Wednesday August 17, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Judges 9:6-15) Gospel (St. Matthew 20:1-16)
In the first reading today, we heard about the people of Shechem and Beth-millo deciding upon a king for themselves. The situation of this is that Gideon, of whom we heard yesterday, had seventy sons, and Abimelech, one of those seventy sons, decided that he wanted to be king; so he had all of his brothers put to death and paid off these people to make him a king. Jotham was the only one of the brothers who escaped what Abimelech was doing, and he was just a child. At this point we hear the story of Jotham climbing up Mount Gerizim and crying down to the people of Beth-millo and Shechem, saying: Here’s the situation. The trees all decided to ask the olive tree (the greatest of the trees in that area) to be their king and it said “no.” Then they asked the fig tree and then they asked the vine. (You can see how they are getting lower and lower each time.) Finally, they asked the buckthorn (which is a worthless thing) and the buckthorn said, “If you want me to do this then come stand in my shade.” Well, what kind of guidance are you going to get from a buckthorn? That is the point he is making.
Now this is something that is critical for us because, just like the people of Israel, we have a king, but, just like the people of Israel, we all clamor for someone on the human level to lead us. Our king is God. And the day is coming very, very soon when if God is not your king personally and individually you will be lost because all human leaders are going to turn against us. They are all going to leave us standing out in the sun. There is not much shade from the buckthorn and what shade there is is not going to be good. So we all need to make a decision. We need to make sure that we are following the Lord. Period. That is all. If we are not, we are going to be in trouble.
We can understand then, in the context of this, where the Gospel reading becomes important for us. It does not matter at what point a person decides to follow the Lord, whether that is at the very beginning of the day, or whether that is at the very end of the day. It is a very interesting story in the Gospel that this man goes to the place where the workers are and he hires everybody who is there. Then he comes back and there are more. He comes back again and there are more. Those people who were there at nine and noon and three and five, they were not there earlier or they would have been hired.
It is no different for us. Some of us, perhaps, have been very faithful to the Lord from the time that we were little children. Others, perhaps, it is much later in their lives when they are converted. When the difficulties come upon the world, there are going to be some who will convert at the last minute. There are going to be many, many others who at this point we would think would be faithful to the Lord and they are going to abandon Him. So we simply need to make sure that we are focused on Christ, that we are seeking His Will.
The time is upon us, and I have warned you for several years: If you do not have a prayer life, you will not make it. The time is now. If you do not have a prayer life, you will be lost. The choice is yours. We have been warned, we have been told over and over and over again, and if we have decided not to heed the warning then that is our decision. But this is the time. We have to make the radical choice, and the radical choice is for or against Jesus. You have your choice to follow the buckthorn, and there are plenty of buckthorns out there that are leading us in every which way. Or you can follow Jesus Christ. There is not much decision to be made. But if you want a king whom you can see and hear and who is going to lead you into darkness, just follow the politicians. If, on the other hand, you want a king who is going to lead you through the darkness and into light then look to Jesus Christ.
There is only one king in Israel, and there is only one king in the New Israel – that is God Himself. So the choice lies entirely with ourselves because God is allowing us to use our free will to choose for Him or against Him, to choose human leadership or divine leadership. We need to make that decision, and we need to make it very quickly because the time is upon us. We have to choose Jesus Christ. We need to be faithful to Him and we need to have a well-established prayer life, or the alternative is that we can follow the buckthorn and be lost.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.