Reading (James 2:1-9) Gospel (St. Mark 8:27-33)
In the first reading today, Saint James tells us that we are not to show any partiality as we adhere to the faith of our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. Now if we are going to do that, he makes the example of a poor person and a rich person coming into the assembly, and how the people tend to trip over themselves when somebody who is wealthy comes in; yet when someone who is poor comes in, they ignore him. We tend to do the exact same sorts of things in our lives. Sometimes we do it based on whether the person is male or female. Sometimes we do it based on how they are dressed. Oftentimes if a woman is pretty then they fall all over themselves, but if she is not then they treat her poorly. We do it based on the color of skin. We do it based on all kinds of different purposes. For what? We are making judgments in our own minds based on external things that mean nothing. Just because someone is rich or pretty or has a particular color of skin does not make them a good person. Someone may be poor or a little less pleasant to look at (or whatever the case may be) and that person may be the holiest person you have ever met. If we make these distinctions in our minds based on external things, Saint James tells us that we commit sin because we are standing in judgment with regard to others based merely on things that are external. This is wrong.
So he is telling us, with regard to those who pray with us, that we have to practice charity. If God loves this other person so much that He is going to give Himself to them entirely in Holy Communion, that He has called that person to Himself so that person can pray and love Him and He can love that person in return, and He has called us to the exact same thing, who are we to say, “I love Jesus and Jesus loves that person, but I don’t”? Then we do not love Jesus, because if Jesus loves that other person so much, who are we to say that we do not? Why would we fail to love somebody whom Jesus loves if we are going to say that we truly love Him?
On top of that, as Saint James tells us, if we are going to follow His commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves, then how can we fail in such obvious ways? How can we be bigots, which is what it really comes down to? To be prejudiced is bad enough, but if we are going to be making gross judgments about someone merely based on the externals, it is bigotry. And gross bigotry is a mortal sin. This is not something that we can have any part in. So we need to overcome that and pray and ask Our Lord for the grace to be able to love everybody the way that He does.
Otherwise, we are going to be like Peter. When Jesus acknowledges Peter’s statement of the truth – You are the Messiah – and then He tells them what He needs to do – to suffer and die – Peter then suddenly becomes upset about this, and judging once again on externals he says, This cannot happen to You. Jesus looks at him and says, Get behind Me, Satan. What are we going to do when we stand before the Lord, and He tells us that we were bigots, that we judged people based on external appearance, that we did not love the people He loved? We are going to have all of our reasons, just like Peter did: “This can’t happen; this can’t be.” And He is going to say, “Get behind me, Satan. You have no business being in heaven if that is the kind of attitude you have.” What are we going to do in heaven when God allows in the poor, the people with skin colors other than our own, people of the opposite sex, people whom we thought were unacceptable in this world? When He opens the kingdom of heaven to them, are we going to say, “Well, if they’re going in there then I’m not”? No, if we are going to heaven, then we have to love them. And if we are going to love them there, we had better love them here because that is what will be required of us.
I think we all should have figured out by now that oftentimes (certainly not always, but oftentimes) the people that we trip all over ourselves to impress – the pretty ones, the rich ones, the handsome ones, whatever it might be – they are the people whose personalities are the worst. They are oftentimes the ones who are so caught up in themselves that they are arrogant and snotty and they do not think they need the Lord. Yet the others that we tend to ignore, they are the ones who are filled with love. They are humble; they are kind; they have wonderful personalities. Yet so often we ignore them just because of the externals. One would think that by now we would have learned these sorts of things, but unfortunately we keep falling all over ourselves in the wrong direction.
We need to make sure that we are looking at Christ and trying to see things as He sees them. We are to do exactly as He commanded us to do, to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we are going to trip all over ourselves with regard to anyone else, there is a very simple solution: Just go home and look in the mirror. We are going to see real quickly that we probably would not be tripping for our own selves because we do not fit into the categories that we ourselves would be falling all over for. So why are we making these kinds of judgments? Why are we making these kinds of distinctions? Every human person is equal, and it does not matter how rich they are, what kind of position they may have, what they look like, or anything. In the eyes of God, we are created equal and we are all called to love God and love neighbor in the same way. Therefore, we must put bigotry and prejudice aside. We must look beyond the externals and recognize the reality of who this person is as a child of God and love the individual as Jesus loves them.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.