Monday January 19, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Second Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (1 Samuel 15:16-23) Gospel (St. Mark 2:18-22)
Our Lord, in the Gospel, tells us today that new wine is poured into new wineskins and that you do not take a piece of unshrunken cloth and put it onto an old cloak otherwise the tear will only get worse. What the Lord is telling us is that what He is doing in founding Christianity is something entirely new. It is not something that you can just put into an old pattern. In other words, it is not going to be a sect of Judaism but it is going to be something entirely new and different. At the same time, it is going to be founded on old principles. The truth does not change, so the truth that was present in Judaism has not changed. The ritual laws have been done away with but the moral laws are all still in effect.
So when we look at the first reading and we hear what Samuel has to say to Saul, we can apply the exact same things to ourselves. First of all, he says to Saul, “While you are little in your own esteem, are you not the ruler of Israel?” None of us can say that we are the ruler, but nonetheless, what tends to happen is we look at ourselves in a pretty lowly manner – which is good, we need to do that; at the same time, we need to realize how other people might look upon us. If we are out in the world and people know that we are trying to live our faith, they are going to expect a certain way of living from us and they have every reason to expect that. For instance, if someone at work knows that you go to daily Mass and then you are swearing or telling dirty jokes or you are doing some other inappropriate thing, what kind of example has that provided for people? They are looking at you in an entirely different way than they are looking at the next guy sitting over at the desk who is a pagan. They do not expect anything out of that person, but out of you they are going to expect a certain moral character that is going to rise above what the average person is going to be doing. You could look at yourself and say, “But I’m just an average person, why would anyone expect anything different from me?” It is precisely because of what you profess in your belief in God. They expect that you will be living according to a higher standard. Therefore, bad example on your part can cause scandal where bad example on the part of a pagan is just going to be ignored by most people. So, first, we have to realize the impact we can have on people.
Secondly, Samuel goes on to chastise Saul for his disobedience and Saul says, “But it was for a good reason that we did this. We took the best of what was bad and offered it to the Lord in sacrifice.” Now if you just think about the logic for a minute, God Himself said, “You will not touch these things,” and they took the best of the things that God had forbidden them to touch so they could sacrifice them to the Lord. It does not make any sense, but in their minds they were saying, “Well, this is a good thing because sacrifice to the Lord is a very positive thing. Therefore, if we take the very best and sacrifice that to the Lord in thanksgiving for the victory, the Lord will be pleased.” Why would He be pleased if He has already forbidden you to take any of that stuff? The logic does not work very well. But the fact is that the disobedience was so extreme in this case that it lost Saul his kingship. “You have rejected the Lord’s command and therefore the Lord has rejected you” is what Samuel told him. Well, if we think about ourselves, just ask how many times we have rejected God’s commandments. How many times have we failed to do what we are commanded to do? Not even just with the Ten Commandments, but with the ultimate one, the new commandment that Jesus gave us, and that is to love our neighbor. How many times have we failed in that? And then we try to justify ourselves by whatever reason: “Well, look at what that person did to me! After all, they deserve that I treat them that way.” Jesus did not say, “Love your neighbor as long as they treat you well.” In fact, He told us just the opposite: “Love your enemies, pray for your persecutors.” He made very clear that we are without excuse in failing to be charitable to someone else, and yet we do it probably pretty regularly.
So we see again that we are going to be held, because of who we are, to a higher accountability. Being baptized into Jesus Christ, we have an obligation to live according to the ways of Christ. Now obviously we are not perfect – no one is expecting perfection from us yet – however, God is expecting that we are going to be practicing virtue, trying to grow in holiness, trying to live what we profess. That is what is expected of each one of us. We cannot live according to the ways of the world. We cannot live according to any other standard. It is like trying to pour new wine into an old wineskin or trying to take a new patch and put it onto an old cloak – it does not work. If we are going to profess our faith in Jesus Christ, we have to be poured into the wineskin who is Jesus Christ and we have to live according to the ways of Christ. We cannot try to excuse ourselves in any other way. Rather, we are to live according to a way of holiness that is higher than anything else in this world and we are to be an example to all of those around us so that not only will we shine and bring people to Christ in that way, but we will serve the Lord by being the example that we are to be and by living the Faith that we profess.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.