Thursday January 6, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Week After Epiphany
Reading (1 John 4:19-5:4) Gospel (St. Luke 4:14-22)
In the first reading today, we hear Saint John tell us, Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God. Now that sounds like a pretty wonderful thing. Then he goes on, however, to say, And everyone who loves the Father loves also the one begotten by Him, and talks about how we have to love our neighbor and that if anyone hates his neighbor he cannot love God. So it is, again, not just this generic idea that “I believe in Jesus, therefore I’m begotten of God, therefore I’m going to heaven, therefore…” and whatever we want to add. It is not just that simple.
In fact, we can look at the Gospel reading and we all know the setting well enough. Jesus goes into the synagogue in Nazareth and tells them, Today this passage is fulfilled in your hearing. They are all amazed at what comes out of His mouth, and within minutes they will turn on Him and try to kill Him. For the moment, they believed; but as soon as the Lord put His finger on something within them, they turned very quickly. We see how easily we can do the exact same thing. Perhaps most, if not all of us, have had the experience that when things go wrong we look at God and we get angry and we start yelling at Him and sometimes we even walk away from Him and think, “If this is what You’re going to do, I don’t want anything to do with You,” and so on.
Then we ask ourselves, “How much do I really believe in Him?” If we are just fair-weather friends of God, that does not require any faith and it does not have any commitment. Remember that love is always proven in suffering. If we take off as soon as the cross comes then we have to ask ourselves, “How much do I really believe in Jesus” – because He is not the Christ unless He goes to the Cross – “and how much do I really love God if I am going to reject the very thing that is going to prove my love?” So we realize how easy it is to fall away. It is kind of a nice thing to be able to sit back and say, “I believe in Jesus,” but it is a much more difficult thing to practice what it is that we state. If we truly believe in Him then we have to live it. It is exactly what Saint John said: The love of God is this, that we keep His commandments, that we live a holy life, that we do what it is that He has told us. And what is the commandment of God? Love. Love God and love your neighbor, exactly the point Saint John is making once again. That requires self-sacrifice.
When we look at what Our Lord did for us, how grateful we are because we realize how weak, how small, how pathetic we really are, and we marvel at the fact that He would do something so amazing for a creature that is so pathetic. Then we turn right around and we stand in judgment of other people, and in essence say, “Well, you’re so pathetic, I don’t have to love you!” But then we will turn around and say to Jesus, “Thank You for loving me who am so pathetic”! So we see where we run into these little contradictions within our own self, as though somehow we deserve to be loved but others do not. We are grateful that Jesus sacrificed Himself for us, but we do not want to do it for anybody else. Obviously, we need to be prudent in what we do and how, but we need to be very, very careful that we do not exchange prudence for selfishness because selfishness is the opposite of love, and if we are not loving then we are not following the commandments, and if we are not following the commandments then we are not really believing in Jesus, even though we can give Him lip service. Saint John makes very clear that it has to be lived in our day-to-day reality. So that is the struggle we all have to face – to overcome the self – so that we can truly love God and love our neighbor as we have been commanded.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.