Wednesday March 31, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fifth Week of Lent
Reading (Daniel 3:14-20, 91-92, 95) Gospel (St. John 8:31-42)
In the Gospel reading, we are told that Jesus is speaking to those Jewish people who believed in Him; and we see, even though they are believing in Him, the confusion that they have. First, they try to tell Him, “We are children only of Abraham,” and then they change their minds and they are children only of God. Jesus, on the other hand, tells them that they are doing the works of their father. At the same time, we also see that when it comes to the truth they do not want it. They tell Jesus, for instance, that they have never been enslaved to anyone. The reality of the matter is, of course, they were enslaved to the Egyptians for hundreds of years, they were enslaved to the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar, they had been taken into exile and enslaved at other times, and yet they want to suggest that they have never been enslaved to anyone.
But even with that, Our Lord tells us that anyone who sins is a slave to sin, which is a far worse thing than being enslaved in a physical sense because even one who is put into forced slavery still has a free will and still is able to serve God even if being forced to do something that they do not want to do. However, if one uses one’s free will to sin, at that point you are not serving God; you are making the free choice to serve someone else. It is ultimately, of course, Satan, but it is to serve the self. It is to do what we want to do rather than what God wants us to do.
And so when we consider these things that Our Lord is telling us, that He tells us the truth and the truth will make us free, then He tells us at the end of the Gospel reading that if we were children of God we would be doing the works of God. Now if we look at the first reading, we see these three young men in the time of the Babylonian Exile while the people are enslaved to the Babylonians. These three young men were in the nobility who were trained and were among those who were given positions in the government (but still Israelites who were enslaved to the Babylonians), and they were bound and thrown into the fire because they refused to bow down and worship the golden statue that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. So we can see the same principle. Even though they are bound, even though they are enslaved along with the rest of their people, they were still completely free. They had to make a choice. Would they worship God and be thrown into a white-hot furnace? Or would they bow down and worship Nebuchadnezzar’s statue and become truly a slave because they had now given up what they knew to be true? These three young men, of course, chose the truth. And they speak the truth that even if God will not save them from the white-hot furnace they will not worship any other God.
That is the exact same attitude each one of us has to have. For the people of Israel, it was a common problem. God had first told them when they went into the Promised Land that they were to completely remove all of the people who were there, but they did not. God told them, “If you leave any of these people, you are going to start acting like them,” which is what they did. They started worshiping the false gods of the people of the land of Canaan. Then when they went up into Babylon, they started worshiping the Babylonian gods and bowing down before the golden statue of Nebuchadnezzar – except for just a handful. It was a constant problem for these people to remain faithful, and that same problem remains.
There are many false gods that are set up in our society. Maybe we are not being asked to bow down and worship a golden statue, but the reality is that if we look into our own lives and just look around us, we can ask ourselves, “What has society set up as its little false gods?” Some of them are truly false gods like this worship of “The Goddess”, as they call it these days, and all of these pagan religions that are starting to resurface. People are running to them in hordes. But there are lots of other things: money, materialism, self, pleasure, and all the other things that we set up as our little false gods.
So we need to ask ourselves, “If it were put to us, would we be like the three young men in Babylon who refused to worship anything and anyone other than God? Jesus tells us that if God were our father we would be doing the works of God, and so we can look very carefully at our own lives and ask ourselves, “Am I doing the works of God? Or am I doing the works of society? Am I doing the works of the devil? Am I doing what I want to do rather than what God wants me to do?” Those are the important questions that we need to consider because if we are not doing the works of God, Jesus tells us that in essence God is not our father. He certainly is, but yet we are not being true children of God; we have rejected His fatherhood, if that is the case. If we are going to show ourselves to be true children of God, we need to act upon what it is that we believe. We need to do the works of God, which is to believe in Jesus Christ and to live according to the ways that Our Lord has laid out for us, to know the freedom of the children of God, which is ultimately freedom from sin so that we can serve and worship God. That is the dignity which is ours. That is the freedom to which we are called. And there is only place and one way that we are going to find that freedom, and that is in Jesus Christ and doing His Will in all things.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.