Wednesday July 20, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Exodus 16:1-5, 9-15) Gospel (St. Matthew 13:1-9)
In the first reading, we hear how the children of Israel out in the desert with no food or water grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The reality, of course, is that they were grumbling against God, but they wanted to blame it on Moses and Aaron: "Why did you bring us out of Egypt just to die here in the desert?" They had their fleshpots back in Egypt and they had their fill of bread, so once again they would prefer to go back into slavery in order to have their bellies full.
But we also see the problem. We can understand it very well. In the desert out there, it is exceedingly hot and the sun just beats straight down. There are not any trees out there where they could even take cover. Consequently, they were going to be very thirsty. There were about a million and a half people with them. We are told that there were 600,000 soldiers. That does not include women, the elderly, or the children. If you put all those in there, there were about a million and a half people. There is no food – nothing grows. There is no water. We can understand very well why they would complain.
We probably would not be any different. Today we would like to be able to sit back and look at them and say, "What a bunch of whiners! They just had no trust in God at all. What's wrong with these people?" Exactly the same thing that is wrong with us. We cannot point a finger at them and think it is any different from the way that we would be. We would whine and complain too; first of all, because it was too hot; then, because it was too dry; then, because there was no water; then, because there was no food. On and on and on and on our complaints would go. We know that. So to sit here and read a story about what happened to these poor people out in the desert and then say, "They had no faith," do you think they were any different from the way we are?
What we hear is exactly what Our Lord told us in the Gospel. Some of the seed fell on the rocky soil and it took root at once, but as soon as the sun came up and scorched it, it withered. That was the problem for these people of Israel. As soon as the sun came up in the desert, they withered. And because they were hungry and thirsty, they complained against God.
Again, we see what God does in order to help us to have faith, putting us in situations where we grumble and complain and then we see how He provides for us. Hopefully, little by little, we will actually begin to trust Him. We will develop faith, confidence, courage, and so on to be able to go forward. In each of these situations that we hear about, whether it is the way that the seed gets choked off by the thorns or whether it is the shallow soil or whatever it may be, if we look back in our own lives or look presently in our own lives, we are probably going to see that that is exactly where the Lord has us – in one of these situations – because we have to learn.
And it grows this way. If the seed actually takes some root, then we have to work with it. Initially, it may be that He will allow us to be in this situation where we are going to feel scorched or we are going to doubt and have struggles with our trust. If we can make it through that, He puts us in situations, then, where we have to deal with all of our worldly attachments and all of the problems and fears that go along with that. And if we make it through that, then finally we get to the point where we can be at peace in the spiritual life. We can actually bear fruit for the Lord because that is when the soil becomes rich.
It's not that God does not know what soil He has planted these seeds in, it's that we do not. We would like to think that this is good, rich soil that God has chosen. Then He proves to us that what He has chosen is very often rather inferior soil. But He will work with it and He will help us to be able to make that soil rich so that what started out as rocky soil and a bunch of weeds will eventually become very good soil and will be able to bear fruit for the Lord.
So if we find ourselves like the people of Israel, if we find ourselves being choked off by the problems of life, what we need to do is continue to go back to prayer. We need to learn to trust, and the only way we are going to learn it is by walking through it, by continuing to come back to God and asking Him to change our hearts, to deepen our faith, and to strengthen us, so that we will not grumble against Him, so that we will learn how to trust, so that we will not focus on all the things of the world – and, most of all, that we will not focus on ourselves – but rather that we would focus on Him. Once that focus is on Him, then we will bear the fruit that He is seeking, thirty or sixty or a hundredfold.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.