Monday February 17, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Sixth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Genesis 4:1-15, 25) Gospel (St. Mark 8:11-13)
In the first reading, we hear about Cain and Abel. The question that most people always ask is: Why did God reject Cain’s sacrifice? Some want to suggest it is because Abel was offering a lamb or something from the flock, whereas Cain was offering produce and God wanted the sacrifice of the animals instead. But considering that Cain did not raise animals, that does not make any sense. The reason for this is because Cain did not bring the best of his produce, whereas we are told very specifically that Abel, on the other hand, brought one of the best of his firstlings. As we see later on, when God requires the sacrifice of the animals as well as the sacrifice of the produce, He requires of the Jewish people that they take the first of the produce and that they sacrifice only the best from their flocks. And that is where the difficulty came in.
Now we can look at ourselves and ask, “What do we give to the Lord? Do we give to the Lord the best that we have, or do we give to Him something less?” Cain kept the best for himself and gave to the Lord something less. The people of Israel also did the same thing later on and God condemned them for it. They were offering lambs that were blind and lambs that were blemished and so on, and God condemned them because they kept the best for themselves while offering to God something which was less than the best.
The Lord wants us to be able to put Him first, to make sure that what is most important in our lives is God. And if God is truly the One Who is most important, that is going to become rather evident by the way we sacrifice to Him, by the way we deal with it. Are we offering to God the best of what we have – the best of our day, the best of our life, the best of whatever it is that we might have? That is what we can look at because it is something required. If we truly love somebody, we want to give them the best. And if we are to love God first and foremost, with our whole heart and soul and strength, then we want to give Him the very best.
So do we keep the best for ourselves while giving God something less? Or do we give the best to somebody else while giving God something less? It shows us where our priorities are. If we are like most Americans, we keep the best for ourselves because “Number One” is the self in this society. The self is not supposed to be number one, but number three: Love God, love neighbor - as self. We see the priority the way it is supposed to be. But if we put the self in there as the priority then we get ourselves completely mixed up.
That is exactly what the Pharisees did, as we hear in the reading from the Gospel today. They put themselves first; they were not interested so much in God and in what His Will was, but they were interested in their own selves. So Jesus comes along and He performs all of these miracles, and they come to Him and say, “Work a sign. Prove to us that you’re from Heaven.” And Jesus said, “No sign is going to be given to this generation. You just want a sign for your own selfish reasons. How many do you need?” Aren’t we kind of the same way? All of the things that the Lord does for whatever reason are not quite good enough for American people; but rather, we want some kind of specific sign for God to prove Himself. It is not going to happen. This time around, when God works the sign it is going to be a little too late for most people.
We need to know what our priorities have to be, and we need to get our priorities in the right order, because if the self is the top priority in our lives, we are in serious trouble. We need to make sure that God is our top priority. And we need to make sure then that everything else falls properly in line. We can look at our own lives and we can gauge it rather easily by looking at Cain and Abel and asking, “Are we keeping the best for ourselves or are we giving the best to God?”
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.