Thursday September 25, 2003 Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Haggai 1:1-8) Gospel (St. Luke 9:7-9)
In the first reading today from the Book of the Prophet Haggai, we see that the people of Israel, having first come back from exile to Jerusalem, now are saying, “It’s not yet time to rebuild the house of the Lord. We have other things we have to do. We have our own houses we have to get rebuilt, we have fields we have to plant, we have a lot of things that need to be put back together before it is going to be time to rebuild the house of the Lord.” So the Lord speaks through the prophet and says, “Should you be living in your own paneled houses while the house of the Lord lies in ruins?” In other words, the Lord was perfectly fine allowing the people to build a home for themselves (that makes sense) but what they wanted was to make sure that everything else was in perfect order before they took care of the Lord. They were going to make their own homes more fancy, they were going to make sure everything was just so, and then they would think about building the house of God.
Well, unfortunately, we are not any different. The temple of the Lord now is us – it is our body, it is our soul where the Lord has chosen to dwell. And the American way is “look out for yourself first; take care of all your wants and desires; make sure that you have a nice, warm, fancy, plush home; make sure that you have all the stuff you need; make sure that all the material belongings are in good order and everything around you is exactly the way you want it.” And then, of course, maybe, maybe we will think about rebuilding the ruins of the temple of the Lord. The reality is that if we get to that point where we really want our lives (for some odd reason that is what we want), we are not going to think about rebuilding the ruins of God’s house because we are going to be so caught up in all of the things around us that we are going to be content with leaving the house of the Lord as a mess because we will not even look at it. We are too concerned about everything else and not concerned about God’s house. We are willing even to go to God’s house and say, “Well, this is the house of the Lord,” and we will go and worship Him there, but we pay no attention to the fact that it is in shambles, that it is filthy, that it is falling down, or even that it is destroyed. Since we can still point to the fact that there is something set aside for the house of God – we did not build anything else on top of that, after all – and it is still there, therefore it must be okay. But again, we see the same pattern. It is putting ourselves first.
Now God is certainly going to tell us, “Fine. You need to take care of certain things regarding your own self.” You have to eat and you have to care for your health and things like that. He is not going to have a problem with that. You have the duties of your state in life that you have to care for. Those are priorities and He expects that. But when we look at how many things that should have no priority – in fact, the only thing that should have a priority is getting some of that stuff to the dumpster – when we look at how much of a priority we put on obtaining these things, filling our lives with these things, and we put no priority or very little priority on trying to rebuild the ruins of what we have done to God’s house, we should be ashamed. And so God speaks to us through the prophet Haggai and says, “Is it right that you should be living in all of your fanciness, in all of your ease and comfort while the house of God lies in ruins?”
What are we doing to build up the house of the Lord? Is our prayer in good order? Are we living a life of virtue? Are we doing what we are supposed to towards God with regard to the duties of our state in life, with regard to all the things that we should be doing: studying and reading Scripture, praying, doing all the things we are supposed to do to rebuild the ruins that we ourselves have caused from our sinfulness, from our selfishness? That is what we have to be about.
The other possibility is what we see in the Gospel. You have Herod who wants to see Jesus for the entirely wrong reason, purely selfish once again. He had no desire to know the Lord. He only had a desire to fulfill whatever selfish ideas he had. “What can I get out of this? What’s in it for me? Who is this guy? I’m kind of curious about it.” It was all about himself; it was not about the Lord. We can fall into the same trap: “I like being with Jesus because He makes me feel good.” Big deal. That is not what it is about. Jesus Christ is God and we are to worship Him. It is not about having good feelings. It is not about massaging our own conscience. It is about putting God first and giving Him the worship and the adoration and the thanksgiving that is due to Him. That is our duty and it is incumbent upon us. It is not an option.
So when we look at what we have done with our lives, we recognize that the temple of the Lord has in many ways been destroyed. It lies in ruins. And we are running around sometimes wanting Jesus for the wrong reason, and we are doing nothing to actually build Him a temple, or very little anyway. That is what we need to consider. Is it right that we should be living in our own fancy, paneled homes while the house of God lies in ruins?
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.