There’s a battle going on right now. It is raging all around us in our society. It is raging in the Church.
Sounds dramatic, no?
What is this battle I refer to? It is the battle of tradition.
Our society has, over the years, developed traditions, ways in which we believe we should treat one another and live together. Not all those traditions are good, by the way. Some traditions are not so good and some are flat out wrong. Take, for example, traditions revolving around racism. For a long time in this country, we white folks had traditions based around a belief that people with brown skin were inferior to us and that they should serve us. In fairness, that belief and practice spans pretty much all of human history with groups of people treating each other in a wrong way but nevertheless, you get the point.
So too in the Church do we have traditions. Our traditions in the Church have been passed down for the better part of 2000 years, given to the Apostles by Christ and passed on to the Church down through the ages. Over the past 50-60 years, we have seen a lot of change, both in society and in the Church. We should expect society to change. We should not expect the Church to change, contrary to what the modernists want. Tradition is rooted in the person of Christ and His Apostles and we don’t get to change that now because we have Twitter or whatever. In fact, Tradition cannot change by its very nature.
I say all this because I am going to be taking a different approach to these weekly reflections on the readings for Mass. Rather than use the “new” lectionary promulgated in 1970, I have chosen to return to the readings for Mass from the 1962 Roman Missal. This Missal was compiled and has been largely unchanged since the 16th century and the Council of Trent. Why am I doing this? I am doing this not to be contrarian but merely to return to tradition. I’m not really sure why a new lectionary was needed but it is what it is. So, you will notice some changes, primarily that there will be very few “readings” from the Old Testament. I will be using OT texts, however.
So that was a long preamble to explain why these reflections will look different moving forward for a time. On that note, moving forward…
Our two primary readings today are the Epistle and Gospel reading.
Epistle: Romans 12:16-21
Gospel: Matthew 8:1-13
I feel like it should be noted that our Epistle text picks up in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans at a certain point in the letter. The first part of the letter (first 11 chapters) was spent laying out for the believers who they are in Christ. That’s a bit of an oversimplification but you get the point. Paul does this often; the first half of the letter is doctrinal, the second practical. In other words, Paul tells us who we are in Christ and then, in light of our salvation through Christ, how we are to live. This text is really no different. St. Paul has just spent 11 chapters telling us who we are in Christ, if we are indeed in Christ. In light of this truth, St. Paul now turns to more “practical” matters and how we are to live now. He goes into this list of attitudes and behaviors that are expected of the believers.
Providing good things.
Be at peace with all men if possible.
Don’t be vengeful or take revenge.
Be kind to your enemy.
Overcome evil with good.
We look at this and say, “You can’t be serious. I can’t do that.” In one sense, we’re right. We cannot live in the way we should without help. Don’t get me wrong, we can and should strive for this but if we’re honest, we often fall short. Doesn’t mean you don’t try. Just means that we need to recognize that our own efforts must be in light of and with the aid of the person of Jesus Christ. We bear a responsibility, in light of our faith, to live a certain way. On this, Holy Scripture and Christ Himself is very clear.
St. Paul lists for us some characteristics of a redeemed life. In our gospel reading, we get a real-life example of this from the ministry of Jesus. We read the story of a Roman centurion who comes to Jesus to ask for healing for a servant of his. Here we see a man who, though a Gentile, shows us the life that St. Paul says we are to live. Consider:
He was a man of authority, but he cares for his servant. He is therefore a humble man “not wise in his own conceits.”
He provides a good thing for his servant in asking for healing, which also goes hand in hand with his humility. He didn’t try to handle it himself but asked for help from the only source of help that he believed it would come.
His approach is one of peace. By law, he could demand that Jesus come with him but he did not. In fact, his humility is expressed more powerfully by him recognizing Jesus’ divine authority.
He helps to overcome the evil of the tyrannical oppression of Rome by his own goodness, stating. “I am not worthy that thou shouldst enter under my roof.”
This, then, is how we are to live if we are in Christ. A final note I want to pick up on that speaks to us of Another who lives in the manner put forth by the Apostle. In this, we also see Christ. Consider verse 5 of our gospel reading. A Roman centurion, a “pagan” vessel of oppression comes seeking Jesus. But he comes not for himself but for another. It reminds us of Proverbs 16:7 that even His enemies are at peace with him and, in this, we hear echoes of Isaiah 60.
This, then, is our supreme example. Christ is our example.
It is in Him that we find humility, even to death on a cross.
It is in Him that we are provided good things.
It is in Him that we live in peace, even with our enemies.
It is in Him that we lay rest our desire for vengeance.
It is in Him that we both receive and show kindness.
It is in Him that evil has been overcome with goodness and it is by His strength that we may also overcome the evil in our hearts and of our day with goodness.
Thanks be to God for His great provision for us in Christ!