July 9, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Genesis 41:55-57; 42:5-7a, 17-24a)
Gospel (St. Matthew 10:1-7)
Our Lord, in sending out His apostles, tells them to go only to the lost sheep of Israel, not to go into the pagan territories or a Samaritan town. Of course, this is the first time that Our Lord sent His disciples out on a missionary journey. Later on, it would be a much larger affair as His apostles were to go out into the whole world and preach the Good News; but initially it was only to the people of Israel, to God’s own chosen people. But we see in the first reading that the way God is going to work even with His chosen people is not always the way that we assume it is to be. As the famine spread through the land and the people were starving, they had to go down to Egypt in order to get provisions. And Joseph, who had been sold by his brothers to the Egyptians, suddenly became the one who was dispensing the rations of grain. The one who had been treated so badly and had been rejected by his own family and sold into slavery was raised up by God as the one who was going to save the whole world. He had, of course, had those dreams and was able to tell Pharaoh what was going to happen, and they put aside the grain so that when the famine gripped the land the grain would already be there for the people.
When we see the pattern that is there, we recognize the same thing with Our Lord, that He is the one who was rejected by His own people, by the very people to whom He came to bring the Good News of forgiveness of sin and freedom for their souls, but they rejected Him. And so, rather than just being for the lost sheep of the house of Israel, the Lord’s mission became much larger and it went out to the whole world.
For us now, that mission has been brought to each of us to continue to bring the Gospel message to the whole world, to go out into the world with the message of Jesus Christ. But like the apostles, we first have to believe. The apostles went only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel at first because they did not really believe. In fact, when they come back they are rejoicing that the things Jesus told them really happened; they did not expect that it was going to. And so they were not ready to go out to a hostile people yet. But we live in the midst of a hostile people. We need to bring the Gospel message to those fallen-away Catholics. Remember that the second-largest religious body in the United States is fallen-away Catholics. The largest religious body of individuals is Catholics. There are many fallen-away lost sheep of the new house of Israel who need to hear the Gospel, who need to be brought back into the fold. But in this pagan society in which we live, we also need to bring the Gospel to all of the people.
So as we go out into the world, we need to bring it in the way that we live and in the way that we speak. Maybe we do not need to go town to town like the disciples did and preach the Gospel, but the very lives that we live become a means of preaching. As Saint Francis told his little Brother as they were going around preaching the Gospel and this little monk wanted so desperately to go on one of the missionary journeys, Saint Francis said, “That’s fine. You can come with me tomorrow,” but he said, “Do only what you see me do and don’t do anything else.” So the two of them walked into town. Saint Francis said, “Keep your eyes on the ground and don’t look up,” and they walked straight through the town, turned around, and walked straight back to their monastery. When they got back the little monk said, “But I thought we were going to preach.” Saint Francis said, “We did, and when we have to we use words.” That is the same thing for us. We have to preach by the very way that we live our lives to bring Jesus Christ into the world. When we have to we will use words, but it is our lives that are going to speak far more eloquently than the words of our mouths. And on the other side, when we do open our mouths, we need to make sure that it is backed up by the way we live; otherwise the hypocrisy of our lives is going to undermine what we have told people, and they will reject the Gospel because they hear it on our lips but they do not see it in our lives.
As Our Lord calls each one of us to Himself, He then sends us out so that we will bring that Gospel message so the whole world can be saved, not from a famine of food this time by someone sold into slavery, but much more so as the prophets tell us – from a famine of the hearing of the Word of God – that people will be dying of thirst and starvation, not from food and water but from the lack of preachers, from the lack of hearing the Word of God and the lack of it being lived out. So the task that is ours is the same basic task that Joseph had thousands of years ago, the same task the apostles had two thousand years ago, and the same task that has been given to the Church to go out to all the world and preach the Good News.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.