Thursday February 19, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Sixth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (James 2:1-9) Gospel (St. Mark 8:27-33)
In the first reading today, Saint James rebukes the people of the early Church for showing some kind of preferential treatment to those who are wealthy, as though it is because of their wealth that they must be better people. He is getting on them about that because it is clear that is not the case, and then he even gives a few examples. It is not to say that someone who is wealthy is somehow a lesser person, but it is to make clear that they are not a greater person just because of the wealth. And so, Saint James is saying that you do not show them any partiality. The simple point is that we are all made in God’s image and likeness so we are all equal regardless of anything. It does not matter what position a person has; it does not matter what title they have; it does not matter how much money they have; none of it matters. We are all equal in the eyes of God, and He desires the salvation of each and every one.
Yet we see, again, the same problem in the Gospel, a different set of circumstances, but the same basic problem. When Jesus takes Peter aside and rebukes him, He says, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as men do.” Is that not the problem when we make these kinds of judgments in our own mind? “This is somebody I want to get close to because of their position, because of their money, because of their power, because of their name,” or whatever it might be. We are not thinking as God does at those times, but we are thinking in merely human terms because the Lord has made very clear what it is that we are supposed to do: to love our neighbor as ourselves, as Saint James reminds us. That is the commandment Jesus Himself has given us. In doing so, He did not say, “Love the neighbor that you think is going to provide greater things for you more than the ones that aren’t going to,” because we do not know. Someone who is poor, for instance, may in fact be praying for you, which is going to obtain a whole lot more for you than somebody who may be able to give you some money. But it seems in the immediate that the one who has the money is the one who is going to help us more; of course, that is not the case, especially in the eyes of God, Who is looking not so much at what the help is in this world but what it is in the next world.
What we also have to keep in mind is that the One we follow is someone who had nowhere to lay His head. He had no money; He did not have a title; He had no power, as far as the world is concerned; He was poor; He was despised; He was rejected. And yet He is the One we put our faith in. But then when it comes to something on the earthly level, we tend to flip everything completely backwards and we make all kinds of unfortunate assumptions.
We need also to be very clear that not only is it non-Scriptural when we do this, but it is non-Catholic. There are some among the non-Catholics who would look at things and tell us that the rich are the ones loved more by God because He has provided great riches for them. If we look at the Beatitudes, that is not quite what Jesus tells us. If we look everywhere else in Scripture, it is not what we are going to see either. But we fall easily into that trap. It is time that we think in Catholic terms, and to think in Catholic terms means that we need to learn to think in terms of Jesus Christ because that is the only truth and it is the fullness of the truth. Unless our minds are the minds of Christ, then somewhere along the line we have been infected by something that is not of God. And that infection is going to cause all kinds of trouble within us. As we saw the other day, the little bit of yeast is going to affect the whole mass of dough. So too does the little bit of infection of any kind of worldliness or any kind of falsehood, it is going to affect everything in our lives.
So we need to seek only Christ and to do exactly what Saint Paul told us to do, that is, to “put on the mind of Christ”. There is a reason he told us that, because if we do not have the mind of Christ then we have the mind of the world, and the mind of the world is going to lead us away from Christ. We need to learn to think not as men do, but as God does, so that we learn to look not according to worldly standards, but according to divine standards, and make our judgments according to the way that God Himself has laid it out. It has nothing to do with the externals; it has nothing to do with wealth or position or power; all has to do with the heart. The one who is the greatest is the one who loves the most, and the two who loved more than any in the world were among the most poor – that was Jesus and His mother. If we are going to make any kind of judgments, they are the two that we have to hold up as the standard. Just ask yourself, “If you were looking only at externals 2,000 years ago, how would you have judged them?” When we look at that, then we need to put it into our own situation and hold up that same standard and recognize there is only one way by which we can judge anyone, and that is according to how much they love. Since we cannot even judge that, but only God can, we are reminded that Jesus told us not to judge at all; it is not our job. Our task is only to love and that is what we have been commanded to do.
So that is the task placed before us: Learn only to judge ourselves – and to judge ourselves against the standard of Jesus and Mary – and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.