Friday July 4, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Genesis 23:1-4, 19; 24:1-8, 62-67)
Gospel (St. Matthew 9:9-13)
Today as our country takes this time to celebrate its birthday, its independence, we need to really stop to ask ourselves what this independence is all about. For many of us, when we think of our personal independence it is more a matter of pride; it is that we do not want to be controlled by anyone and we do not want anyone telling us what we are supposed to do. It is not true freedom. True freedom is actually to do the Will of God.
So when we look in the Gospel reading today, we hear Jesus going to Matthew and telling him, “Follow Me.” Now most of us probably would not look at that as freedom – we are being told what we are supposed to do, we have to follow somebody else. Yet Matthew recognized that this was indeed his freedom because in following Christ he recognized he was free from that which was holding him bound, and that was his own self. It was his dependence on material things, on a name, on a position, on whatever other things he was holding onto, all of the attachments of the world. And so in gratitude for his newfound freedom, he had a banquet for the Lord. When the Pharisees, who were held bound by all of the laws that were self-imposed and the way that they had determined religion was supposed to be practiced, saw this they said, “Why does the teacher eat with sinners and tax collectors?” And Jesus said to them that people who are well do not need a physician but sick people do.
When we think of that answer, we recognize that even though we want to protest our own personal independence in so many ways, we realize how many people we actually do make ourselves dependent upon. We are anything but independent when it really comes down to it. If you just think about all of the bills you have to pay and all of the people you are dependent upon for day-to-day life, we realize that our idea of independence is not necessarily what we would like it to be. But the true independence that the Lord has won for us is precisely what we need. Just in order to live our day-to-day life we are dependent on people, for instance, to provide electricity and clean water, pick up the garbage, handle the sanitation, deal with all the day-to-day things of our lives. We are dependent on many people, and that is not a bad thing. In fact, it is our pride that makes us think we do not need anyone.
But when Jesus says, “Follow Me,” we have to make the choice. He will not force us to follow Him. He will not violate the freedom which He gave us in creation, but He asks us to make an act of the will, to be completely independent in making ourselves completely dependent on Him. We recognize that if we are sick we become dependent upon the physician. Jesus is the Physician of our souls. He is the One Who came to heal us, to free us from that which has us in bondage and in shackles – which is sin and the devil. That is where our real freedom is lost because the devil is not simply asking us to make a free act of the will (even though that is required, ultimately), he simply wants to take what we have. Jesus, on the other hand, wants to give us what He has and He wants us to receive. It is a completely opposite perspective.
But the devil has been so good in convincing people that license and freedom are one and the same, doing whatever you feel like doing. “If it feels good, do it. It’s what I want, I have a right to it.” He has convinced us that that is freedom. It is not. In fact, Saint Paul, as well as Our Lord, told us that we are all going to be slaves to someone. If we are going to sin, Jesus said that we become slaves to sin. We have to make our choice of where that slavery will be. These, again, are not ideas that tend to go with our concept of independence, but there is a freely chosen slavery – it is a slavery of love, it is to give one’s self entirely to another person, that is, to Jesus. We can offer ourselves totally to Him just as He has offered Himself completely for us. And as He has made Himself the slave of all of us, we, in turn, in an act of true freedom and in an act of love, can make ourselves a slave of love to Jesus Christ. That is the gift that is being offered to us.
So as our country celebrates its independence from tyrannical rule, now after more than slightly two hundred years we have gotten to the point where we have decided that freedom means anything other than what it really means – freedom to sin, freedom to do what is wrong, freedom to trample on other people, freedom to do whatever I feel like regardless of what it means for anybody else, making things into rights which are not rights and taking rights away where they are supposed to be given, making things which are immoral into laws which are upheld and protected while those people who want to do what is right and moral are considered to be outlaws and violators of the rights of others. That is not the independence that our forefathers had in mind. It is not what the Constitution of the United States of America upholds, but there are people in positions of power that are not interested in what is right. They are interested, rather, in forwarding an agenda, and it is an agenda that can only be said to be that of Satan.
We have our choice to make. We can choose freedom, which is to do the Will of God, or we can choose license, which is to do whatever we want to do. One makes us a slave of Jesus Christ, a slave of love, and one makes us a slave of sin. The choice is ours. One brings true independence by making ourselves totally dependent on Christ, and one brings complete dependence in the worst kind of way, in this world and forever for that matter. And so the choice is very clear. But because God gave us a free will, He will never violate it, and we have the freedom to make the choice for or against God, for or against Satan. That is what it really comes down to. Jesus looks today at each one of us and says simply, “Follow Me.” Now the choice is ours to follow Him and to follow the way of true freedom.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.