Monday June 14, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (1 Kings 21:1-16) Gospel (St. Matthew 5:38-42)
The words that Our Lord speaks in the Gospel today are rather painful and difficult for most people when He tells us that we are not to offer any resistance to those who want to do evil to us, that if someone wants our tunic we are supposed to give him our cloak as well, and if they want us to go one mile we should go two. These are things that go completely contrary to everything within us that is natural because we look at it and rightly say, “It is unjust.” But that is precisely the point: While everyone has an obligation to be just, one does not necessarily have an obligation to require it when it comes to oneself. In other words, I would have absolutely no right in the world to treat you in an unjust manner, but that does not mean that if I am going to treat you in an unjust way that you have to demand your rights. It would be wrong for me to violate your rights, but it is not necessarily wrong for you not to demand your rights. That is still a hard concept for us to be able to grasp, but it is to be able to accept that God Himself is the one who will bring about justice for us.
We hear, for instance, in the first reading, about the evil queen Jezebel and her weak husband Ahab, who was the king, and how she had Naboth put to death. And we will hear tomorrow about how God sends Elijah to confront Ahab on what precisely has taken place. Naboth offered no resistance to what it was they were doing. Now he will have his blood completely made up for, but it is not in the way that we think it ought to be. We would sit back and say, “Well, if God were really a just God, why would He allow Naboth to be put to death in the first place? What they were doing was completely unjust and God should have intervened.” It may well be that this was how Naboth went to heaven; we do not know.
What we have to do is trust God in all things. We know that if we are going to trust God He is going to make things difficult. We would like to be able to say, “If I trust God, He’s going to provide for me way in advance. He’s going to take care of everything the way that I think He should because, after all, that would be just.” Not necessarily. We simply need to put it in God’s hands. But before we can do that, we have to be able to recognize that first truth: that it is God Who is going to take care of things for us and we do not have to be running around trying to demand that someone treat us the way that we deserve to be treated. If we just stop to think about what we deserve, anyone who treats us in any manner is probably treating us better than what we deserve anyway. But it is not a question of that; it is a question of us doing what is right. We put up such a stink when somebody treats us in an unjust way, and then we turn around and oftentimes do something similar or even worse. Then we, of course, try to rationalize our way around it: “It was okay for me to do that.” It is not. So what we have to learn is that while we must treat everyone with proper justice, respect, charity, and so on, and while everyone has an obligation to treat us in that way, we have to keep in mind that it is not for us to demand that that is what they do. This is a very hard and painful thing for us to be able to grasp, but it is precisely what Our Lord is teaching us; it is exactly what the saints teach us.
If we want to be able to grow, if we want to be truly like Christ – Who did not offer any resistance to the injustice that was done to Him – then we see the pattern. It is to die to self and put it all in God’s hands and to trust. This is very, very difficult. No one is going to suggest that this is an easy thing to do because it requires an act of the will and it requires placing everything in God’s hands, but that is the challenge Our Lord places before us today. It is exactly what Saint Teresa of Avila said some four hundred years ago when she was writing to her nuns: “To be a Carmelite is not to give up one’s rights, it is simply not to demand them.”
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.