Tuesday March 1, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Week of Lent
Reading (Daniel 3:25, 34-43) Gospel (St. Matthew 18:21-35)
In the readings today, we see two individuals praying and asking for mercy. From the fire, we hear the young men who are praying this prayer from the Book of Daniel, asking the Lord’s mercy for the people of Israel. Then we hear the man in the Gospel reading begging his master for mercy because he did not have the ability to pay back the debt that he owed; and we hear how this same servant, after his entire debt was forgiven, turns around and refuses to be merciful to someone else. And Our Lord tells them that God is going to hand them over to the torturers until they pay back the last penny unless they treat others the way that God has treated them.
It is a lesson to us because in both cases, then, we see the exact same point. Our Lord tells us the kind of disposition we must have before the Lord. We have to come before Him, we have to humbly beg Him for His mercy, and then we have to follow Him by doing exactly what has been done for us. In the first reading, we see the same thing. We hear the young men praying, We follow You unreservedly, for those who put their trust in You cannot be put to shame. So now we follow You with our whole heart, we fear You and we pray to You. That is really where the whole thing comes for us. Do we follow God with our whole heart? Do we follow Him unreservedly? Or is it something which is more selfish on our part, for what we get out of it? We have our sins forgiven, we receive the mercy and the grace of God, but we do not want to follow Him, we do not want to do His Will. When we think of the three young men in the furnace, it was precisely because the Israelites were disobedient to God and were not following His way that they wound up in exile. These three young men did follow God. They were obedient to Him even in the land of exile, and they were obedient to Him even to the point of being put to death. God spared them from the fire, but the intention of the king was to kill them.
Now as we look at our own selves, we can ask how unreservedly we are following the Lord. He has laid out for us the path and He has told us exactly what we have to do. We have to forgive our brothers, He says, from the heart. Are we doing that? Are we truly forgiving? Remember, when God forgives us, the sin is gone; it will never be heard of again. Do we do that for others? Or do we keep bringing up their past actions over and over and over again, holding it over their heads, not letting go, remaining angry, allowing bitterness to creep in, unwilling to forgive and let go, demanding of others just the opposite of what we expect from God? If that be the case, clearly we are not following the Lord with our whole heart, we are not following Him unreservedly.
In the first reading, we hear that a contrite heart and a humble spirit is something exceedingly pleasing to God as though it were sacrifices of rams and bullocks and thousands of fat lambs, the Old Testament sacrifices that would bring the mercy of God. For us, then, a contrite heart and a humble spirit is going to be something within us that will be similar to the sacrifice which we offer to God, because we offer Jesus in His humility. We offer Him for mercy and the forgiveness of our sins. So when we look at the way that Our Lord gives Himself to us in the Eucharist, when we look at the way that the Lord deals with us in the confessional, and then He turns around and says to us, “Now you must do the same. You must follow the example that I have given to you,” we are called, then, to this mercy; to forgive from our hearts; to follow the Lord with our whole heart in a manner which, as it says in the first reading, is without reservation; to make sure we are living exactly the way that we want God to treat us so we must treat others; that we look at the example of Jesus and we follow His example, the example of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, the example of Our Lord in the confessional. And the way that we have been treated, He tells us, is the way that we must treat others.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.