Hammer and Pincers
(6th Ordinary Sunday: Sirach 15:15-20; 1 Corinthians 2:6-10; Matthew 5:17-37)
Among the most distinctive features of the Apparition of Our Lady of La Salette, as you well know, are the hammer and pincers on either side of the crucifix. We are used to seeing them attached to the cross, but in fact they were not.
People seeing these for the first time always ask what they mean. You are familiar with the traditional interpretation, but I think it might be more helpful to respond with another question. Supposing Mary simply showed herself to the children without saying a word, how would we understand her purpose?
Carpenters’ tools in and of themselves would have no special meaning. But, as they are associated with the Crucified One, they must have a connection with the Passion of Jesus. And they served opposite purposes.
It is no wonder that they have always been explained as calling us to choose between “life and death, good and evil,” as we read today in Sirach, who is paraphrasing Moses’ speech in Deuteronomy 30:15.
All of today’s readings are about choice. The psalmist chooses fidelity to God’s statutes; Paul has opted for “God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden;” and Jesus says four times, “You have heard... but I say to you,” demanding our allegiance to his teaching.
We tend to see choice as a moral question, and that is often the case. That is certainly the perspective of Sirach. It is easy to forget that the Sermon on the Mount is more demanding than the Commandments. That is what Jesus meant by saying, “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Still, what Sirach says is true: “No one does he command to act unjustly, to none does he give license to sin.” In other words, when we sin, it is because of our choice. There may be mitigating circumstances, of course, especially if we are not truly free.
That said, before any concrete decision there must be an underlying fundamental resolve: as disciples of Christ, to strive with all our heart to live by his word.
That is what the Beautiful Lady came to tell us. She put before us a choice: failure to submit, with its consequences, or conversion, with its benefits. Exact opposites, just like the hammer and pincers.
Fr. René Butler, M.S. and Wayne Vanasse