Friday February 8, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Sirach 47:2-11) Gospel (St. Mark 6:14-29)
In the readings today, we hear about two kings who did very similar things - on the sinful level, that is - and yet came out with two very different consequences. We hear about David, who in Sirach is very nicely covered over by simply saying: "God forgave him his sins." We know what David did: He had committed adultery and had Bathsheba's husband Uriah killed - all of these things with lust, with murder that David had performed. Then we see Herod basically doing the exact same thing. He was committing adultery with Herodias. Then, when Herodias' daughter comes in and performs this sensuous dance, suddenly, the lust that fills his heart makes him offer to give her anything that she wants. When she asks for the head of John the Baptizer, he has him murdered in prison. So we see a similar kind of situation.
But the difference is that when Herod heard the words of John the Baptizer he was disturbed - he felt the attraction, but he did not want to hear it. He refused the Word of God and rejected any kind of repentance for what it was that he was doing. David, on the other hand, when Nathan came in to speak to him and told him the little story about the man who received a visitor and instead of taking one of his sheep from his own flock took the neighbor's little ewe lamb that was the only one the neighbor had and used that to feed his visitor, said in anger, "That man must repay fourfold what he had taken!" And Nathan said, "You are the man." David immediately repented of what it was that he had done. Unlike Herod, he did not reject the Word of God; he repented and God forgave him.
And so, when we look at ourselves, then, we need to be able to place these same lessons before ourselves. Because what we have before us today are two people who have done rather extreme things, it gives the rest of us great consolation [who] maybe have not done things that are quite as extreme. But even if it is that [extreme] or even worse, we can see that there are two different ways we can deal with it. We can resist God's mercy; we can push it away; we can be disturbed when we hear the Word of God; we can despise God's Word when it is told to us that we need to reject our sinful ways; we can be like Herod and hear it, be attracted to it, but refuse to pay it any attention because we like our sin better than we like God. Or we can be like David: Even though he tried to keep his sin hidden, once it became obvious in his own heart what it was he had done, once God had revealed it to him, he repented; he acknowledged what it was that he had done, he repented, and he accepted God's mercy and forgiveness. That is the option we have to choose.
God, in the heart of each one of us, will convict us of what it is that we have done, maybe not through somebody like Nathan coming to David, maybe not like John the Baptist speaking directly to Herod, but we know what God does in our own hearts. Then the question is do we want to keep in our sin, or do we want to repent? We will acknowledge that, yes, this is what we do, but very often we do not want to change. That is the choice we have to make. Do we really want to accept God's mercy? Do we want to change our lives? Do we want to repent of our sin? Or do we want to be like Herod and just try to ignore it, cover it over, and pay it no attention?
God is offering His mercy to all. He would forgive Herod if Herod would turn to Him with repentance. And He will forgive us in the same way. Sometimes we think that our sins are too big, or that what we have done is so bad that we are unforgivable. God never would do that to us. We must simply turn to God with confidence, with humility, with trust, and know that His mercy is there because He has made that promise to us. When we look upon our own sinfulness, when the Lord convicts us in the depths of our heart for what it is that we have done, then we need to learn from the lesson of David and acknowledge our sin, repent, and accept the mercy and the forgiveness of God.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.