He is Drawing Us with Bands of Love
Thursday July 8, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Hosea 11:1-4, 8e-9) Gospel (St. Matthew 10:7-15)
In the first reading today, we hear from the prophet Hosea about the way God deals with His people. He says, When Israel was a child I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son, and then goes on to say, It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, who took them in my arms; I drew them with human cords, with bands of love; I fostered them like one who raises an infant to his cheeks. We see the tenderness of God, the love that God pours out upon His people. But then he goes on to say that the more He called Israel, the further they went away from Him, the more they sacrificed to idols and to Baal and so on. Yet God says, I will not destroy them again, because of the love that is there. This is the child of God.
Well, today, as we look at the situation and see exactly the same problem, we have the same promise. God is not going to destroy the Church because the Church is His bride, and so it will not be destroyed; but the Church will be purified. The Church will have to endure what Our Lord endured, but we have all of His promises: that He is not going to destroy things, that the jaws of hell will not prevail against the Church, and that the Lord will remain with His Church all days until the end of the world. We need not worry; all we need to do is remain faithful.
We do hear in the Gospel reading again precisely what Our Lord tells us, and it is not the way we like to think about Jesus. We like to think about Jesus as being “Mr. Nice Guy” – “He’s just nice.” Well, that is a bunch of nonsense. Jesus is charitable, but He is not “Mr. Nice Guy”. He is very direct when it comes to telling the Pharisees that they are a brood of vipers, that they are a bunch of hypocrites and all of the different things that He calls them, and He lets them know very clearly what is right and what is wrong. Today He says, If somebody does not receive your word, shake the dust from your feet in testimony against them. It will go easier for Sodom and Gomorrah on the Day of Judgment than it will for that town (or for that household).
We know the Church is going to be fine. The Church is going to be purified, the Church is going to be crucified, and the Church is going to rise and will be glorious. So the question has to do with our own selves. Are we going to be faithful to the Lord? Are we going to receive that peace that Our Lord speaks of? When He comes into our house and He wishes peace to our hearts does He find someone worthy there who will receive that peace? Or does the Lord have to go outside our house and shake the dust from His feet because we refuse to receive Him? Of course, we will immediately object that we would always receive the Lord, but I think we all know better than that too. Remember, He tells us, What you do for the least of My brothers, you do to Me. If we knew that it was Jesus, of course we would receive Him; so He disguises Himself and says, How are you receiving these others? But then the other part of it is how do we receive His Word? Do we accept fully what it is that He is teaching? Do we accept fully Who He is? Or do we try to find ways of rationalizing for ourselves why it is okay to live in a way that is contrary to the Gospel? “After all, it’s too hard. I follow most of it anyway. Ninety percent is pretty good, don’t you think?” Well, try explaining to God why you only followed nine out of ten commandments: “Isn’t that pretty good?” Not good enough.
The Lord desires us to love Him. He draws us with bands of love, and we run away because we are afraid, because we do not want to change, because we do not want to be close to God. Yet we are the first ones who will say, “If Jesus was there, oh, I’d open the door to Him immediately. I want Him in!” We really don’t, do we? If we did, we would not be living the way that we do. Things would look very different in our lives if we really wanted Jesus to be at the center, if we really truly loved Him, if we really allowed Him to love us. That is what we have to look at. It is not a theoretical thing now; it is a very practical thing. Do we really want Our Lord? Do we really love Him? He is calling us, and He is calling us out of the Egypt of this world. He is calling us to Himself out in the desert. Are we willing to go? Are we willing to be drawn by human cords, by bands of love? Do we trust that He really loves us? Do we really believe? These are hard things for us because we like to be comfortable in the way that we are living and we do not like to be shaken out of it. So we become like Israel: The more He calls us, the further away we run because we are afraid. It is not out of malice, necessarily, but it is out of selfishness and it is out of fear.
This is Our Lord. We have nothing to fear from Jesus – nothing. He loves us, and all that He does is love us. We need to really look into our own hearts and ask about our own response to Our Lord’s invitation and how much we love Him. He is calling us. He is calling each one of us individually in the very depths of our hearts to come to Him and to unite ourselves with Him. Are we going to run away? Or are we going to trust Him? Are we going to love Him? Are we going to change our lives so that when He speaks those words of peace in our hearts He will find a worthy person there to receive His blessing?
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.