Saturday, January 13, 2007

Saturday in the First Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Submitting to the Surgeon

Readings: Hebrews 4:12-16; Psalm 19:8, 9, 10, 15; Mark 2:13-17

The word of God is something alive and active…

The first reading and the gospel, read so closely one after the other, bring a particular image to my mind. In the first reading the word of God is compared to a double-edged sword so sharp that it can even slip through the place where the joints are divided from the marrow. And in the gospel, Jesus compares himself to a doctor who is needed only by those who are sick. These two images – the sharp sword and the doctor – merge in my mind to form the picture of a surgeon performing surgery with a very sharp scalpel. And this is no ordinary surgeon. Nor is it a minor routine day-surgery that he performs. This surgeon is the very Word-of-God-made-flesh and what is at stake in the surgery is nothing less than eternal life. For isn’t this yet another image of what we have been considering this whole week: how the God who comes to us at Christmas leads us to life? Yes, this is an image of what we proclaimed in the response to the psalm today: your words are spirit Lord, and they are life.

But what do I do with this image of a surgeon? What are my reactions to it? And how can I relate to it in such a way that I too might be brought to life?

I need first to consider what I should not do, a temptation I need to avoid. Too often, and too easily, whenever I encounter the Word of God, I too quickly think of myself as the surgeon wielding the scalpel. I too easily try to apply what I’m hearing to others, to judge their secret emotions and thoughts. And I do this mostly by focusing on their perceived shortcomings and failings, much like the scribes of the Pharisee party do in the gospel today. When they encounter Jesus, the Word-of-God-made-flesh their first reaction is to judge others. Not only do they judge the tax-collectors and sinners, but they even presume to judge Jesus himself. I’m reminded of the story of the person who approaches the preacher to congratulate him. That was a wonderful sermon Father, she said, practically everything you said applies to someone else whom I know.

I know I need to avoid this reaction, because when I use the double-edged sword that is the Word-of-God to judge others not only do I harm them, but I also harm myself. I deprive others and myself of the life-saving surgery that we need. Indeed, isn’t this why I judge in the first place? Isn’t my judging often a defense mechanism, something I use to resist undergoing the surgery that I need?

Instead of thinking of myself as a surgeon, when I do encounter the Lord I need first to play the role of patient. I am the one who is sick. I am the one in need of medical attention. I need to allow the surgical Word of God to cut into me, to judge my secret emotions and thoughts. And when I do this, I discover what Levi discovers in the gospel today. The divine surgeon comes not so much to scold me for my failings but to set free and to call out the good that is in me, especially when it’s trapped in my own sinfulness and the bad opinions others may have of me. Let us be confident, then, in approaching the throne of grace, that we shall have mercy from him and find grace when we are in need of help.

Sisters and brothers, as we come to the end of this first week in Ordinary Time, how does the divine surgeon wish to save us today?

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