authority—something
more flashy than healing a poor man—something like the trick photography of
But our Lord bluntly told them that there would be no sign
for them, other than “the sign of Jonas.” There would be no flashing
lights or great noises or whatever spectacle it was that they wanted—their
only sign would be the sign of the man who “spent three days and three
nights in the belly of the fish”—their sign would be the “three
days and three nights that [Jesus] the Son of Man would spend in the heart of
Then He went further. He contrasted the Pharisees,
who considered themselves to be the pride of the chosen people, with some of the
gentiles of the Old Testament. He demonstrated that some non-Jews
had an outlook far superior to these chosen ones.
The first were the Ninivites, residents of a very sinful
ancient city in north-eastern Babylon, to whom God sent Jonas to preach
repentance—and they did repent, in sack cloth and ashes. Of
these, our Lord said, “The men of Ninive shall rise in judgment with this
generation, and shall condemn it: because they did penance at the preaching of
Jonas. And behold one greater than Jonas is here.”
The Ninivites would condemn the generation of the Pharisees, who were too blind
to see that Jesus was far greater than Jonas.
Our Lord also compared the Pharisees to the Queen of the
South—the Queen of Sheba—most likely the ruler of modern day Ethiopia and
Yemen—territories on both sides of the Red Sea, where it narrows into the Gulf
of Aden. You may recall that she traveled to Jerusalem because she just
had to observe the fabled wisdom of King Solomon for herself. Again, our
Lord said: “The queen of the south shall rise in judgment with this
generation, and shall condemn it: because she came from the ends of the earth to
hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold a greater than Solomon here.”
Just like the Ninivites, the Queen of Sheba would condemn the Pharisees for
resisting the greatness of Jesus—far greater than either Jonas or Solomon, or
If I may digress, there is a lesson for us in this.
We know that by Baptism we have been made capable of the eternal happiness of
union with God. We can, quite reasonably, speak of ourselves as God’s
new chose people. But we must never make the mistake of those chosen
Pharisees. It is not enough just to be a Catholic. Not enough to
display a big Rosary of a big Crucifix. Not enough to appear to be
praying. Not enough to be seen doing good works. We
must “hear the word of God and keep it.” Our Catholicism must be at
least as internal as it is external. Like the Ninivites we must do
penance; like the Queen of the South we must seek God’s wisdom.
Now, coming back to the Pharisees, we see that they were
furious in being compared unfavorably to these gentiles—so much so that
they insisted that our Lord was able to work miracles only because He was in
league with the devil! Obviously this was foolishness, spoken only in
jealousy, for the devils can be counted upon to support other devils in doing
evil—not in putting each other to flight—not in lessening the misery they
work on mortal men and women.
Again, there is a lesson for us. “He who is not
with Me is against Me; he who does not gather with Me scatters.”
Just as the devils do not frustrate evil by fighting against one another,
Christians must not frustrate good by fighting amongst themselves. Indeed,
there is an obligation to not just sit back, but to actively pursue the goodness
of God in this world; an obligation not just to hear the word but to
keep it—for “he who does not gather, scatters.”
Our Lord spoke about the devil being driven out, only to
return with devils more evil than himself. Saint Cyril, who became bishop
of Alexandria (in Egypt, just west of the Nile delta) in 412 AD, explains
that our Lord was again directing His remarks against the Pharisees: Their
ancestors had been taken captive and made slaves in Egypt, but God Himself
intervened. Protecting His chosen people from the plagues by sprinkling
the blood of the Passover lamb, God took them out of bondage in Egypt to freedom
in the promised land. Saint Cyril suggests that the Pharisees, even though
they had the Law of Moses, had returned to the slavery of sin, for they failed
to live by the intent and spirit of the Law, keeping only its appearances.
Obviously, we can learn from this that we must always be on
guard against sin. We have the true Faith, we have the true Sacraments,
but it is still possible for us to fall from grace if we are careless or
presumptuous of God’s grace and protection. If I may repeat, we must both
hear the word of God and keep it.
Finally, we must understand that our Lord, in no way,
denigrated His Blessed Mother by correcting the woman who spoke of her as being
blessed. Accidents of birth do not make one holy. To be a blood
relative of Christ, even to be His Mother, was not the source of holiness.
His Mother was holy precisely because she heard the word of God and kept
it—“behold the handmaiden of the Lord, be it done to me according to thy
Or, if I may close with the words Saint Matthew uses in
this account: “And stretching forth his hand towards his disciples,
Jesus said: Behold my mother and my brethren. For whosoever shall do the
will of my Father, that is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and
Or quite simply: “Blessed are those who hear the word of
God and keep it.”