Septuagesima Sunday - Third Sunday before Ash Wednesday

Matthew 22:01-17



For some time past, the Church has engaged in putting before us the mysteries connected with the infancy and the childhood of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Then she passed from the great sights and wonders that took place around His cradle, and gave just one picture of the obscure life at Nazareth, of which the gospel history has left so scant a record that all we know of that sacred home, and the sanctity the flourished in it, is comprised in this; that Jesus spent thirty years in obedience and subjection to those creatures of His, whom He had selected for the sacred office of cherishing His blessed childhood, and His divine youth.

But now, the church turns to that other and more conspicuous portion of the life of our Lord, when He left His quiet home, and came forth to fill so large a place in the public life of Judea, and to occupy so much of the attention of the Jews, to whom the tidings of salvation were, in the order of God’s Providence, to be first made known.

And the Gospel I have read for you takes up His history at the moment when Hew came down from the mountain, after delivering to the enraptured ears of the multitude tat heard Him, that collection of precepts whose heavenly wisdom has since become the light and life of the world, and has been known to all men under the name of the Sermon on the Mount.  That discourse – that of itself would have been sufficient to proclaim the divinity of Him Who conceived it in His Sacred Heart, and uttered it with His sacred lips – that discourse in which He overthrew once for all and forever, the cherished opinions of the world, in which He proclaimed that not riches, nor glory, nor worldly success, but poverty, and meekness, and mortification led to that eternal happiness for which man was created.

And in its first words the Gospel tells us that a great multitude followed Him.

And these words, my brethren, have a larger meaning than might at first sight appear manifest, for they express, what is found to be a leading feature in the history of the public life of our Blessed Lord.  Those who held the high places of the world of His day, might and did look on Him with disfavor.  Scarcely had He been born but Herod sought His life.  The Pharisees might frown upon His teaching, the Scribes might cavil at His words, the respectable hypocrites of the time – who only asked to be let alone in their hypocrisy – might keep far away from the penetrating eye that searched down into their very souls, and from the voice that lashed them like a scourge; but the great mass of the simple people loved to listen to Him, and treasured up every word He said, and followed Him everywhere, and recognized in Him One Who had a heart large enough to love them all, and Who had in Him some divine treasure of wisdom and of power, that could lighten and lift off the burden of care, and sorrow, and sin that each day of their hard lives brought with it, as it came.

And, on this occasion, it was no wonder that they followed Him more eagerly than ever, for the discourse He had delivered was one calculated to stir and warm the very hearts within them.  It was in this discourse beyond all others, that the good tidings were preached to the poor, and the sorrow-stricken, and the suffering; and it was here, also, that those divine principles were laid down of mercy and of justice, that have lain, and shall always lie, at the very root of any real success that men or nations have ever had since the time of our Blessed Lord.

Our Lord chose this occasion to perform a miracle that will serve to express to us what is the first and most necessary effect that should at all times follow from the hearing of the Gospel.

The crowd pressed round our Lord; but there was one sorrow-stricken wretch who kept apart, and dare not come among the crowd.  The hand of a foul disease had touched him, and made him loathsome in the eyes of men.  Leprosy had eaten into his flesh, and spread its defilement over all his body – had rendered him not only disgusting, but dangerous – and friend and neighbor fled from his as a source of pestilence, and he lay by the wayside, desolate and alone.

But, even he had heard, sitting far apart, the murmur of the crowd, and the name of Jesus had been carried to his ear; and he gathered from rumor that this Man had been speaking as never man spoke before, and that His heart was very tender, and His words full of sympathy for those who suffered; and the poor wretch said to himself, “I will cast myself in His way, and ask Him to heal me.”

He had no doubt about the power of our Lord to heal him; he casts himself at His feet, and said these remarkable words: “Lord, if Thou wilt Thou canst make me clean.”  And our Lord replied in very memorable words.  He said: “I will, be thou clean.”  And, stretching forth His had,, He touched the leper, from whom others shrunk in disgust, and immediately the leprosy was cleansed.  Now, this disease of leprosy was a strong figure of sin, and of the direful effects of sin upon the human soul.

