Thursday August 16, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Joshua 3:7-10a, 11, 13-17) Gospel (St. Matthew 18:21-19:1)
In the first reading today, we hear about Joshua leading the people of Israel across the Jordan and into the Promised Land. Just as they had come out of Egypt across the Red Sea (on their way to the Promised Land, 40 years earlier), so now the Lord is going to demonstrate, once again, that He is with Joshua and the people and they can trust Him. He has the priestly bearers of the ark wade out into the waters of the Jordan. Immediately, the Jordan dries up and separates from itself and the people are able to go across the Jordan on dry ground. God says, "This is the sign that you can count on to know that I am with you and I will dispossess the Canaanites." After 40 years of wandering in the desert and now seeing this happen, the people (we will see as we go along) refuse to believe in God. Joshua says, "This is how you will know that there is a living God in your midst."
When we look at the Gospel reading today, we can look back at what happened with Joshua and say: "As extraordinary as what happened at the Jordan was - as well as what happened at the Red Sea, in the ten plagues, in the desert, and all the other things that God did for the Israelite people - it pales in comparison to what He does for us every time we go to confession: He forgives our sins.
And He says to us: "This is how you will know that there is a living God in your midst - and what I do for you, you must do as well." So how many times must I forgive someone? As many times as you are forgiven yourself. How many times have I sinned against God? Then that is how many times I need to forgive others who have sinned against me. That, really, is what the Lord is pointing out.
Instead of saying: "This is how you will know that I am with you, and I will dispossess the Canaanites," He says: "This is how you will know that I am with you; and you, in turn, must practice what has been done for you. You will know that God is in your midst."
Unfortunately, in our humanness, we are very much like this man whose debt is forgiven. When we see somebody who owes us just a mere fraction of what we have done to God and we see that God has forgiven us, but we are unwilling to forgive others, we are just like the Israelites who see the mighty works of God and refuse to believe and to act upon what God has done. The Israelites crossed into the Promised Land and they still refused to believe that God was with them, would take care of them, dispossess the Canaanites, and give them the Promised Land. We are no different when we come out from the confessional and refuse to forgive others, doing exactly the opposite of what Our Lord has told us we need to do.
That is something we really need to work on because it is not easy, just as it was not easy for the Israelites. The first thing they will do is come upon Jericho, with its walls and fortifications; then, they go to all the other little cities in the area and they get afraid. They are not sure that God is going to work for them. It would be a difficult thing. Put yourself in that position and say, "We have to go to battle against all these different groups, all these kings that are going to unite against us?"
Well, you come out of the confessional and God says, "Now, go and forgive everybody that sinned against you." That is not an easy thing. But He is simply saying: "Do not just look at it on the natural level. If all you do is look at all these little cities that you have to face and all the kings, you are going to get afraid. If you look at Me, I will take care of it and there is no reason to be afraid. If all you do is look at the offenses that others have done against you, you are going to get angry and you are going to forget about forgiving them. But if you look at Me and how I have forgiven you, then you, in turn, will be able to forgive others." That is what He is asking from us: to do to others as it has been done to us by God and to make sure that we keep our eye on God and His mercy, so that we will be merciful as God has been merciful to us.
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.