Reading (Wisdom 2:1a, 12-22) Gospel (St. John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30)
In the Gospel reading today, we see the obedience of Our Lord. We are told that due to the fact that the Jewish authorities wanted to kill Him, Our Lord did not intend at this point to go down to Judea, but rather He stayed in the northern parts in Galilee. But recall that the law requires that at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles there had to be the celebration of the feast in Jerusalem. Everyone had to go down to Jerusalem for that, and so, in obedience to the law, Our Lord also went down to Jerusalem and celebrated that feast. We can also see that initially He did not go openly, but once He was there He continued to preach. There was a burning, obviously, within Our Lord to make sure that when people wanted to hear the truth that He taught it to them. And since He knew that His hour had not yet come, even though they wanted to kill Him, it says, “No one laid a hand upon Him.”
But nonetheless, they were trying; they had these plots. And these words that we heard then in the first reading from the Book of Wisdom that fit so perfectly for Our Lord also fit perfectly for anyone else who is going to be trying to follow Our Lord and to live a good life. That is, they are going to take someone who is trying to be just – in Our Lord’s case, truly the Just One – and they are going to beset him because he is obnoxious to them. “Just the mere sight of him is a censure to our thoughts.” He needn’t say a word because they know exactly what He stands for. He has already been preaching the Word; they know exactly what He is about. And so just simply to look at such a person sets a sermon off in one’s own head. The person no longer needs to even speak because what happens is our conscience speaks because we know exactly what that person would be telling us.
And rather than changing and recognizing that this person is correct, we try to rationalize our way around things. We try to tell ourselves that it is only a front. “It’s just a façade; it’s not real. This person isn’t any different from anyone else. Just watch! If we make things difficult enough, that person is going to falter too.” So rather than changing and recognizing that what this person is doing and saying is correct and what we are doing and saying is wrong, what we try to do is ridicule and humiliate and destroy the other person to prove that they are really just like us. And when the other person demonstrates his or her virtue, then we get angry because they were not supposed to do that; they were supposed to be just like us. So we try even harder to destroy them because we are still convinced in the errant ways of our thoughts that this person is still going to fall, that we are going to seem justified because they are just like us after all.
That is exactly what they were trying to do to Our Lord. “If we revile him, if we condemn him to a shameful death… After all, God is his Father, He will protect him.’ But it says that they erred in their thoughts because they did not understand the ways of God. They did not understand what God’s purpose in all of this was, and neither do they understand today. If you are trying to live a good life, if you are trying to be a holy and just person, you are going to be ridiculed and reviled, you are going to be treated harshly, and you are going to be put to the test by lots of people around you. They are trying to get you to do what they do, but they do not understand and they do not recognize the recompense of God. They do not understand His ways.
We cannot be worried about that. We simply need to be striving to do what God wants us to do: to live a virtuous life and to recognize that God allows these things to help us to grow in virtue. It is not an arrogant thing where we are trying to make ourselves look better than someone else, but rather we need to be humble. We need to recognize, as Saint Augustine said, “Be it not for the grace of God, that man would be me.” We know that we have been on the other side of the fence. We know that in our human weakness we will fall very quickly and that we have the capacity to do anything those other people are doing. So we need to learn to rely solely on the grace of God and know that He is allowing all of this for a purpose: to bring about a greater good, for virtue to grow in us, and for the conversion of those other souls. We need to pray for them and we need to try to make sure that we maintain our own virtue and grow in holiness through this situation and unite ourselves to Jesus. That is the way we have to be. And in that humble manner, God will provide the grace for that other person to be converted, for the silence of the homily that God will preach in their conscience to touch their hearts and to bring them to recognize that the work that Christ is doing in us, He can do also in them.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.