June 30. Saturday of Week Twelve
(option: First Martyrs of the Church of Rome)
Lam. 2:2ff. A survivor of Jerusalem’s destruction chants the mournful tones of the Book of Lamentations.
Matt 8:5ff. Jesus cures the centurion’s serving boy and Peter’s mother-in-law, because “it was our infirmities that he bore.”
A Compassionate Heart
Well before he fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy of the suffering servant by his death on the cross, Jesus had been living out the prophetic words by his daily responses to people. It seems he could not pass by a sick person, without being moved to compassion. The one asking for help might be a foreigner, even one of the despised Roman occupation force, or a leper, a poor widow, a demented person roaming the countryside or a close friend like Peter’s mother-in-law. It made no difference, the nationality, the sex, the social level, the mental or moral condition. What mattered was human misery which became a burden on the heart of Jesus.
Jesus looked for trusting faith as the condition for a cure, an attitude missing among the people of his home town of Nazareth where he could work very few miracles (Mark 6:5). Through his miracles he came to be known most of all as a man of compassion, reaching out to suffering people. As we read in Isaiah, he was “accustomed to infirmity” because the sick gravitated towards him. Many passages from Isaiah 53 read like a commentary on the public ministry of Jesus.
He aligned himself with a long biblical tradition, in which God’s servants were conspicuous for their attention towards strangers and sinners, towards the sick and defenseless. Today, we read how Abraham could not let travellers pass by his tent without bathing their feet and then satisfying their hunger with a special banquet. They in turn could not pass by the lonely sterility of Abraham and Sarah’s marriage, and so they promised that a child would be conceived by the aged couple.
We also read from the poignant Book of Lamentations. The bitter grief, the wrenching trial of faith, the seeming betrayal of divine promises for Jerusalem and the Davidic dynasty, all of these reactions to the destruction of the Holy City become the inspired word of God. “Pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord; Lift up your hands to him for the lives of your little ones.” These sorrowful lines not only describe the healing ministry of Jesus but also the inmost feeling of the eternal Father throughout Old Testament history.
First Reading: Lamentations 2:2, 10-14, 18-19
The Lord has destroyed without mercy all the dwellings of Jacob; in his wrath he has broken down the strongholds of daughter Judah; he has brought down to the ground in dishonour the kingdom and its rulers. The elders of daughter Zion sit on the ground in silence; they have thrown dust on their heads and put on sackcloth; the young girls of Jerusalem have bowed their heads to the ground.
My eyes are spent with weeping; my stomach churns; my bile is poured out on the ground because of the destruction of my people, because infants and babes faint in the streets of the city. They cry to their mothers, “Where is bread and wine?” as they faint like the wounded in the streets of the city, as their life is poured out on their mothers’ bosom.
What can I say for you, to what compare you, O daughter Jerusalem? To what can I liken you, that I may comfort you, O virgin daughter Zion? For vast as the sea is your ruin; who can heal you? Your prophets have seen for you false and deceptive visions; they have not exposed your iniquity to restore your fortunes, but have seen oracles for you that are false and misleading.
Cry aloud to the Lord! O wall of daughter Zion! Let tears stream down like a torrent day and night! Give yourself no rest, your eyes no respite! Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches! Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord! Lift your hands to him for the lives of your children, who faint for hunger at the head of every street.
Gospel: Matthew 8:5-17
When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.” And the servant was healed in that hour.
When Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever; he touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she got up and began to serve him.
That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.”