October 5, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Jonah 4:1-11) Gospel (St. Luke 11:1-4)
As we continue working our way through the Book of Jonah, we all, I think, have to take stock of the fact that we are not very much unlike Jonah. He represents everything that is pretty typical to human nature. He wants to run away from God, then finally when he does God’s Will begrudgingly, God in His mercy is willing to forgive and Jonah gets angry because God is going to forgive the people after Jonah had gone through the city saying, “Three days more and the city will be destroyed.” After that, the gourd plant comes up, provides a little shade, and then it dies. Jonah is angry because the gourd plant dies, angry enough, he says, to die. God points out to him, “You’re angry over this plant, but not about the people. You don’t care about the souls of these people, but you’re going to be angry because the sun is beating down on your head because the plant died.” And He points out the inherent problem in the [Jonah’s] logic. Like I said, he is not all that unlike us.
The interesting thing is that when we pray the Our Father, as we heard in the Gospel reading today, there are two things that we pray for: Thy will be done, and forgive us as we forgive those who trespass against us. That is exactly what we are dealing with here. Jonah gets angry at God because God is merciful. Isn’t it interesting that rather than dying out in the sea, God was to be merciful to Jonah, pick him up with a fish and spew him out on the ground, and all the things that took place. He was willing to forgive Jonah and Jonah was willing to accept the forgiveness, but now Jonah is angry when the people repent and God forgives them. If we have been forgiven, we have to be willing to forgive. In fact, we even make that the requirement of our own forgiveness, so it is not an option for us. As Christian people, forgiveness is what we are all about, not only being forgiven but extending forgiveness to others.
What we have to learn to do is to see things from God’s perspective and to do things in God’s way. They are not always our way, which is why somebody like Jonah would get angry when it did not go his way. I suspect that probably sounds rather familiar to most of us. Things do not go the way we expect them to and then we get upset. Remember the point of the saints, that when things go too smoothly then the saints look at God and say, “What’s the matter? Don’t You love me anymore? Why did everything go so smoothly?” They recognize when there are problems that those are the signs of God’s love. We, on the other hand – far from being saints – when things do not go our way, we get angry and stomp our feet and say, “Why do You hate me so much?” When it goes really smoothly and there are no problems then we say, “Oh, look how much God loves me.” Just the opposite of what the saints say. Now either there is something wrong with the saints – and they would not be saints if that were the case – or there is something wrong with the way we are dealing with things. I do not think it takes a genius to figure out where the problem lies.
So we need to look at our own selves and our own disposition. Are we really willing to say, “Your Will be done”? To say it is easy, to live it is hard. Do we really want that? Do we really trust in God to the point of saying, “Your Will be done”? And do we really have the love for souls? Do we want people to go to heaven? Do we want them to be forgiven? Are we willing to forgive? Not to hold on to our anger and say, “I have a right to be angry; don’t tell me otherwise.” We do not have a right to be angry. There is nothing there to be angry about. Anger is the proper response to an injustice and it is there only to motivate us to correct the injustice and then we have to let go of the anger. The correction, of course, must be done out of charity. If we are hanging on to some kind of anger from the past, we are not justified. We have no excuse and no reason. So when we look at ourselves and say, “I have every right to be angry,” no, we do not. We need to let go of that. We need to be willing to forgive and to let go. When we can do that, then we can really honestly say, Thy Will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.