Jesus confronts the Pharisees with God’s own perspective on what is needed to receive grace and salvation. The people demanded a temple in which to perform their liturgies and sacrifices – this was not God’s demand. God had something else in mind, but in His Providence He made provision for what the people thought they needed to render God fitting worship. “Will you build me a house?” The Law was given for instruction – it was never intended to be used against man. It was given so that he might see clearly the burden he carries – his sin, his mortality, his essential solitude before the Judge of all. It was given to make clear to man the difference between the ways of eternal life and death. The Law was never intended to become a refuge for the perfect, the proud, the strong, as a weapon of subjugation to be used against the weak and broken.
Jesus ushers in the final wave of salvation history. This last wave is the one in which the greatest number will be saved and find safe passage to the Kingdom of God. This wave is an overabundance of God’s grace characterized by His Mercy. To have Jesus – God in the flesh – as a man amongst men, living humbly yet profoundly, is an invitation to consider perfection in a completely new way. The holiness of God comes uncomfortably close to us in Jesus. Many of us, if we consider our sins and shortcomings, would rather not be sitting next to the one who knows it all and is able to condemn us for eternity. “Depart from me Lord for I am a sinful man!” said St. Peter. Receiving forgiveness from God is one thing, having Him over for dinner and sharing a glass of wine with Him radically upsets what we would naturally perceive as the proper boundaries between what is Holy and what is mundane. Jesus certainly taught His disciples, but He would also listen to them: not only when He asked them questions, but also when they would simply speak about their lives and experiences. Jesus’ preferred title was not “Master,” or “Lord,” but “friend.” Indeed, what makes Him the Divine Physician is His desire and intent to become friends with every man and woman who have ever existed. If we accept Jesus’ gesture of friendship, we can be healed, be made whole, receive forgiveness, and understand how great the good news really is.
Saint Maria Goretti is certainly striking for her heroic virtue of chastity, but what is perhaps even more striking is her forgiveness. Maria was not just relieved to have died without losing her virginity. What makes her witness fully Christian is the forgiveness she showed to her attacker. Her forgiveness was contagious to the point that even her own mother was able to forgive the man who stabbed her daughter to death. We could even say that her forgiveness merited the conversion and sanctification of her attacker. The attacks on purity, on innocence, on the weak, on the young and the vulnerable are so deplorable and awful. What is even more awful, however, is when the disgust at these crimes leads to the impossibility of offering forgiveness. The attempted rape and murder of a child turns a human being into a monster. Is there any way to redeem a monster? It takes the heart of a child, of a young girl who says, “I want him to be with me in heaven.” How could she want such a thing? Because she has seen the brokenness of humanity with the eyes of faith, through the gaze of Christ, and her heart is filled with God’s love: “Those who are well do not need a physician, the sick do.” We will all die: some will die as virgins, some will die as monsters. God’s grace, His mercy and forgiveness is able to heal and save all who approach Him with humility, contrition, and hope. Our place in heaven will be as large as the forgiveness our hearts find for those who offended us.