Tuesday August 28, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (2 Thessalonians 3:6-10, 16-18) Gospel (St. Matthew 23:27-32)
In the Gospel reading today, Our Lord is very clear about the way we are to live our lives. He condemns the scribes and the Pharisees for being hypocrites, for looking good on the outside but on the inside being filled with, as He says, hypocrisy and evildoing to try to make themselves look good. He calls them whitewashed sepulchers. Then He goes on to talk about what happened to the prophets and how the people would say, "If we had lived in that day, we wouldn't have taken part in this."
We all do the exact same thing. We look at the prophets of our own day and we usually condemn them. But we look back at the prophets of old and we hold them up as heroes, because we say, "Look at the extraordinary faith that this person had! Look at the hardship that this one had to live through!" We hold them up and we are amazed at what they did. And we are equally amazed at the way they were treated by the people. Then we turn right around and we do the exact same thing to the people that God raises up in our day, because anyone who is going to have a prophetic voice is going to be a little different. It is going to be someone who, by the way they live, becomes very uncomfortable for us, because the way they live is not the way that most people do. And the message they are going to have is one that is not going to be comforting either because they are going to call us to repentance, they are going to call us to change our lives, and we do not like that idea very well. So we tend to shun them. We will find whatever way it is for whatever reason we can to be able to say, "This person is crazy and I don't need to listen to him."
But it is interesting because Saint Paul tells us in the first reading that we are to shun those who live a disorderly life. Well, if we do not want to hear the prophets of God, what we tend to do instead is to gravitate toward those who are living in a disorderly way. Rather than shunning the disorder we embrace it, and instead we shun the orderly way of God.
This is something that we need to really look at. It is something we have been challenged with over and over and over again. Do we really want to change? Do we want to become like Jesus? I am not talking about theory; I am talking about practice. It is not enough to say, "Wouldn't it be neat to be like Jesus? Imagine what it would be like to be holy like that." Knock off the imagining and start living it! That is what Jesus is asking us to do. Forget the theory and start working on the practice! We need to make some choices and we need to make them seriously. To say, "I will do it," not to dream about it. Not to say, "I want to do it," but to say, "I will do it."
Otherwise, we are a bunch of whitewashed sepulchers. We make ourselves look real nice on the outside but we have not changed a single thing on the inside. It is full of rot. It is full of filth. It is full of hypocrisy. Now, obviously, we are all going to recognize the hypocrisy in our own lives because until we are perfect we are going to see that we are trying to live a holy life but we are still sinners. That is understandable. That is different from what Jesus is talking about in the Gospel. He is talking about people who are phonies, people who are trying to make themselves look good in the eyes of others but, in fact, do not really want to do what is right. As soon as they are on their own, they do not do what is right; but when somebody else is around, then they put up a façade to make themselves look righteous. That is the hypocrisy He is talking about.
We need to look at that for ourselves because that is human nature, and it is something that is very easy to fall into. We need to listen for the voice of God, and we need to heed the voice of God. That means we need not only to hear it in our ears, but in our hearts - and we need to allow it to have an effect in our lives. It means to change our lives, and that is hard. It is a lot easier to put up a façade. It is a lot easier to keep living the way that we have been. And we all know that it is a lot easier just to live like everyone else. That is not what Jesus wants. He wants us to live like Him. He wants us to shape our lives according to the model that He gives to us. If we are going to call Him "Lord" and "Master" and "Teacher" shouldn't we become like our Teacher? Shouldn't we imitate our Lord and Master? Isn't that the whole idea: to become like Him?
If we are going to give Him lip service but refuse to change, we are hypocrites of the worst kind. We are the whitewashed sepulchers. We will continue to kill the prophets but continue to say, "If we were alive back in our fathers' day, we would not have killed them." Yet we turn around and do it today because we do not want to hear the word and we do not want to change our lives. So we need to make the decision that we will change, that we will quit being hypocrites, and that we will truly attempt with all of our heart to live the faith that we profess with our lips.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.