Tuesday September 27, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Zechariah 8:20-23) Gospel (St. Luke 9:51-56)
The passage that we heard in the Gospel reading today is important for a couple of reasons. First of all, right at the beginning of the passage we heard, it says: When the days for Jesus to be taken up were fulfilled... In the Greek, what it says is When the days for His exodus were fulfilled... It is not that they translated it badly, but they simply should not have translated it at all. If they would have just left the word “exodus” there as they should have, that is what Saint Luke was trying to call to mind for us to be able to understand, not just that Jesus is about to be taken up, but rather it is calling to mind all the events of ancient Israel in the time of the exodus. So when we think about the things that took place in Egypt at the time that the people were set free to go into the Promised Land, that is what Saint Luke wants us to recall.
But then we see that there is a specific difference. As He sets His face to go to Jerusalem, knowing that He is going there to be put to death, now what we have is the disciples asking Him, when the people would not receive Him, Do You want us to call down fire from heaven to destroy them? Keep in mind, again, that this is in the context of the Exodus where there were ten plagues visited upon the pagan Egyptians, but now the Lord turns and rebukes His disciples. So we see that there is a great difference.
The other point of difference is that in order for the people to be saved, for the people to live and enter into the Promised Land, the firstborn son had to die. The firstborn sons of the pagan Egyptians at the Exodus are the ones who died, but in this case it is the firstborn of all creation, the only Son of God. Instead of being freed from the slavery of this life, what He did was enter into the very depth of the slavery that Satan had us in: the bondage of death. He entered into that so we could be freed from it. Once again, when you look at that imagery of the Exodus, we have the Passover Lamb; we have the Lamb Who was sacrificed and Whose blood is poured upon our souls so that the angel of death will pass over. So we have that kind of shift.
Now we have the other shift. In ancient Egypt, when the people would not listen to the voice of God and Pharaoh was obstinate then what happened is that God visited plagues upon the people. But now the Lord, when they refused to receive Him, rather than visiting a plague upon them, He instead rebukes His disciples. So He is calling us to something far higher, something greater, because He is calling us to charity. He is calling us to extend mercy even to those who will not receive us, to those who will not receive Him. We see that there is a shift in the way of thinking, that we as Christian people are called to something far higher.
That is what we have to look at now. Are we living that? Are we extending mercy to people who do not like us? Are we extending mercy to people who are not living the way that they ought, those who are rejecting Christ? Are we truly living a Christ-like life? Or do we run around condemning people and wanting them to be destroyed? That is not the Christian way of living. We want people to go to heaven, not to be destroyed. So that is something that we can look at within ourselves. Are we extending the same kind of mercy that has been extended to us?
When we hear in the first reading that the day is going to come when people are going to take hold of the garment of every Jew and they are going to say, “We have heard that the Lord is with you. Let us go with you up to Jerusalem,” this is the New Jerusalem and you can just simply ask yourself, “Are many people going to want to come with you if you are spewing all kinds of condemnations and if you present yourself as being angry and judgmental? Or are people going to want to come with you if you are extending mercy?” Mercy does not mean to tell them that what they are doing is acceptable. Mercy means that we are not going to stand in judgment, that we want to extend God’s forgiveness to them to help them recognize where they can be forgiven and how their lives can be changed. They need an example; they do not need to get beat over the head.
So that is what we have to be about, to show them the way to Christ, and to be able to show to them the kind of mercy that has been shown to us, because Our Lord made it very clear: If we are merciful, mercy will be ours; and if we are not, we are in trouble. He rebuked His own disciples – He is not going to fail to rebuke us if we are going to be running around rebuking everyone else and praying that fire would come down from heaven to destroy them, or something similar. If we want the love and mercy of God, we need to extend the love and mercy of God to others. In that way, people will recognize that God is with us. And when they recognize that, they will want to come along; they will want to be on that same journey that leads to the new and eternal Jerusalem where the love and mercy of God will be celebrated forever.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.