Monday December 13, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Week of Advent
Reading (Numbers 24:2-7, 15-17a) Gospel (St. Matthew 21:23-27)
When we hear these words in the first reading from the Book of Numbers regarding Balaam the prophet, they are all very positive about Israel – but that was not their intent. Balaam was hired by the enemies of Israel to curse Israel, and when he climbed up the mountain to curse the Israelites all encamped at the bottom of the mountain, God required instead that he bless Israel. This happened several times.
But it is interesting what Balaam says regarding Israel. First of all, it talks about how he will have free-flowing waters. The waters, as we read in Saint John’s Gospel, are symbols of grace and of the Holy Spirit. So the Holy Spirit is going to be given freely and grace is going to pour forth in abundance for those who are going to be united with him. And it talks about how his king shall rise higher and his royalty shall be exalted – Jesus, of course, being the King of kings, being exalted over all the kings of the earth, and being enthroned not only as an earthly king but as our heavenly King and as our High Priest. Then the next time he was hired to curse Israel, he simply said, I see him, though not now; I behold him, though not near: A star shall advance from Jacob and a staff shall rise from Israel, once again recognizing that way in the future somewhere there is going to be this king that is going to rise and he is going to be bright and shining and he is going to lead the people.
So when Our Lord comes into this world (fulfilling what Balaam had said, even though it was not what he wanted to do; he was getting paid actually to curse Israel), His own people do not accept Him and they ask Him, “By what authority do you do these things?” Our Lord does not tell them because they have no faith. For one with faith, it is rather evident where the authority comes from. If we look even at the first reading, Balaam is hired for the wrong reason. He is willing to sell himself because he is not really interested in doing the Will of God. Even though he goes through all of these things – one who knows what the Almighty knows, one whose eye is true and sees what God sees and hears what the Almighty says – that is not what he was interested in at all. He was interested in personal gain. He was interested in doing Satan’s work, and God thwarted him because of His chosen people. But when Our Lord came into this world, He did not seek any kind of personal gain, He was not looking for any money for what He did, He was not trying to do anything for Himself. And so even though it was evident whom Balaam was trying to serve, it was also made evident Who ultimately was at work. With Our Lord, it should have been self-evident to anyone, yet because the people did not want to believe, they rejected Him.
Now we have to ask the question about our own selves. Obviously, we believe in the Lord or we would not be here. We believe in where His authority comes from or we would not be here. But then we have to ask ourselves why we do not put it into practice. We hear what He has to say. We see what He has done. We are the ones who actually could utter what Balaam had to say: “We hear what God says, we know what the Most High knows, we see what the Almighty sees, enraptured and with eyes unveiled.” That’s us; it is right there in black and white, right in the Gospel. We see what He does for us in the sacraments, we experience it in our lives, yet for some odd reason we still do not like to put it into practice. We are just like the Pharisees who came to the Lord. They get together when the Lord asks them where John’s baptism came from and they realize that they are stuck either way, so instead they try to take this middle ground and say, “We don’t know.” What about us? Why do we not put into practice the things that we know? Ultimately, most often we will play this little game of saying, “I don’t know.” Then we walk away and we still do not change our lives. We have the truth given to us; we have the Son of God who has come to us in flesh, taught us the truth, and showed us how to live it. We are without excuse.
And so we have to look very seriously at ourselves. We see what God has done, we have heard His Word, now what remains is for us to put it into practice, to get off the fence, to quit trying to play the game of being faithful on one hand and secular on the other. If we are going to serve God, we need to serve God; and if we are not, then we should not. But we cannot be playing the game any longer. We know the truth, we accept the truth, now we need to live the truth.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.