Tuesday November 11, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Wisdom 2:23-3:9) Gospel (St. Luke 17:7-10)
In the Gospel reading, Our Lord tells us this point of thinking ourselves to be unprofitable servants who have done only what we are obliged to do. It really tells us the kind of disposition that we have to have in our relationship with the Lord. First of all, to recognize that we are His servants, yet it is not a slavery which forces us into things but rather it is a freely chosen act of love on our part. And so when we look at what God has required of us, it is because we have chosen to do what God wants. We all know (all too well, in fact) that God does not force us to do anything. We also know that God tries, by giving us His grace and by trying to encourage us in the right way, to keep us on the right track and help us to do always what is right. But, because we have free will, He will not force us to do what is right. And I suspect that we have all probably many, many times experienced the truth of what happens when we are about to sin: The grace is there to tell us “no” and we reject it anyway.
So we see that God does not force us to do His Will the way a master might force a slave to do the will of the master. But rather because this is an act chosen on our part so that we would be servants of the Lord as a privilege – not as something that would violate our dignity (the way that slavery in the typical human sense would be understood) but rather as something which is going to fulfill our dignity – it is an act of love, then. And when one person loves another there is really nothing that is too much to ask, unless it is something that would be a sin. More than that, it is not simply even a matter of being asked to do something, because when you love someone you just simply want to serve that person and it does not matter what the service is, how menial it may seem at the time, it is not going to be a problem because out of love you are going to give yourself completely for the sake of the other.
When we look at it from that perspective, sometimes we must draw of our strength and do some very small thing for the Lord and then we somehow think we have done something heroic. We think that God should make some sort of big issue out of this and give us a medal and tell us how wonderful we are because we actually did what we should have done in the first place! We are sort of like little kids who when they make their bed think that they should be paid by their mother because they actually did what they should have done. It does not make sense, but it is our humanness that comes through very clearly.
But if one is acting out of love, it is not being done out of some kind of self-interest. It is not being done looking for a reward, but rather it is done simply for the good of the other, in this case for God, and if He is asking us to serve others, then also for our neighbor. It is not something that we would look at as somehow being what “I am forced to do” or something that “I did not want to do” or something that “I should get a reward for having done” or whatever it may be, but rather it is freely given service to another; it is pouring the self out as an act of charity. Therefore, when we are finished with whatever the particular act may be, rather than looking for something in return, what the person who loves will do is simply look for the next thing that he or she is able to do for the beloved.
And so it is a matter of perspective. If we are feeling forced by God into a slavery which is one of constraint, slavery as we would tend to think of it in the American sense as it has violated the dignity of people who were forced into slavery, that kind of slavery is one where it is going to be self-interested: “I’ll do it because I’m afraid of being punished. I’ll do it simply because this is what I’m being required to do.” But a freely chosen slavery out of love is going to seek to do what we are able to do for the Lord. Not, “What am I being forced to do?” but, “How can I serve the Lord?” Therefore, it is not, “What am I going to get out of this for having done whatever it is that I did?” but, “How can I love the Lord even more? How can I give even more? What more can I do to be able to serve God and glorify Him?” There is an entire difference in the manner in which we look at it.
And when one truly loves another, what that person will always feel is that they can never fully express the love that is there. Therefore, we would look at ourselves and say, “I’m just a worthless and unprofitable servant. This is somebody who loves me so much and yet all I’m able to do is express a tiny bit in gratitude and in service.” That is the way we want to be with the Lord. When we recognize how much He loves us and how much we should be loving Him – and then we see how little we really do – that is what helps us to be able to see things in the proper perspective. Not, “Look how wonderful I am because I actually did something that I should have done in the first place!” but rather, “I love Him so much that I want to serve Him at every moment and I want to give Him everything – not because I’m forced to, but because I choose to out of love.” When we realize that we want to give Him everything and we hardly give Him anything, no matter how good our effort is (and the Lord will bless us for that), we will be able to see where we have failed, we will be able to see where we could have done more for the Lord, and then our attitude, rather than being focused on the self, will be focused on Him and we will be able to say, “I am an unprofitable servant and I have done nothing more than what I should have done in the first place.”
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.