Monday July 25, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (2 Corinthians 4:7-15) Gospel (St. Matthew 20:20-28)
In the Gospel reading, Our Lord told us that He came into this world not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. Saint Paul then tells the Corinthians, as we heard in the first reading, that in his body he carries about the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus would also be revealed in him. When we put these two things together, we recognize that Saint Paul is continuing to carry on the very life and mission of Jesus, that he is entering into the death of the Lord so that others may live, because he says to them, Therefore, death is at work in us, but life in you, with the hope that both would be able to share in the eternal life of the Lord. Lest one would become conceited about this, Saint Paul reminds us right at the beginning that we hold the treasure in earthen vessels so that its surpassing power would be from God and not from us, lest anyone would think even for a split second that somehow this is something we are doing on our own. We are not – it is the Lord.
When Our Lord looks at His apostles and their mother asks that one would sit at the right and the other at the left, He says to them, Can you drink of the chalice of which I am to drink? They answer, “We can.” And He says, You will, but to sit at My right and at My left is not Mine to give; it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father. And so we see the same pattern: We have to share in the suffering of Christ. That is the chalice He drank, and He tells His disciples, You will share in that chalice. We have to carry about the death of Jesus in our bodies. We have to be willing to serve as He was serving. We have to be willing to give our life as a ransom for the many. It does not necessarily mean that we have to die for others in the sense of being martyred, but it means that we have to die daily to ourselves for the sake of others, that we are called to serve.
This goes against everything in our fallen human nature. We like to be selfish. We like to be served. We like others to pour themselves out for us, but we do not necessarily like to do that for others. The Lord made very clear what His purpose was. He did not come to be served by anyone, but He came to serve all. So He tells His disciples that we cannot be seeking greatness. That is the way the Gentiles do things. He tells us that the one who is the greatest is the one who serves the rest. The one who is the lowliest, the one who makes himself the servant of all is the one who is going to be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Again, we can just think about it. We know who is seated at Our Lord’s right hand – that is His mother. If that is the case, we also know, therefore, that she made herself the servant of all. She did exactly what Jesus did. And so the one who is the most exalted of all human persons is the one who was the lowliest, the one who was the most humble, the one who served. We can look at Our Lady, we can look at Our Lord, and we can see the two most perfect human beings to ever walk the face of the earth and both of them served. Neither of them ever sinned. Neither of them did anything selfish.
We, with all of our selfishness, have to learn how to overcome the self. We have to learn how to overcome the sinful inclinations, and we have to serve. We have to put to death the works of sin within us because if the life of Christ is to be revealed in our mortal flesh, it is going to be revealed through love, and love is going to be revealed through service. If we want the Lord to be able to work in us and through us, it means to die to self so the death of Jesus is at work in us. He died so that we could live; He died so that our sins could be forgiven. If the death of Jesus is going to be at work in us, it means death to sin and death to self so that we can live for the sake of others. And when we are living for others and serving others, then the life of Jesus is revealed in our mortal flesh as well.
If we are serving and we are loving as we are called to, we do not know that we will be at His right or at His left, and that does not matter. What matters is that we will share with Him the glory of His kingdom because the surpassing power that is at work in us is not of us – it is of God. All who are in heaven acknowledge that. We here on earth need to acknowledge the same. It is not us. All we can do by ourselves is be selfish. But if we are going to love and we are going to serve, everyone will know that is of God. And the ultimate glorification of those who serve is to be on the right and the left of the Lord somewhere in His kingdom where God will receive the glory forever.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.