Tuesday December 16, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Week of Advent
Reading (Zephaniah 3:1-2, 9-13) Gospel (St. Matthew 21:28-32)
In the readings today, we see two different aspects of one’s relationship with God. All of us, I suspect, if we listen to the Gospel reading, can certainly put our own name right into this story, that is, the story of the man who said to his first son, “Go out into the field.” Initially, we said “no” and then went. At the same time, we can put our name into the second one as well, into the one who said, “Yes, sir!” but never went. How often we have told God that we will do whatever He wants us to do, but then when it comes right down to it we do not do it. We put our own will before His. We want to do it our way rather than to do it His way, even though we know fully well what His Will is. On one level, we really do want to do His Will; the problem is that there is still way too much of the self involved. Therefore, when it comes time to actually carry out the Will of God, we do not do it. So even though in general we want to do what He wants us to do, the fact is that we sometimes do not do it.
That is exactly what the Lord is talking about through the prophet Zephaniah in the first reading when he says, “Woe to the city, the rebellious city, the tyrannical city!” In all of the misdeeds that the city had done, it did not turn to God, it did not trust in God. But then we see the mercy of the Lord. The Lord tells us, regarding that city, that it need not be ashamed any longer of its misdeeds, that God is going to wipe away all of the sins and He is going to remake that city. So too in the Gospel, we see that the chief priests and the elders and the scribes are being offered all of the grace necessary for salvation. They heard the preaching of John the Baptist, but because they thought they had the market cornered on truth and on salvation they refused to listen to him. And even when they saw the signs that would accompany the preaching of the Gospel, even then they refused to believe. Now they had the Lord Himself preaching to them and still they refused to accept. They are like that rebellious and tyrannical city. But you see the mercy of God: He gave them all of these opportunities to repent. He first gave them the truth, then He sent John the Baptist, and then He sent His Son. And it was only after the people still refused to believe and to repent that they were condemned.
We see the mercy of God too in our own lives. Whether we are like the young man who first said “no” but then decided better of this and decided to go out into the field, whether we are like that and first said, “No, I just want to do whatever I want to do,” and then we repented, we still need to get to confession; or far worse, if we are like the one who said, “Yes, I will go,” but then never made it to the field, unfortunately, the latter one is not going to listen to the words of Jesus Christ or of anyone else because we have chosen to do whatever we want to do – not what God wants us to do. So we need to make sure that we are seriously looking for the Will of God and seeking the Will of God in all things, not just giving Him lip service, not just saying, “Yes, I will go,” but then going off and doing our own thing. We cannot fool God, but sadly we try to fool our own selves. So, again, we can go to prayer and really look at that question: Am I serious about doing God’s Will or am I merely giving Him lip service?
If we are choosing to do His Will, if we find that we have been off doing our own thing and now we have decided to do His Will, then we have His promise of His mercy that we need not be ashamed of our misdeeds, that God is going to remake us. Rather than looking back and saying, “I’ve lost it because I didn’t do the Will of God,” what we need instead to do is to look to Him now, to trust in Him, and to seek His mercy, knowing that the promise is still there if we are willing to open our hearts and to accept it. God’s mercy endures – the question is whether or not we are going to accept it. So when we see our own rebelliousness, our own disobedience, if we are willing to make the choice to be obedient then we have the promise of God’s mercy. We can come to Him, we can be forgiven, and we can be reformed like the city in the first reading. We need no longer be ashamed of our former misdeeds, but rather we can accept the mercy of God and we can go out into the field and do the work for which our heavenly Father has sent us.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.