Monday August 7, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Numbers 12:1-13) Gospel (St. Matthew 14:22-36)
In the readings today, we see a bit of a pattern. In the first reading we see Aaron and Miriam complaining about Moses. Aaron and Miriam, of course, are Moses' brother and sister and they are complaining against Moses because he married a Cushite woman. That might not make a lot of sense to us, but you see that God has a sense of humor. A Cushite woman would be a black woman. So, after God leaves, Miriam, who also would have had dark skin coming out of Egypt and being from the Middle East, suddenly is a snow-white leper. God is just letting them see by the absolute contrast: Here they are complaining because Moses had married somebody who was black and, all of a sudden, Miriam becomes completely white. It is basically to say: "If you do not like that extreme, let us try this extreme." But she also suffered the affliction, which would have been upon her. We then see the mercy that Moses performs for her as he prays that God would heal her, which is what happened. We did not see that part in the reading today. We see Moses praying for his sister, and then later God removes the leprosy from her.
But the other part we see in both of the readings is that the high priest is also unfaithful. Remember that Aaron at this time was appointed the high priest and here he is complaining against Moses: complaining because God is speaking to Moses, but not to himself; complaining that God does not speak through somebody else, and so on. We see the infidelity of Aaron. Of course, we remember that the greatest infidelity of Aaron was when they made the golden calf. So here is the one that God had appointed as the high priest of the people and we see that he falters in his faith.
Then we see Peter, whom the Lord appoints to be the high priest. This particular passage comes from Matthew chapter 14, prior to Peter making his statement: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." That comes in two chapters from now, in chapter 16, so that had not yet been revealed to Peter. And Peter had not yet been told that to him would be entrusted the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. He was not yet appointed as the pope; but, nonetheless, here is the man who was going to be the pope and he is faltering, along with the other eleven who are going to be part of the apostolic college.
Here they are disbelieving. They are going into a fit because they think there is a ghost walking across the water. When Jesus tells them that it is Himself, they still do not believe. Then Peter, finally making an act of faith, starts to walk across the water and then begins to sink. Again, we see the humanness of these people that God has chosen.
This gives to the rest of us a great deal of hope. Our natural inclination is to throw our arms up, sigh heavily, and think, "What is wrong with these guys? After all, God picked them and look at how fickle they are!" Well, God picked us too. And what about us? How many times do we falter? How many times has our faith kind of waffled around? How many times have we not done what God wants us to do? We can take great hope when we see that the very people God has chosen throughout history have also been very human, very sinful, very weak - just like us. Even though these were the high priests, still they failed - just like us.
We can take great hope in this; not so that we can keep on failing, but to be able to see that God chose weak human instruments and that He worked with them, He forgave them - just like He does with us. He picks them up and puts them back on the road so that, hopefully, they will continue along the right path. But we know that Aaron fell several times along the way, we know that Peter fell several times along the way, and we also know ourselves well enough.
When we see these things, we need to look at God. We need to look at His mercy. Do not look at ourselves and think how horrible we are and how rotten and awful and everything else - otherwise, we have to say the same thing about Peter, Aaron, and the other disciples as well. What we need to be able to do is to look at God and His mercy, to trust in that mercy, to continue to seek to grow in holiness, and to do what is right; but always to look at God, keep our eyes focused on Him, and trust completely in Him. In that way, we will have hope: that same hope that Peter had, that same hope that Aaron had as he saw the mercy of God. We need that same hope and that same courage to keep moving forward and to know that, like them, God has chosen us for Himself and has chosen us with our humanness, our weakness, and our sinfulness. He will use that, will work with that, to actually help us to be more humble and to grow more perfectly in holiness and, thereby, to grow more perfectly in His service.
Note: Father Altier does not write his homilies in advance, but relies solely upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.