JULY 16, 2005 HOMILY: EXODUS 12: 37-42; MATTHEW 12:14-21

Jesus healed the man with a withered hand and "The Pharisees went out and took counsel against him, how to destroy him." There is surely something amiss here, our instinct tells us. How can it be that such a gracious good deed, performed freely with nothing gained in the doing save the welfare of an unfortunate creature, be the occasion for such mortal hatred? Yet experience reflected on reveals to us that such a reaction is far from being unique in its kind. Fear, jealousy, envy, avarice, lust, ambition, resentment and still other additional emotions and attitudes have led to acts of injustice and even murder with dismaying regularity in the course of known history. Kings have murdered their own children, men their wives, friends have betrayed friends under the influence of one or other of these all too human passions. Our repugnance in the face of such crimes leads us to distance ourselves from the perpetrators. Such disgust is a sign of health, in fact, and is shared by all persons who are well disposed.

However, if we look more closely at the persons who have acted under such influence, we can learn a good deal about our self and how we function. The Pharisees, who were involved in this instance and who eventually succeeded in their desire of getting rid of Jesus, were men of great dedication and learning. They took their duty as they saw it most seriously; they regularly made extra efforts to assure they did not transgress the law even unwittingly. So passionate was their attachment to the law and traditions of their fathers in the faith that they fashioned their whole way of life in view of maintaining all its many demands, obeying the 613 commandments it traditionally prescribed.

What went wrong then that they ended by rejecting the one God sent to reconcile them to Himself, thinking, as they did so, they were rendering service to God? It would be long to attempt to indicate the full answer to this question, and it is utterly impossible to ascribe the same causes to each individual concerned. But it is evident that what they all share with each of us is that our perceptions of others and of events are in large measure a result of our values, our hopes, our desires and other inner states of soul and heart. We too are subject to our hidden attitudes and values; we too perceive our world, interpret our dealings with others in keeping with the inner dispositions of our heart. And we do this all the more when we are unaware of such influence. It commonly seems to us at the time we act we are justified in our reaction because of what we perceive as the obvious fault of the other.

Only by strenuous effort can we come to recognize the color we put on events, the interpretation we give to behavior and words in an objective fashion when such matters do not fall out as we feel is just and right. The effort to arrive at such clarity of self-knowledge is a major feature of Christian life. It is a condition for arriving at a deeper, purer prayer that is capable of receiving the light of Godís truth. Truly, the work of the heart, as monks of an earlier generation referred to such self knowledge and the effort to make use of it to put off selfish interests, is essential for a life lived in love in search of truth. In fact, it would seem to be the most important work any one can engage in. Perhaps that is the lesson of todayís Gospel; it certainly is the meaning of the Eucharist we offer and the communion with our Lord that we enter into in this holy sacrament.


Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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