Thursday April 10, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier   Fifth Week of Lent


Reading (Genesis 17:3-9)  Gospel (St. John 8:51-59)


In the Gospel reading today, we hear Our Lord speaking again to this same group of people, which we heard yesterday were the Jews who believed in Him. The question is what exactly did they believe? It is obvious they did not believe in the fullness of Christ. Yesterday, He told them that they were trying to kill Him, and today we see precisely why. They believed, perhaps, that He was some kind of prophet, or perhaps even the Messiah in their limited understanding of what that meant, thinking that He was a political Messiah. But when the truth comes out that He is in fact the God of Abraham, they cannot accept that and they pick up stones to throw at Him and seek to kill Him.


And so it comes right back to that same point of having to accept the fullness of Christ, not having our own preconceived ideas of what He is to be. But it is to understand that He is God. When He says, “Before Abraham came to be, I AM,” He is the One with Whom Abraham made the covenant; He is the One that was promised. When the Lord says to Abraham, as we heard in the first reading today, “I will be your God and the God of all your descendants,” but then follows that up and says, “On your part, you and your descendants must keep the covenant which I am making with you today,” that is the part that did not happen. What happened is that the people knew they had this covenant with God, they knew that they were biologically and spiritually children of Abraham, and so they just hung onto that. But they forgot what that really meant.


It would be like being able to protest by saying, “We are Americans,” but have absolutely nothing to do with the Constitution of the United States. We would say, “Well, we don’t care what any of this says, but I’m an American.” If we are going to claim something then we need to stand for what it means. And for the Jewish people, particularly, that meant far more than even for us what it means to be an American because it meant to be a child of Abraham and to be a member of the covenant with God. So when they wandered away from the covenant, even though they could hang onto the truth that they were descendants of Abraham, they had still wandered completely from the covenant. They were not living it out; they were not being faithful to it; and so when the Lord comes – with Whom they had made the covenant – they did not recognize Him, and in fact they wanted to kill Him because they refused to accept Who He was.


Now, for us, as we have seen many times, Jesus is our covenant and we are incorporated into Him. So once again, for us, far beyond any claim to being an American, we are first and foremost Christian, Catholic. Saint Paul says, “Our citizenship is in Heaven and it is from there that we await our Savior.” We are members of Jesus Christ. These are truths that we know and we can protest this fact and say, “Yes, I am a member of Jesus Christ.” The question is the same one that Jesus will be able to pose to the Jews: Are you living it? Are you following the covenant of which you are a member? Are you allowing Jesus Christ to live His life in you and through you? Are we being faithful to the promises we have made in Baptism? Are we doing what we are supposed to do and what we claim to be? Lip service is pretty useless. We can say that we are Catholic all day long, but if we refuse to live according to the Catholic faith, what good is it? If we claim to be followers and members of Jesus Christ but live in a way that is contrary to the way of Christ, what good is that?


We know who He is, and we know what it means to be incorporated into this covenant. Now we need to be faithful to what it is that we have promised. That is where the challenge comes in. We cannot give lip service to Jesus; we have to live it. And to live it means to allow Him to live in us and through us, to live His life, to bring Christ into the world. Not just to say that we are followers of Christ, but to be members of Christ and to allow our lives to be molded after Him, to allow Him to live in us and through us. That is what this requires. And so, when the Lord would look at these people and challenge them, so today He looks at us and He challenges us. Knowing the covenant into which we have entered, knowing the vows that we have made to Him, He comes to us and He tells us the same thing that He tells them. He challenges us the same way that He challenged them. He tells us that He is God and that He knows the Father, but so do we, because He told Saint Andrew, “Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father.” So we are completely without excuse. We need to make sure that we are living the faith that we profess, to look at that challenge of the Lord given to these Jewish people, who are going to claim to be children of Abraham but did not live the covenant, and now for us, as we claim to be members of Jesus Christ, it is not enough just to say it – we have to live it.


*  This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.