Friday July 11, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Genesis 46:1-7, 28-30)
Gospel (St. Matthew 10:16-23)
In the first reading today there are a number of things that we do not necessarily recognize from our vantage point that for the Jewish people of ancient times would have been very important. For instance, we have the people of Israel finally settling in the Promised Land that God had told Abraham He would give to him. Long before it was promised to Abraham, that land was promised to Shem, Shem being the oldest son of Noah (he would be about the fourth or fifth great-grandfather of Abraham). And in this there was a point where Canaan, who would be the offspring of Ham, had usurped the land that was given to Shem, so the Canaanites as well as the Egyptians were also sons of Ham. Now, for a couple of generations, the people of Israel, Abraham’s offspring, were finally in the land that God had promised to their forefather Shem. And suddenly they were having to leave the Promised Land and go down to Egypt, which was also part of the land of Ham; in this case, you could say it was the enemy. So they were leaving the Promised Land to go to a land that the enemy had, the one who had tried to usurp his land in the first place. All of this tension would be building within the people who originally would have been reading this story because all the promises of God appeared to be being broken once again. God made these promises and it is all being lost; it is all for naught.
Of course, we know how the story ends, how the Egyptians put the Israelites to slavery and then finally the Israelites were set free by God and they actually despoiled the Egyptians. But that is the way it ends, and in the meantime what we have to see is exactly what Our Lord told us in the Gospel reading today and see for ourselves that it really is not much different. He told us that He is sending us out as sheep in the midst of wolves. So too for us, then, we are in the midst of a land which has been turned over to the enemy. Satan has been the ruler of this land, at least since 1973, and of course he has been around from the very beginning. But it has been completely turned over to him. Jesus even called him the prince of this world, and Satan himself, knowing fully well the power that he had been given, was able to offer to Jesus all of the kingdoms of the earth, knowing that he had all of them in his possession. Recall that Jesus did not argue with Satan at that point saying, “You don’t have all the kingdoms of the earth to offer.” Satan did have all the kingdoms of the earth to offer. And so we are living in the land of the enemy just as the people of Israel had to go down into Egypt and then despoil them. So too, recall that Jesus followed the exact same path. He had to go down into Egypt at the time they had to flee from Bethlehem and go to Egypt. Then God brought Him back out of that and into the Promised Land.
We see the pattern that is there for all of us, that in Baptism we enter into the Church – the promised land, the kingdom of God in this world – but we live in the midst of a people who are not of God and we live in a kingdom in this world which is not of God. But we have our sights set on a kingdom which is far greater than anything here; we are looking for Heaven. So God makes the promise at Baptism and then He sets us in this pagan world and He wants us to be able to grow, to live our faith, to be strong. We are going to be persecuted; we are going to be ridiculed; we are going to be rejected. We are not going to be accepted because this land does not belong to God; it has been turned over to the devil. At the same time, in the midst of that the Faith will flourish and grow, and then one day we will finally be ready to be freed from the slavery that we have at the hands of the enemy. If we have been faithful to God, not only will we be brought into the promised land but we will despoil the enemy because what he wants is our very souls. And what we are going to do instead is to bring other souls with us to Heaven. We will take away the very treasure that the enemy thinks he has and we will bring them into the promised land with us. That is what is being offered to us.
So what we see happening on the natural level in ancient Israel, what we see on the spiritual level happening in our own lives right now, we are going to see fulfilled in the most glorious manner because the pattern is there for us. What we now need to recognize is that God has put us into this land and He is asking us to be faithful, to grow strong through the struggles, and through those struggles to be able to come through this part, through this slavery which is ours in this land, and to be completely free, to have the freedom of the children of God in the promised land of Heaven which Our Lord has come to offer to us.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.