Tuesday October 22, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Ephesians 2:12-22) Gospel (St. Luke 12:35-38)
In the readings today, we see a number of dichotomies as Saint Paul talks about the fact that "through His Blood, He has made the two one." And so, things that seemed to be totally opposites are in fact one and the same. He tells us, for instance, in writing to the Ephesians (who were not Jewish people), that they were once far off and Jesus came to reconcile those who were far off from God as well as those who are near (the Jewish people themselves) and make both one, putting to death the enmity through His Cross, through His Blood. At the same time, Saint Paul tells them that they are no longer strangers and sojourners, but rather they are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God. So at the same time, on one level, they were far away and now they are near. They are strangers and sojourners who have become children, who have become members of the house of God.
Jesus, in the Gospel reading, tells us that we are servants. At the same time, He lets us know that we are His friends, as He has made known to us everything He has heard from His Father. He tells us that we are the ones who have to be vigilant, we are the ones who have to be seeking to serve. Then He tells us, if that is the case, that He is the one who is going to serve us. So we are servants of the Lord who, in fact, are being served by the Lord. We are children of our heavenly Father, and yet at the same time we are servants of our heavenly Father. We are strangers and sojourners, and at the same time we are children of the family. All of these things that would seem to be total contraries are in fact one in Christ.
So what we need to be able to do is to recognize who we are in Christ, be able to see that in Christ all have been made one (even those internal, apparent opposites are brought into one in Christ - of how we can be both children and servants, how we can be slaves and friends at the same time), and be able to recognize our dignity in each of these things. But it is simply because we are members of Christ that this can happen: Christ, who is, in essence, the Head of the household, who became a stranger and sojourner in our world. In Christ we are part of the household, but in this world we are still strangers and sojourners on our way to our heavenly homeland. Christ is the One who is served by all and yet He came into this world and became the servant of all.
And so, in Christ we have that exact same thing. We are called to serve while at the same time we are being served. There is no dichotomy between these points, but rather it is simply because of the dignity that is ours in Christ that we become more perfectly what we already were. But it is changed; it has been transformed. To be a servant, to be a slave, to be a stranger and a sojourner is no longer to be the lowest, but rather it is to be exalted.
Our Lord lets us know very clearly that "the greatest among you is the one who serves the rest". The one who becomes the slave of all is the one who is the greatest of all. What society would put down, for a Christian person that is exalted by charity. It is the one who loves the most who has the highest position. Yet it is not a matter of pride as to who is the highest, but rather it is a matter of love and putting oneself at the service of others. So it is truly a point of humility. Once again, we see that dichotomy: how one can be the lowest and the highest all at the same time. But that is the way it is in Christ. He has indeed brought all into one in Himself, including these apparent opposites, these apparent contradictions in ourselves (as it seems to be contradictory in ourselves): How can we be both human and divine at the same time, sharing in the divine nature yet being completely human? How can we be sinners and still be members of Jesus Christ? How can we have the very grace and life of God in us when we are still sinful people? All of these things seem to make no sense, but in Christ all are one. He has put the enmity to death, bringing all into one on the Cross; and by His Blood He has made us one.
What we need to do is recognize this for ourselves and realize that our dignity, our exalted greatness in Christ, is going to come from making ourselves the servants of all, from being the one who places himself or herself as the least. It is the Lord then who will exalt us above all else. Our task is simply to be as Christ: to love others, to give ourselves in service to others, to pour ourselves out. That is the task that is ours. And it is the Lord, then, who picks up the other side of it. He is the One who exalts us, giving to us all the titles of dignity that are ours. In this world, we must be as Jesus was. He came into this world as the servant, as the slave. He did not reject His dignity as God, but rather, as Saint Paul said, "He took on the form of a slave." He came to this world to serve and He calls each one of us now, as members of His Body, to do the same, to be united in His Blood, to be united in His Cross, and to give our lives as a ransom for many.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.