Tuesday November 19, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Revelation 3:1-6, 14-22) Gospel (St. Luke 19:1-10)
I think if the Book of Revelation were to be written today that the words to the church of Laodicea would be addressed to the church of America. It says, “I know that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were either hot or cold. But because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich and affluent and I have no need of anything,’ but you do not yet realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” Does that not state exactly the way things are for most people in America, that our wealth and our affluence, all of our things, have gotten in the way and we are not able to see God? We think we can do everything all by ourselves; we have no need of God. Or if we do recognize the need for God, it is just that He is there; He is not really at the center of our lives. We are not hot or cold, but we are just kind of lukewarm. We give Him lip service but we do not really want to change our lives to live with Him, to be like Him. We like the ease; we like the comfort. The Lord tells us that whomever He loves, He chastises. And so if that is not happening, we are in trouble. It means that our focus is not on the Lord but someplace else, so the Lord needs to purify us. He says, “Be earnest, therefore, and repent.”
Now that is what we saw with the wealthy man in the Gospel. When Jesus came through, this man, Zacchaeus, repented. He came down and allowed the Lord to stay with him, which is exactly what Our Lord told us in the first reading. He said, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and I will dine with him, and he with Me.” That is exactly what happened with Zacchaeus. So you put these two readings together and you recognize that the Lord is speaking to the wealthy people of Laodicea just as He was speaking to Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus came down; he opened his heart; he opened his door and the Lord entered and dined with him. The people grumbled because the Lord was eating with sinners, tax collectors; but the Lord said, “This one is a child of Abraham.” He had repented and he said he would give to the poor and anyone that he had frauded he would give four times as much as he had stolen from them. The Lord then said, “Salvation has come to this house.”
The Lord desires to say the exact same thing to each one of us, but He calls us first to repentance. He calls us to change our lives. That is what that word repentance means; it means “to turn around”. It comes from the Greek word metanoia – “to turn around, to make a change”. It is not enough to be able to make a change by saying, “I want the Lord as part of my life but I don’t want to change anything else. I want to have all my junk and I want to have the Lord too!” There is not much room for the Lord if our hearts are filled up with stuff. If George Washington or Abraham Lincoln or Andrew Jackson (or whoever happens to be on the front of any of the bills) is the god of our life, there is no room for God because we have made money and materialism more important than God. In this society, obviously, money is necessary because it is the way that commerce takes place, but that does not mean we need to make money into a god, nor materialism. We need to look very seriously and ask ourselves, “What is in the way? What don’t I really need? What stands between God and me?” And we need to get rid of it. We need to repent. We need to be like Zacchaeus. He did not just come down from the tree and open the door to the Lord; he made a change in his life. He said, “I will give to the poor and I will repay four times whatever it is that I have stolen.” So it is not just a matter of saying, “How I wish the Lord would enter and dine with me,” but it is to say, “I need to make some changes first.” Then the Lord will come and dine with us. That is what He longs to do more than anything.
Now, we realize that on one level He is already doing that. He gives Himself to us in Communion everyday. The question still remains: Do we really open our hearts to let Him in? He cannot dine with us. He is standing at the door knocking; He is right there in the Eucharist and He wants nothing more than to be able to enter in and dine with us, but are we willing to open the heart? Are we willing to make the changes that are necessary: to be hot or cold, to get rid of our lukewarmness, to make the change in our lives, to repent, to be purified and allow the Lord to enter our hearts so that we can dine with Him and He with us?
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.