Saint Martin of Tours – Readings

Commentary on Isaiah 61:1-3; Psalm 88; Matthew 25:31-40

The Gospel reading is from Matthew. It is from the part of this gospel which deals with the end times (chapts 24-25). In chapter 25 there are the three great parables about being prepared for the day, after we have left this world, when we have to meet the Lord and give an account of our stewardship.

The first parable is that of the 10 bridesmaids, five of them sensible and five foolish. Because the groom was long in coming, the foolish girls did not have a enough oil and, when they went to get more, the groom arrived. The sensible girls entered the marriage hall with him while the others were shut out. They hear the terrible words:

Truly I tell you, I do not know you. (Matt 25:12)

The second parable is that of the talents. Three employees are given large sums of money (a talent was a huge amount) and told to trade with them until the master returns. Two of them do very well and double their capital – their master is very pleased. The third one, afraid of the consequences if he lost his capital, did nothing with it and, when the master returned, gave it back to him intact. The master was not at all pleased, and the man is severely reprimanded. The message is clear. The gifts that God has given us are to be used for the benefit of others.

The third parable (today’s Gospel) is the scene of the Last Judgement when all will be called to account for their service of the Lord. What is most striking about this passage is that there is absolutely no mention of the kinds of things that most of us Catholics think are important. No mention of religious duties, time given to prayer, attendance at Mass, celebration of the other sacraments. Not a word about the Ten Commandments. Not a word about killing, sexual misbehaviour, or stealing. People will be punished and banished not because of the bad things they have done, but because of the good things they did not do. “But I did nothing!” will not help as an excuse.

And the only good things mentioned are loving and caring acts directed at people who are in need. The only people mentioned are the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick and those in prison (for whatever reason). “I was hungry…I was thirsty…I was naked…I was sick…I was in prison and you did nothing to help or comfort me. Go away from me forever! I do not recognise you!”

Of course, we were warned by Jesus. What is the mark of a good Christian?

I give you a new commandment…Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me…By this will all know that you are my followers, that you have a caring love for each other.

It is on this that we have to examine our consciences. It is on this we will have to answer at the end of our lives. All the other ‘religious’ things we are told to observe have no value unless they are an expression of this agape-love.

The choice of gospel today is obviously inspired by the famous gesture of Martin when, as a soldier, he cut his cloak in half and gave one part to a near naked beggar. That night in a dream Jesus appeared to him, wearing the half cloak. What Martin had done for the beggar, he had done for Jesus himself. And it is the same for every loving act we do, especially to a person in need.

The First Reading is from Isaiah. It is a magnificent passage which reflects wonderfully the life of Martin. It begins with words used by Jesus himself at the beginning of his public life and found in Luke’s gospel. After his baptism and experience with the devil in the desert, Jesus went to the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth and, essentially, made what we would call today his ‘mission statement’:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn…

These words are echoed in today’s Gospel passage.

Later on in the passage from Isaiah, the Lord, speaking through his prophet, says:

For I, the Lord, love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing…

These words, which Jesus used to describe his mission and to indicate that the prophet’s words were being fulfilled in him, are also applicable to Martin the bishop and pastor.

And at the end, the prophet himself says:

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my whole being shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness…

Martin, as bishop was outstanding for his love and concern for the poor, for his personal austerity of life, for his integrity and deep spirituality. He is indeed a model for every bishop, for every priest and indeed for every Christian who is aware of their responsibility to share their God-given gifts with others.

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