Tuesday August 19, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Judges 6:11-24a) Gospel (St. Matthew 19:23-30)
In the Gospel reading today there are a couple of things we need to look at. First of all, when the apostles ask the question, “Then who can be saved?” after Jesus tells them that it will be easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than it will be for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of Heaven, we need to put that in context for ourselves, considering that the poorest people in America would be considered rich – very rich – in a lot of other countries. If you ever have an opportunity to go to some of the countries of Africa or India and see the way some of those people who are truly poor live, you will recognize that even people who are on welfare in America would look like they were millionaires in some of those countries. And so when we think of ourselves, even if we be middle-class and struggling to pay our bills, if you look around at all the stuff that you have got, you realize that you are probably very, very wealthy by comparison to the vast majority of people in the world. So we have the great question, “Then who can be saved?” And what Jesus said is very important: For man it is impossible.
It was a generic question, “Who can be saved?” For man it is impossible, but for God all things are possible. Now, this is something we know. We cannot save ourselves. Try as we may, there is absolutely nothing we are going to do to be able to get ourselves to Heaven. We can cooperate with God, and we must. We must do our part by performing the good works, prayer, and so on. But even with all of those things, by ourselves all we can do is something on the natural level, and the natural level cannot get us to our supernatural end. It is only with the help of God’s grace that even those things that we do will be able to be elevated to a supernatural level. So we have to cooperate with the Lord, but it is Him and only Him who will be able to save us. We cannot save ourselves.
When we look at the other point that the Lord makes at the very end of the Gospel, Many of those who are last will be first, and some who are first will be last, we think of what happened in the first reading. We hear the angel of the Lord being sent down to Gideon, and Gideon protests at this point when the angel of the Lord starts to speak to him and says, “Go and free Israel from the power of Midian.” He says, “My father’s house is the most insignificant in the entire tribe of Manasseh, and I myself am the lowest one in my father’s house.” Here you have a man who is recognizing that he is the lowest of the low. It does not get much worse than that. He is beating out wheat in a winepress because the Midianites would come and burn the entire crop. So the little bit that was saved he was trying to hide from the Midianites. He is asking the Lord, “Where is the Lord? Where is all the power that we heard about? Why has the Lord allowed us to be put into this situation?” And what the Lord reveals to him is that He Himself had chosen the lowest of the low in order to free Israel from the power of the Midianites.
When we look at ourselves, we can realize that the Lord has not changed His ways. Sometimes He picks one who is a little more lofty, like Moses, for instance. But even Moses was really among the lowest of the low; he was born of a Hebrew woman and then was raised in Pharaoh’s court. Sometimes God chose people who were from regal backgrounds, but most of the time not. You look at the apostles and you see that He got just ordinary people. For us too, God has chosen ordinary people. Perhaps if you look at yourself seriously enough you might say, “He’s picked the lowest of the low if He wants me to do something.” That is to remind us that it is absolutely impossible for us. There is no possible way that anyone would ever think that we would be able to do what God wants us to do, beginning with ourselves and then going out from there. Therefore, if we are going to do what God wants us to do there is only one way it can be done, and that is if we rely solely on the Lord so that His grace and His strength will bring us to the point where we can do what God wants. Not we ourselves, but God doing it in us and through us. That is important so that when we are doing the work of God, none of us will be able to take credit for it because we know that we cannot do it. Only God would be able to do it through us.
This is what it means to say that for God all things are possible, even when for us it was impossible. And we see that what God has done is to take those of us who ought to be last and in His providence He has placed us first. And the ones that the world considers first are the ones who are going to be last for all eternity. That (eternity) is ultimately all that matters. So when it comes to salvation, when it comes to even being able to do the work of God, even to being able to have the faith to believe and to be here at this hour of the morning, we would have to say, “For man it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.