Monday December 16, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Week of Advent
Reading (Numbers 24:2-7, 15-17a) Gospel (St. Matthew 21:23-27)
In the first reading today, we hear about Balaam, the son of Beor. Balaam is a prophet of the ancient times, but he was not a prophet of Israel, he was not a prophet of God. If we read the letters of Saint Peter, Balaam does not look very good; in fact, Saint Peter uses him as an example of one who is despised and despicable. Yet we hear him blessing Israel and we ask why. What happened was that Balaam was paid to curse Israel; in fact, he was paid several times to curse Israel. And every time he climbed to the top of the mountain and looked down upon the tribes of Israel encamped there, suddenly, out of his mouth came a blessing rather than a curse. He was not there to bless Israel; it was God who did it.
And we hear what He is saying to us through this prophet who was an evil prophet, how God turned that even to His own good. He talks about how the king of Israel and of Jacob shall rise higher and his royalty shall be exalted, that he sees one, though not now. “I behold him,” he says, “but not near. A star shall advance from Jacob, and a staff shall rise from Israel.” The king in Israel, the star, and the staff are the Messiah. And while at that time, of course, He was not at all near, nonetheless, the blessing was there for Jacob because they were God’s chosen people. They were going to be blessed and the Messiah would rise from them.
So too, then, we see the same kind of question being posed to Jesus: “On what authority are you doing this?” Here the people, the high priests, the scribes, the Pharisees, they knew about Balaam. They knew this was a prophet who was evil and yet God used this man to bring about blessings for Israel. They knew if something positive was going to be happening that it was of God. Yet because it was not happening in their way (or the way they thought it ought to happen) they rejected it. And so Jesus tells them, “I’m not going to tell you by what authority I’m doing what I do. You have to make an act of faith.” If Jesus would have told them, “It is by the authority of God,” they would have condemned Him for blasphemy. If He tells them it is by His own authority, as they did not understand that He was God, then they would have said, “We don’t have to pay any attention to it.” So He does not tell them.
We know by whose authority He is doing this. We see when it comes to the people of Israel that God will make use even of people who are hired to curse them, and instead He will bless them. And when it comes especially to the One who is going to be the Messiah, the Star, the King, the One who is going to rise up and be exalted higher than any other, we know where He came from and we know by whose authority He taught what He taught and by whose authority He did what He did. For us, then, it is a matter that we need to listen to what He is telling us. There is no test on our part. We have no business coming to the Lord and asking Him by what authority He is doing this; we already know the answer. It is by the authority of God Himself that the Lord does what He does.
So when He operates in our lives, when He purifies us, when things happen that we do not like very well, or when things happen that we like a lot, it does not matter. We know by whose authority that is given: It is by the Lord Himself. No matter what it is, we need to learn to accept it as coming from the hand of God. Even if it is from somebody who is evil, it is God allowing it. So we need simply to learn to accept that it does not matter whether something appears to be of human origin or divine origin – or even if it seems to be coming from Satan himself – it is the allowance of God for our purification, for our growth in holiness. For us, it is simply a matter of keeping our eyes on the One who now is near, the One who is with us, the One who is the star from Jacob, the staff from Israel, the King who is exalted above all. He needs to be exalted in our hearts and in our lives. He needs to be our staff. He needs to be the star within each one of us. As long as we have that right before us then we will be fine. We need not question why this is happening or who this is coming from or why God is allowing it, because we already know the answer. By whose authority is this being done? There is only One from whose authority it comes, and it is the Lord.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.