Wednesday, September 2, 2009

I trust in the mercy of God for ever!

First Reading
Colossians 1:1-8

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother: To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace and peace to you from God our Father.

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints— the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God's grace in all its truth. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.

Responsorial Psalm

Psalm 52:10,11

R. I trust in the mercy of God for ever.

I, like a green olive tree
in the house of God,
Trust in the mercy of God
forever and ever.

R. I trust in the mercy of God for ever.

I will thank you always for what you have done,
and proclaim the goodness of your name
before your faithful ones.

R. I trust in the mercy of God for ever.

Luke 4:38-44

Jesus left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon. Simon's mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her. So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them.

When the sun was setting, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them. Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, "You are the Son of God!" But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Christ.

At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. But he said, "I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent." And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.

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Paul begins his letter to the people of Colossae in the style that was usual in those days: He identifies himself; he addresses the people to whom the letter is addressed; he gives them greetings.

Paul describes himself as “an apostle of Christ Jesus”. An apostle is someone whom God sends to bring the Good News of the gospel to a new community, or someone who is sent to a newly formed community as its leader. No one simply decides to become an apostle, but is called by God. It is a calling, or, to use the Latin-based word, a “vocation”. Paul includes in his greeting Timothy, who often accompanied him on his apostolic journeys. He addresses this letter “to the holy and faithful brothers and sisters who live at Colossae.” His greeting to them offers them “grace and peace”. Grace a gift God grace to each of His children at the first moment of our existence. Grace is a gift, which we do not deserve and cannot earn; “sanctifying” grace (grace that makes us holy) is the life of God within us. Throughout our lives, God continues to grant us gifts of “actual grace” (grace to guide our actions) to help us to do what is good, and to resist temptation to do wrong.

Pau gives thanks to God for the people of Colossae who will read this letter, and prays that they will grow in the faith, hope and love which God has granted to them. It was Epaphras who told Paul about the Christians at Colossae, which suggests that Paul has never visited this city before. The apostle comments the people of Colossae for having believed, and for putting their faith in Jesus. As a result of their faith, they have learned to love one another. Love, as the word is used here, is not a feeling, not an emotion, but an act of the will – a decision – to treat other people as we want to be treated, and beyond that, to put our petition in the Lord’s Prayer into action in our lives: “Forgive others their offenses as we would want the Lord to forgive ours”.

The Christians at Colossae had been taught the Way of Jesus by Epaphras, but they strayed, and started listening to false teachers, so Paul reminds them of the true message of the gospel. So, in this letter, Paul emphasizes that what Epaphras had taught them is true, and what they have heard from others is false. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is love, and the Christians are called to bear fruit, in love, and truth, as they have learned from Epaphras, who has been a faithful messenger of Christ to the people of Colossae, and a trustworthy reporter from them to Paul.


Commenting on the text of this gospel (Luke 4:38-44), Saint Cyril of Alexandria wrote: Although he was able to perform these miracles by a word and a movement of his will, yet to teach us something useful for us he also lays his hands upon the sick.” That “something useful” was the incarnation of the Word of God. Dominican Father Donagh O’Shea comments “If this wasn't a main pillar of the Christian faith, it would be called ‘New Age’ by many people now.”

Luke’s account of the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law is the only one which does not mention physical contact, as the other versions do. “He took her by the hand and lifted her up” (Mark 1:31), “He touched her hand” (Matt. 8:15)

When we look back at the early Christian heresies, many of them seem grounded in a denial of the Incarnation. Docetism (from the Greek dokeo, to seem) appears about 70 AD. It held that Jesus was a pure spirit and only seemed to have a physical body. This attitude shows a problematic attitude toward the body: the body is the primary ground of shame, and some found it unthinkable that the Logos (the Word of God) be contaminated by dwelling in a human body.

St Cyril, on the other hand, wrote about “the holy flesh which Jesus had made his own [in the Incarnation] and which was endowed with the power of the Word.” The Apostle to the Gentiles had written, “The body is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (1 Cor 6:13); and again, “Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 6:19).

Of course, our own bodies are temples in less than perfect condition – in need of repair. Through sin, the body becomes a temple that tries to expel the Lord of Life. Ancient commentators tended to see all the sicknesses mentioned in the gospels as symbols of sin. Writing about Peter’s mother-in-law’s fever, St Jerome wrote, “Each one of us is sick with a fever. Whenever I give way to anger, I have a fever. There are as many fevers as there are faults and vices.”

Preachers in the past tended to dwell rather a lot on guilt and shame as techniques for driving us to repentance. The trouble with that is that it separated us from Christ at the very time when we needed his contact most. Certainly we knew we could confess our sins later; but if we had known sooner the touch of his hand Confession might not have seemed such a juridical thing. The result is that many older people have such a legacy of guilt that when you speak to them about the healing power of Christ their eyes show nothing at all, their torment is all frozen over. Jesus didn't wait till the woman was standing up; “he lifted her up.” We need to feel the Lord’s touch while we are still laid low by our sins.

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