Sunday June 9, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Tenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Hosea 6:3-6) Reading II (Romans 4:18-25)
Gospel (St. Matthew 9:9-13)
In the Gospel reading today, we hear that Jesus saw Matthew sitting at the customs post and He said to Matthew, "Follow Me." Matthew immediately left everything behind; He got up and followed the Lord. We contrast this to what we hear at the end of the Gospel reading. The Pharisees saw that Jesus was there at the home of a tax collector and they said to His disciples, "Why does the teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" Jesus just looked at them and said, "Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘It is mercy I desire, not sacrifice.’"
We heard those words also in the first reading today from the Book of the Prophet Hosea. In that reading, God is speaking to the people through the prophet and He says to them, "In their affliction, people will say, ‘Let us know, let us strive to know the Lord; as certain as the dawn He is coming.’" So it is only in their affliction. But then the Lord condemns the people and He says to them that their piety is like the morning cloud, like the dew that passes early away. It is only after that, then, that He says, "It is love that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God more than holocausts." As precious as sacrifices and holocausts are to the Lord, far more precious are love and the knowledge of God.
What Matthew was doing was offering to Jesus an opportunity to be able to preach to the people who were the farthest away from God: the tax collectors and the sinners. But when the Pharisees saw them, in their self-righteousness, they complained and wondered why Our Lord would be with the sinners. Jesus responded that He came, not to call the self-righteous, but the sinners. We see that in making this statement to the Pharisees, "Go and learn the meaning of the words ‘It is mercy that I desire and not sacrifice,’" what they were willing to do was to sacrifice these people, to write them off. But the Lord was extending mercy to them. The Lord is showing them that their piety was like that morning dew, that it was impressive-looking on the outside but it was gone very quickly. As soon as there was any problem, it was gone.
That is the problem that so many of us have as well. We become like the Pharisees. We write off the people; we assume that because they have wandered from the Lord they are hopeless. We look around at the mess in the world today and we see all the sexual things, all the drugs, all the alcoholism, all the selfishness, all the paganism, all the problems out there. But we need to keep in mind that these people, like ourselves, have only one hope; they have only one means of salvation and that is Jesus Christ. They may be looking for salvation through some kind of pagan worship. They may think they have found freedom through drugs or alcohol or immorality of some sort. But we know, because of our faith in Christ, that they have become slaves to sin. They have not found freedom at all. The only means, the only hope, for their salvation is Christ. And so, we cannot simply write them off as being hopeless and stop praying for them and refuse to reach out to them.
Perhaps you have children in that situation, family members or friends who have gotten themselves into problems. I am not suggesting that you hang around with them lest you yourselves get dragged down into their sinfulness; but rather, that you keep the communication lines open, that you remind them of the Lord, that you point out to them the way to freedom so that the grace of God can touch their hearts and they will be able to turn to the Lord. It may be many years before they turn to Christ. But some day when they are down and out they will remember that you, out of charity, kept the lines of communication open, and that while you never once suggested that what they were doing was okay and you never advocated their actions and their way of life, nonetheless, you did not write them off. Rather, out of charity, out of mercy, you refused to sacrifice them, and instead, you reached out to them in love. It is that which the Lord is seeking.
When we couple that with what we hear in the second reading from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans, I think we can say that such things will be credited to us as righteousness. Abraham kept his faith in the Lord even when it seemed utterly impossible. Here was a man who was nearly 100 years old with a wife who was 90, and he trusted that God would fulfill His promise and that they would have a son. Saint Paul tells us that when it was written that this faith of his was credited to him as righteousness, it was not intended only for Abraham, but it was intended for us also to whom it will be credited, who believe in the One who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over for our transgressions and raised for our justification. If we believe in that, then we want others to believe as well. We want to bring that Good News of the forgiveness of sin, of the means of being justified, of the hope of eternal life, to others. We want to bring to them the hope that we ourselves have found. We want to bring to them the faith that the Lord has placed in our hearts so that they too will be able to believe in the One who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, that they will be able to get out of their wayward way of life and come back to the Shepherd of their souls.
But the only way, under normal circumstances, that that will happen is if somebody reaches out to them, if somebody is there holding out faith in the Lord to provide the grace as He has promised to do. Abraham believed even when it seemed impossible. The Lord has made promises that seem very, very difficult for us to believe: that our bodies will rise from the dead, that we will be able to live eternally with Him in Heaven, that He will give to us all the grace that is necessary for us to be able to be saved, that He will provide for all of our needs - on and on the promises go. Why, then, would we doubt that if we earnestly pray for these people and reach out to them that God will provide for them the grace to be able to return, to convert back to Him? It may be that they will reject that grace many times over. But Saint Paul, when he was stoned, when he was rejected, when he was ridiculed, got up and went right back into the town and began to preach Jesus Christ once again.
The Lord is looking for something similar from us. He wants us to live our faith in Him in our day to day life. We are to take Him out into the world and preach Him, not only by our words, but especially by our lives. We are to live lives of charity, lives that are rooted in faith and hope and love. We are to reach out to others and we are to bring them to Christ. We are to take this faith which the Lord has placed in our hearts and we are to bring it to others. Then it will be credited to us as righteousness. Then we will be living what Our Lord has asked. Our piety will not be like the dew that passes early away; but rather, we will have learned the meaning of the words "It is mercy that I desire and not sacrifice". We will recognize that we are sinners and that the Lord in His mercy has called us. Now in return, He asks that we, like Matthew, would follow Him and bring sinners to Him so that they too will be able to find what we have found, that is, faith in Jesus Christ, the Physician of our souls; the One who has come, not to call the righteous, but the sinners to repentance; the One who desires not sacrifice, but mercy.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.