Tuesday June 18, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (1 Kings 21:17-29) Gospel (St. Matthew 5:43-48)
Our Lord tells us in the Gospel reading that we are to love our enemies and to pray for our persecutors. Then He goes on to ask us very pointedly, "If you love those who love you, what recompense is there for you? And if you greet your brothers only, what is so unusual about that?" In other words, what He is calling us to is something which is going to be unusual in the eyes of the world, something which is way above and beyond what would be considered the norm because He tells us that pagans and tax collectors do the same. If all that we can do is raise ourselves up to the level of someone who would be considered to be the greatest of sinners in a society, or people who do not even know God, there is not a whole lot of value in it for us, and it does not say much for us. When we stand before the Lord, we can look Him right in the face and say, "Lord, didn't I live my life like a pagan!" Well, good luck. It is not going to go very well on the Day of Judgment if that is the kind of attitude we have. If all we can do is tell the Lord that we have raised ourselves up to such a level that we are equal with the greatest sinners and with people who do not know God, we are in some serious trouble. We can say that we believed in the Lord - but we did not do what He told us to do.
Then He goes even beyond it and says, "Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." That is a command; that is in the imperative form when you look at it in the Greek. It is not a suggestion; it is a commandment. You must be perfect because you are children of your heavenly Father and the grace is there to be able to do it. Now that does not mean it is going to be easy. That means we have to choose it, to embrace it, and to really strive to live it out in our daily lives. But most of us are not willing to do that, first of all, because of what it will require: giving up lots of things that we really like, being a little unusual in the eyes of the world, and then, having to sacrifice ourselves.
But then we look at what God did - just look at the first reading. As we have been watching over the last few days about what has been going on with Ahab and Elijah, now Ahab murders somebody - well, his wife did but he took part in it - and then he goes and tries to take over the vineyard of Naboth. God sends Elijah and says, "Here's the punishment." When Ahab repents, puts on sackcloth, and walks around humbly, then God says to Elijah, "Have you seen what Ahab is doing? Go back and tell him, 'I won't bring this evil upon you in your day'." If we think about what happened with the prophet Jonah, when he went into the land to tell the people that their land was going to be destroyed, he got angry when God repented. The people repented and God said, "Then I won't do it," and Jonah was angry. But here, Elijah was not angry even though Ahab could look him right in the face and say, "Have you found me out, my enemy?" Elijah is his enemy; God is his enemy. It says right in the reading: "No one had done evil in the sight of the Lord the way that Ahab had." Yet, God is merciful.
Now, we can only look at ourselves and say, "Look how merciful God has been to us." And He says to us that we are to do the same. God lets His rain fall on the just and the unjust; He lets His sun shine on the good and the bad. We are to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, and we are even to love our enemies. That is the kind of love God is calling us to. That is the kind of holiness He wants from us. Not just, "I have a relationship with Jesus and isnít that nice? I believe in Him and I can talk to Him anytime," but it is to put that love into action. If you have a relationship with Jesus then act the way that He did. If you love God then love the way that He does. If you are going to be a child of God then you must become like God, whose child you are. In a word, Jesus says, "Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.