Wednesday August 20, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Judges 9:6-15) Gospel (St. Matthew 20:1-16)
In the first reading today from the Book of Judges, we hear only a snippet of this particular story where Abimelech slays seventy of his own brothers and then has himself anointed as king. Jotham, however, the only one of his brothers who escaped, goes to the top of Mount Gerizim and then cries out, as we heard how the trees first asked the olive and then the fig and so on. Finally it comes to the buckthorn (which, of course, is about his brother Abimelech) and they cry out to him, “Come and wave over us!” and they anoint him king. And as it says, if it is not done in proper manner then may the fire come from the buckthorn and consume all the trees. In other words, what happens in our humanness is that we look sometimes to people who do things that are wrong and somehow we think they are going to do what is right. And we try to place people over ourselves. We all recognize that we need to have leadership, but some of our leadership is corrupt, some of it is badly corrupt. Yet what has happened, if we look back over the last ten years of some of the leadership that we have had, people of this country have rejoiced in the corruption, no different from the people of old.
Where the difference comes is that for us as Christian people we have a king – we have Jesus Christ as our King. And He is a King who is going to do things a little bit differently. In the first reading, we hear about a young man who wants to do everything on his own terms. It is about himself. He is corrupt and he is willing to murder people in order to get what he wants. It is all self-focused. In the Gospel reading, we hear about someone, on the other hand, who is willing to pay a full day’s wage to someone who worked only one hour, not looking out for himself but rather looking out for the good of others and putting all of them on equal terms, even though some had worked for twelve hours and some had only worked for one. The Lord tells us that this is the way the kingdom of Heaven is going to be.
Now, like the people who had worked for the whole day, we would probably say, “But it’s not fair.” But it is because, first of all, the Lord is not looking out for Himself. He is willing to give fully to each person, and what He is going to give to each person who dies in the state of grace (that is, who makes it to the end of the day and is still in good order) is the same pay, that is, Heaven, the face-to-face vision of God. Where the difference comes is that at this point in our humanness we would grumble and complain because, after all, we have been working part of the day – most of us probably would not be able to say that we have been working the whole day because most of us probably did not start at the beginning of the day, nonetheless, we somehow think it is unjust that we should be able to start midday someplace and still get the same amount that somebody who has only an hour’s worth of work will get.
But the difference is that after we die we are going to rejoice. In fact, remember Our Lord tells us that there is more rejoicing in Heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety-nine people who had no need to repent. So the fact that there are people who will be hired only at the last hour, the people who will convert and come to glorify the Lord because of their conversions, we will find ourselves rejoicing more in that than in the people who had worked the whole day. They certainly will receive their reward and their glory from God, but we will be rejoicing so much that there are others who are there to glorify God that we are not going to care at what point they came on. All that we are going to care about is that they did. And that is the way we really need to be at this point.
We need to praise God first and foremost that in His mercy His grace touched us when it did. For those who from the time they were young have believed in the Lord and lived a good and faithful life – praise God! – that means for many years already you have been able to grow in the spiritual life, develop the grace of God in your life, and grow in holiness so that when you die you will be at a very elevated spot. At the same time, we need to rejoice when someone who has lived an abominable life suddenly has a conversion right near death. They have not developed the holiness, they have not developed the spiritual life, they have not cooperated with God’s grace throughout, but they will go to Heaven and they will be able to glorify God forever. And it is not going to take anything away from us.
We need simply to rejoice that there are more souls who are glorifying the Lord, especially given the situation in which we live, where we are watching one person after the next walk away from the Lord because the enticements of the evils that are around us are too much for them to withstand because they are not praying and they are not looking to the Lord for everything. And so in those occasions when those people come back, or in the occasions when someone does have a true and complete conversion, there is great cause for rejoicing because what it means is that those people have rejected the sinfulness and the ways of the world and they have chosen to be one with Christ. That is why we have to rejoice. Rather than grumbling because somebody gets to share in our inheritance, we need to rejoice because our inheritance is not like money that if we have ten dollars and suddenly someone else comes in we get less. Instead, it is more of a common good; everyone gets the fullness and no one is lacking in anything.
So we do not lose anything when more people come in, but rather we gain. We gain because there are more people who are glorifying God, more souls to whom we will be united, so that the glory which we will enjoy and the glory which we will be able to give to God will be the greater for all eternity. As we look at our own human situation and we look at the evil in the world, basically what has happened is that people have called to the buckthorn to rule over them. But as Christian people we know better than that. And so we call upon Jesus Christ, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, and we place ourselves willingly under His rule and do it His way. In doing so, there will be more glory that will be given to God and less for the self, which is exactly the way it needs to be because in Heaven the self is not going to matter – all that we will be interested in is glorifying God.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.