“Jesus, the Divine Physician, and Mary as Nurse: the Call to Sinners”
Rev. Br. Ignatius John Schweitzer, OP
Jesus came to call sinners. And what is about these sinners in today’s Gospel that makes them recipients of Jesus’ call? Well, to start with, we see they are set in contrast with some self-righteous Pharisees.
The hardened pride of these Pharisees makes them blind to their need for the Savior who stands in their midst. They are righteous in their own eyes and so are blind to the gift of righteousness sent from the Father. These sinners, on the other hand, know of their need to be saved and so are open to receiving the Savior. So it seems it is the humility of these sinners that is contrasted with the pride of these Pharisees.
There’s something to this contrast between humility and pride, but we need to be careful as we reflect further. For it seems that along these lines, we can tend to idealize the humility of this group of sinners. But here’s the catch. For most of us who are sinners, what most characterizes us as sinners is precisely our pride and lack of humility. We don’t quite fit the category of the humble sinner.
In fact, St Thomas, following the Book of Sirach, insists that pride is the beginning of all sin (ST I-II, q 84 a 2). Pride is what makes the sinner. So you see, in our Gospel, it’s not just that this group is proud and the other is humble, but something else is at work as well. And our text directs us to it.
Our Gospel begins with the call of Levi. He’s one of the sinners whom the Divine Physician came to heal. Jesus says to him the crucial words “Follow me.” And Levi rises, the text says, and follows him. The text then continues this theme of following Jesus as it speaks of the tax collectors and sinners who ate with him. It identifies what most characterizes these sinners, as it calls them “the many who followed him.” This phrase, “the many who followed him,” serves almost as a descriptive title of this group of sinners. And it is this readiness to follow Jesus that sets apart Levi and the other sinners from the Pharisees. They are ready to take the next step in their conversion. They are willing to cooperate with grace.
So even if pride is our ailment, we need not fall under the condemnation of the Pharisees, as long as we are willing to take the next step in having our pride cured. Whether, at a given moment, Jesus uses sweet medicine or bitter medicine, we must be ready to follow him and consent to his will, especially as this will is expressed through Providence. For, Jesus has a plan to cure each of us, whatever our faults may be. But a physician can heal a patient only when the patient submits to the treatment.
It’s when we no longer remember that there is a next step to take that we are in danger. Then the condemnation of the Pharisees may be quietly looming over our head.
But there’s always a next step. Even the sinless Virgin Mary increased in grace throughout her life. She never wasted a moment of time or an opportunity to cooperate with grace and expand her soul for God.
And so, steadily and serenely, Mary continued to grow in grace. Her contemplative insight penetrated more and more deeply each time she gazed into the mystery of God. Her charity blazed more and more intensely each time she loved God and her neighbor in God. In short, as the lowly handmaid of the Lord, Mary generously responded to the word of her Divine Master at each step in her life.
Of all Mary’s many titles, this is the one she chose for herself on earth: “I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy word” (Lk 1:38). Mary the servant, then, helps us to swallow the sometimes bitter pill of serving God and neighbor. If Christ is the physician, Mary is the nurse. And it’s precisely the pill of service that, among other things, helps to cure our pride. So we echo the lowly handmaid and pray with her: “I will follow the Lord, I will serve.”