There is a leprosy which, though it inflicts no shock upon the eyes of men, is far more deadly than any leprosy that ever lighted bodily life by its defiling touch.  It is the leprosy of mortal sin, that seizes on the soul, and makes it loathsome to the eyes of God.  Men do not see it: the sinner may appear to-day as he appeared yesterday; the smile may linger still upon his lips, his voice have the same tone; those who see him oftenest and know him best may discern in him no change; but once he has committed a mortal sin a deadly change is there.  The glory of his life is faded; the splendor of his soul is gone; the whiteness of his innocence is tarnished, its purity breathed upon as by a blast from hell.  Let him laugh if he will, and be gay as if no doom hung over him; but I ask his very self – If his heart went silent now, if his life stopped short this instant, if God – the God Whose forbearance he has tried to a limit of which he can have no conception – were at this hour to send straight to his guilty heart the swift, sharp stroke of death – I ask him; What would be his doom for all the ages of eternity?

But whole life still lasts, God is merciful.  There is no lesson more plainly written upon the very face of all revelation than this – that the mercy of God is infinitely greater than any sin, and than all the sins by which men have ever abused it.  There is nothing I believe about God more firmly than I believe about His infinite mercy.  He has always been saying – what Jesus said in the Gospel – “I will”  -  “I will not the death of the sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live.”:  He left many a description of Himself in the Old Testament, all tending to this – that His one desire was to have mercy upon any sinner who desired His mercy.  To Moses He said  - speaking about the sinner – “If he cry to Me I will hear him, because I am compassionate.”  And, giving commission to Ezekiel, God said: “Son of man, say to the children of Israel: Thus have you spoken, saying, Our iniquities and our sins are upon us, we pine away in them, how, then, can we live?  Say to them: As I live, saith the Lord God, I desire not the death of the sinner, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.  Turn ye, turn ye, from your evil ways; and why will you die, O House of Israel?  The wickedness of the wicked shall not hurt him, in what day soever he turn from his iniquities.”  And through the Prophet Isaiah He said: “I your sins be as red as scarlet, they will be made white as snow; and if they be red as crimson, they shall be made white as wool.”

So had God described Himself in the Old Testament; and at least, the mercy of which He had spoken became incarnate in the Divine Person of Jesus Christ.  Behold Him in the Gospel!  Who was ever so merciful to the sinner as He?  Why, He has made His very Gospel a biography of sinners of all classes.  He was fond of going amongst them, and earned the reproach of the Pharisees, as being a Man who ate with publicans and sinners.  And His answer to their reproach – what was it?  It is found in the parables of the lost sheep, and the good shepherd, and the prodigal son.  Or, take a very memorable instance of His ways of dealing with sinners.  There was a woman in Jerusalem who womanhood had been degraded by a life of sin.  Her open iniquity brought ablush to the cheek of the pure, and a sneer to the lip of the uncharitable.  Her sin was open before the world; and in the spring of her young life, in the bloom of all her wondrous beauty, she stood alone, a mark of scorn to the scornful, of deepest pity to the compassionate.  And in the midst of her excesses she heard of Jesus.  She heard of His power, and His wisdom, and His miracles; and she felt her sin-worn heart grow hot within her at the stories of His tenderness towards the fallen.  And a great change came over her, and a great purpose gathered in her breast; and she, too, polluted though she was, would go to Jesus.  And she found Him as He sat at the feast of a Pharisee; and undeterred by the shrinking of the righteous, never heeding the scorn of the scornful, regardless of the taunt of the malicious – caring nothing for the bitter word, or for the look that can cut deeper than a word or than a blow – she ran the gauntlet of their eyes, and before they divined her purpose she had fallen on her knees, and her hot tears fell upon the feet of Jesus.  And not a Pharisee of them all but thought that He would spurn her as she knelt.  “Surely,” they said, “He knoweth what manner of woman this is – that she is a sinner.”  And their indignation swelled into a murmur when His eyes looked down compassionately on the weeping penitent At least, as if forced by their murmurs, He opens His mouth to pronounce her sentence.  And what was it?  “Because she hat loved mush, much also is forgiven her: woman, go in peace, thy sins are forgiven.”

And she went in peace; and she became the companion of Mary Immaculate.  And wherever Jesus was, there also was found Mry the Penitent; and she stood beneath the Cross, and shared His dying glance with His mother and His beloved disciple; and she sits at His feet to-day, as if to remind Him of the mercy which He has pledged Himself to show to sinners. This was His way of treating penitent sinners; and His way has never changed from that hour to this.