Wednesday July 2, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Genesis 21:5, 8-20a) Gospel (St. Matthew 8:28-34)
In both readings today, we have a clear distinction in the people who are God’s chosen people and those who are not. On one level, of course, we know that God loves all of us and He loves all of us infinitely. Yet, at the same time, there are clear distinctions that are made; the choice is God’s. For instance, we see in the first reading the difference between Isaac and Ishmael. While there is a large section that is taken out of the reading, basically there is a clear distinction made between Isaac, who is circumcised on the eighth day according to the practice of the Jewish people, and Ishmael, who had been circumcised in his thirteenth year which was the practice of the Egyptians. It is made very clear that Isaac is the son of Sarah but at the same time Ishmael is called the son of the Egyptian slave woman. So we see these distinctions that are made.
And Ishmael is, in essence, disowned, not by Abraham – by God. It is God Who has told Abraham to send away the slave girl and her son. Remember that Judaism is a matriarchal society. It really was not at the time of Abraham, but as they would understand it: You are a Jew if your mother is a Jew. And if your mother is not a Jew, even if your father is, you are not considered a Jew. So Ishmael is being very clearly considered an Egyptian. An Egyptian would be a Hamite, as they would be called, and would not be part of the chosen people of God. For the ancient people, this story would have had great meaning because it shows a clear distinction between those who are chosen as God’s people and those who are not.
At the same time, we can look at the Gospel reading. We see these two demoniacs whom Jesus heals, and rather than rejoicing that these two men – who were so fierce that the people could not even walk down the road near the area where they were – had been healed, the people are upset. Instead of rejoicing that two human persons have been freed from the bondage of Satan, the people are angry that the pigs have been killed, that they were drowned in the lake. And they came to Jesus and they begged Him to leave. Now these were pagans; these were not Jewish people. These were the Gadarenes, and these were people who were living in Gentile territory around the Sea of Galilee, not in the Jewish territory around the Sea of Galilee. And so, once again, we see this clear distinction.
Jesus makes very clear that the people of Corazin and Bethsaida and Capernaum, who were all Jewish people where Jesus worked most of His miracles, were going to be condemned because they did not believe either. But they never asked Him to leave. So here we have these Gentiles, these pagan people, begging Jesus to leave their district. They had seen the great work that Our Lord had done, but what they did is they chose to be with the pigs rather than to be with the people. A clear distinction then is made between those whom God has chosen for Himself and those whom He has not; in this case, those who choose God and those who do not.
So in the first reading we have that same situation: those whom God has chosen, and God Himself is the one who disowns Ishmael and Hagar. In the second reading, however, it is the people who reject God and they do not want anything to do with Him. They beg Him to leave.
Now we look at our own selves and we recognize that God has chosen us. Why, we do not know. But we have a choice to make. Are we going to choose God or are we going to reject Him? If we are going to choose God, it means not just a superficial choice, not just an objective arm’s distance kind of choice saying, “Yes, I believe,” but are we going to choose to live the way God wants us to live, to change our lives, to make sure that we are living as true children of the Lord? That is what Our Lord is asking from each one of us. He has come now into our district. Maybe we were not possessed so that He had to kick out the demons, but we know what our life was like before we chose the Lord – before He turned us around, as the case would really be.
And so we are like these two demoniacs in the Gospel. Now that the Lord has touched us and healed us (at least to whatever degree we have been healed), the choice is ours. Are we going to beg the Lord to leave our neighborhood or are we going to be with Him and change our lives to live the faith that He has placed within our hearts? He has made His choice, and in His mercy He has chosen each one of us individually and by name. But now, because He will never force Himself on us, He lets us make the next choice. And it is a choice that is either for Him or against Him. If we are going to choose for Him, it needs to be a complete choice. That is our choice: for or against the Lord, to invite Him into our hearts or to ask Him to leave.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.