Commentary on the Gospel of

Andy Alexander, S.J.-Creighton University's Collaborative Ministry Office

The heart of the gospel today is about who Jesus is for us. The answer: He is the one who heals us. There are, however, cynics, hypocrites, even very religious people, who do not want to accept that Jesus is our healer. In this gospel the very religious Pharisees want the people to believe Jesus is the devil in disguise. They didn't want people to be moved that Jesus just healed a very troubled person, so they demonized him. They'll say or do anything to discredit Jesus, who challenges the very premise of their religious identity - that their claim to righteousness comes from their closeness to the law. (In the first reading, Paul tells the Galatians something quite different.) They will be hard-hearted and lack compassion or mercy. They will lie and deceive, and lead others astray. They claim to be good, and holy, because they obey the letter of the law.

Later in this gospel, Jesus will tell his followers, "I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:20) He also said, "Go and learn the meaning of the words,‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13, quoting Hosea 6:6 ) It is no wonder the most religious, exteriorly, didn't like Jesus at all.

We simply must face a conversion in our religious culture and learn to stop demonizing others, and somehow calling it "religious." We can become so zealous sometimes that we sacrifice the heart of it all. We can become a terrible distortion of what it is to be a follower of Jesus. He came to heal and not to condemn. He came to free, rather than to further bind with caricature and mockery. He came to rescue us sinners and to heal our wounds and to set our hearts free to love. He came to build community among us by sending us his own Spirit - the community binder. He came to set our hearts on fire with gratitude and a love like his - self-forgetful and self-sacrificing. He came not that people might say, "See how they shove one another," but that we might be a witness of love. "I give you a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34f) Our goal is that people will say, "See how they love one another."

This all bring us to the question about what is the way we can better re-start on the path to conversion and a renewed way of being his disciples - loving rather than demonizing. It starts with letting ourselves be healed and renewed by his love for us. When I remember how he has loved me, over and over, as I have been an unreliable disciple, over and over again, then a sense of gratitude can grow in my heart. I can't love unconditionally unless I have felt it, known it, and given great thanks for the experience of it. My times of obedience to this or that law is not saving me. I am saved by the mercy of our God. I never deserve it or earn it. He loves me because I need loving. Receiving, accepting and cherishing that kind of love will change my heart. It will soften it and allow me to see those sinners around me differently. They, too, need love and the mercy that flows from it. We can ask, "Well, shouldn't I condemn evil? Shouldn't I stand for something in the midst of this crazy and very evil world?" Yes, we should stand up for justice in the face of evil. But, that doesn't mean we condemn the evil doer. It doesn't mean we lose compassion or become indifferent to those who suffer. It doesn't mean we form divisive camps against the other. It doesn't mean our hearts become filled with "opposition" and "fighting." It means we become bridge builders, reconcilers, unifiers, finding the path toward the common good together. The Spirit who blessed our own hearts with Jesus' promised peace will show us the way to togetherness and solidarity, which looks and feels like the way of Jesus, and the way of his disciples.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful.

And kindle in us the fire of your love.

Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created.

And you will renew the face of the earth.

May we join you in renewing the face of the earth.


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