Wednesday August 7, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Jeremiah 31:1-7) Gospel (St. Matthew 15:21-28)
In the first reading today, the Lord says to His people through the prophet Jeremiah: "The people that escaped the sword have found favor in the desert." It is out in the desert where the people of Israel came to truly know the Lord in their forty years of wandering out in the desert, and it was there that they drew near to Him. But they had strayed from the Lord, and in their straying, the Lord allowed them to be brought into exile. Now, once again, in their exile, a small remnant of the people would wind up in the desert where they would again be alone with the Lord. They would not have all of the luxuries and all the ease that they were accustomed to; consequently, they had to learn to rely on God for everything. So they found favor because once again they grew to love the Lord. They were not dependent upon all of their material things; they were not reliant upon their own selves and their own ingenuity; but rather, they became dependent on God. They had to rely upon Him and they turned to Him.
It's the way it is with most of us as well. As long as we think we can do something ourselves, we do; but when we know we are in trouble, then we turn to God rather than realizing that we are dependent on God - even in the things that we can do ourselves, because we need His grace to be able to do it. It was he who gave us the ability to do the things in the first place. So even the things that we do everyday, what we need to learn how to do is to pray and ask for help even doing the things that are day to day things, to remember that we are dependent on God for everything.
We need to become like the woman in the Gospel reading who calls out after Jesus, recognizes her own humility, and is able to say, "Even the dogs eat the scraps which fall from their master's table." We need to realize that while we are indeed the children who have been seated at the table, that we are the children who are able to feast on the banquet of the Lamb, nonetheless, we have proven ourselves, over and over and over again, to be very unworthy children, to be rebellious children, to be children who are not worthy of the name. Consequently, we have become like the little dogs who have to sit at the foot of the master and we need to beg for the scraps, even though the master is willing to give to us the greater portion. If we simply take it for granted that that is what is going to be given, we are going to be not so much banished from the table - because that is not what God is going to do - but rather what we do is wander from the table. It is like the kids that do not show up for dinner. The dinner is ready and the table is set, and the kid just stays out playing and does not come in for dinner. That is the way we become when we are rebellious. All that remains for us, then, is the leftovers.
We need to realize what it is that we have done, and to find that we will have the favor of the Lord when we are willing to trust in Him and we are willing to rely upon Him, when we stop thinking that because we are the children of the Lord that we should have some sort of an exalted position; but rather, to realize that if we are children of the Lord, we must be the most humble. We are the ones who have to come to Him and recognize our dependence upon Him. It is there that we will find His favor. And so, as it was with the people of Israel - when God humbled them and they found themselves out once again in the desert, it is there that they found His favor - it will be no different for us. It is only when we are humble, when we are small in our own estimation, it is then that we will be dependent on God, it is then that we will find favor. It is when we are out in the desert rather than rejoicing in the lap of luxury where we like to be, then we will have that favor we desire because then we will be the ones who are humble, we will be the ones who are dependent on God, and we will have the relationship established as it ought to be. Then the favor of the Lord will be ours and all of His blessings will come to us.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.