Friday July 13, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Genesis 46:1-7, 28-30) Gospel (St. Matthew 10:16-23)
In the Gospel reading, Our Lord tells us that He is sending us out like sheep among wolves. When we look at the first reading it is precisely the same thing that we see. He takes His chosen people Israel, seventy people strong, and sends them into Egypt. Egypt was the name of one of the sons of Ham. Israel goes from the land of Canaan, in which they were practicing lots of idolatry, and goes into the land of Egypt, which was one of the enemies of Israel and was also practicing idolatry. The Lord literally is sending His people like sheep among the wolves.
But we know that the very purpose for doing this is to strengthen them. They ultimately will despoil Egypt and then they will go and take over the land of Canaan when they are strong enough to destroy the idol worship that was going on there. In Canaan, they were actually sacrificing their little babies to a demon. At that point, there were not enough of the people of Israel to be able to execute judgment against the Canaanites so God brought them down into Egypt.
Something that we would not necessarily know just by reading this is that they go to the land of Goshen, which was the finest area in the land of Egypt. In other words, what God had already done was to set this up so His people were going to be hated. Just think of it: Suppose there is an area of Minnesota that has the richest farmland and the most wonderful things and somebody came in and settled there; that is exactly what happened. Of all the area of Egypt, the Israelites got the very best. The native people, of course, were going to be upset. Here they are in this land of Egypt and some foreigners come in and get the best. But that is God's way of setting things up. And He tells Jacob that not only will He go with him into Egypt but also He will bring him back out of Egypt (He did not tell him it was going to be 400 years later; but, nonetheless, He did bring him back out of Egypt). But He did not bring Him back out until he had become a great nation, not until it was time.
You see, in order to understand this, you have to go back to Noah. Remember that Noah had three sons. Shem was given the land of Israel, but his younger brother Ham did not like that idea. Ham wanted to be the first-born and have all the things that the first-born was to receive. Then Ham had his own sons, Canaan and Egypt. So, Egypt and Canaan were brothers. They had usurped the land that God had promised to Shem. All of a sudden, you see the Israelites, who are Shemites because they are the sons of Shem (which is why today they would also be called Semites), now put into the land of Canaan, which was promised to them. But they are not strong enough to be able to take it, so God puts them down into another land of Ham - into Egypt, the son of Ham.
Again, what you see is that God is going to reverse the way things were. He allowed the enemy, in essence, to take over and He puts His chosen people in like sheep among the wolves. Then, He fulfills His promise.
The same is going to be true for us. When we look at the promises God has made to us in Baptism and Confirmation, and all the promises He has made to us in Scripture, they will all be fulfilled; but not necessarily the way we expect them to be fulfilled. That is the part we have to be careful of. Right now, we are the sheep among the wolves. If you look at the neo-paganism that is going on in our society and the worship of false gods that is running rampant, we are sheep among wolves. We need to be very careful that we do not become like the wolves but that we are, indeed, as innocent as lambs but as clever as serpents.
We see the cleverness of the way God works. What looks like something that is utterly impossible becomes precisely the means by which God turns things around. When you read the Scriptures, that is the way it works over and over again. God will provide for us and He will take care of us, but that does not mean he is going to make things overly easy for us. We need to be very careful to see the pattern and recognize that that is the way He is going to work in our lives, as well. It is the way He will make us strong in our faith - by making us stand up for it, by making us live it, by making us love the faith so much that when we see the false stuff that is out there, we will reject it and have the strength to stand against it and do what is right. That is what it is to be the sheep among the wolves.
We see what God has done with His chosen people. Why would we expect it to be any different for His chosen people of today? He gives us what it is that we need. He has sent us like sheep among the wolves and He has commanded us how to live in that situation: to be as innocent as doves and as clever as serpents.
Note: Father Altier does not write his homilies in advance, but relies solely upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.