Friday February 25, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Second Week of Lent
Reading (Genesis 37:3-4, 12-13a, 17b-28a)
Gospel (St. Matthew 21:33-43, 45-46)
In both of the readings today, we see the fruit of selfishness; it is the jealousy, the envy, the focus on the self. When our focus is on ourselves, what winds up happening is that we develop hatred for others because they actually are a censure to our conscience. Of course, we will not admit that. Instead what we do is point our finger at the other person, we call them names, we talk about how horrible they are, and then we do things against them instead of acknowledging what the truth is and where the real problem lies. The problem is not so much in the other person – it is in our own self. Certainly, the other person is not perfect and has their own problems. However, if we were truly being charitable, although recognizing the other person’s problems, we would not be filled with jealousy, envy, and hatred, but rather we would be filled with charity and sympathy toward the other person.
So when we see what happens in these readings today, we see, for instance, with Joseph, the jealousy of his brothers. Because of their jealousy, they are filled with hatred, they strip him of the tunic, and they want to kill him, but instead they throw him into the cistern and then they sell him. Even though this is their own brother, they did this because sin had taken hold of them and they were not able to think clearly. They were not able to see the truth, and therefore all that they could see was their own selves. Now when we look at what happened with Jesus, He tells the people exactly what the situation is: God has given you this vineyard. You are supposed to keep it and you are supposed to bear fruit for God, but instead you are being selfish and arrogant. You’ve killed all the prophets and you’ve killed all the servants of the Lord. Of course, they respond by wanting to kill Him too, because, once again, He pointed out their sins. He was a censure to their conscience, and therefore they wanted to kill the messenger.
We have to be able to see that this is basically the same thing that we do. Thankfully, we are not running around killing everybody, but in our thoughts we oftentimes do; in our desires, perhaps, we even do the same; sometimes in the way that we talk about people, we still do the same thing. We have not killed them physically, but we kill their reputation, we kill their dignity (not that we can ever take that away, but that is in essence what we are trying to do), and we undermine things. To what end? It is to make ourselves look better. It is to somehow feel like we have power, that they do not have power over us but we do over them. And again, for what? What has it accomplished? The only thing it has accomplished is that we look like a bunch of fools. It does absolutely no good for anyone.
We can look at this from afar and we can say, “Joseph’s brothers thought that they were going to get rid of the one who was causing them problems.” Imagine what they had to live with for the rest of their lives. And then, what did it accomplish for them anyway? They each got a piece and a half of silver. So what? They probably spent it within a day, and then it was gone. Look at what they did to Jesus. What did it gain for them? The same is going to be true with us. If we treat other people this way, what does it gain for us? Nothing.
So what we need to work on is getting rid of the things that lead to this kind of problem. And the things that lead to this kind of problem are always the same. It is the selfishness, which is a lack of charity; it is the jealousy and the envy, which are rooted in pride. Those are the two problems always: the pride and the lack of charity. Our Lord tells us that we have to pray for our persecutors and we have to love our enemies because that is the way we are going to overcome these things. We need to pray, too, for ourselves, to pray for charity and to pray for humility so that we are not going to be filled with the kind of jealousy and envy that will lead to anger, that will lead to trying to take it out on somebody.
What we need instead is charity. We need to learn from Our Lord’s example, and we need to be able to love those who hate us. We have to understand that all of our jealousy and all of our anger will gain us absolutely nothing, and then we are still going to have to answer to God for it anyway. So it may gain us hell, which is pure loss and no gain. Even if we want to look at it totally selfishly, it is only in our benefit to be able to get rid of this stuff so that we can live truly virtuous lives, so that we can imitate Our Lord in the way that He has lived and in what He has taught us, and in that way be obedient. And when we are being obedient to Our Lord, what will happen for us is that we will be free, free of sin, free of selfishness, free of all the garbage that weighs us down. Then we will be able to do exactly what He has commanded us to do. We will be able to love our enemies, we will be able to be charitable toward all the people – even when they are not charitable to us – and then we will be able to be united completely with Our Lord.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording with minimal editing.