Homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
INTRODUCTION – Over the last couple of weeks now, we have been reflecting on what it means to be Disciples of Mercy. To be a Disciple of Mercy, we have to recognize that 1) we have been forgiven by God and are now called to bring that same forgiveness to others, 2) that we have received a generous outpouring of grace from God and now must return that generosity to others, and 3) that we have to embrace our own humility in order to live as Jesus lived and to set aside our own interests for the good of others.
Two weeks ago, we reflected on the idea of forgiveness – how the Lord has shown us mercy for the times that we have failed to live up to Christian discipleship. We heard in the readings that weekend about the Christian standard for how we are called to forgive others without limit and without conditions. Last week, the focus was on God’s generosity and how we are called to be generous with others. The main point from last week was that we don’t have to do something extraordinary to be generous with others; we simply have to be ourselves, using the gifts, talents, and passions that the Lord has put on our hearts to remind others of His love for each of us.
This week, the focus of our readings is on humility.
THE TRUE ESSENCE OF HUMILITY – When we think of the word humility, what is the first thought that comes to mind? We probably think it is something self-deprecating. Often times, we think in order to be humble that we have to hold not only a low opinion of ourselves, but usually a downright negative opinion of ourselves. That’s not what humility is at all.
Humility goes a bit deeper than that. It is the ability to recognize our goodness and who we are before God and to rejoice in that. It means being able to acknowledge that we are members of one human family and that we are able to appreciate the gifts and talents that we and others bring to our community. But it also means that we recognize who we are as sinners in need of God’s grace and mercy. If we truly understand these aspects of humility, then we are able to see ourselves as God sees us, to see others as God sees others, and to run to Him when we need Him the most.
RECOGNIZING WHO WE ARE IN GOD’S EYES – Our faith teaches us that all of us are created in the image and likeness of God. Throughout the Creation narrative in the Book of Genesis, after God created something, it always says: “And God saw that it was good.” The very same thing can be said of each and every one of us. God created all of us. He wanted us to be in existence. He wanted us to be His children. Pope Benedict XVI summed this idea up perfectly during his homily at the first Mass of his Pontificate. He said: “Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.” In other words, Creation itself would not be complete without you and me. That beautiful idea reveals something to us about God, about how loving He is.
DOES GOD ABANDON US BECAUSE OF SIN? – God didn’t have to create us. He is God. He didn’t need anything else. Yet, out of love, He desired for each of us to be created and so He made that a reality. All of creation has its fulfillment in the creation of the human person. If that’s the case, do you think that He would abandon us simply because we don’t get things right from time to time? And yet, many of us think that way. Many of us believe that there is no hope for us, that we’re too far gone to be saved. That the Lord could never love us because of the things that we have done in life, the mistakes we have made. But that has been the struggle that human beings have been fighting from the very beginning of creation. In our first reading from Ezekiel and in our Gospel from Matthew, we have examples of that human struggle, the struggle to humbly see ourselves as God sees us and to recognize that we are in need of His mercy.
EZEKIEL – In the passage from Ezekiel, the Israelites are still enduring the Babylonian exile. They continue to murmur against God saying that He has completely abandoned them because of the sins of their ancestors. They claim that God is not being fair. They’re saying that God is holding the crimes of their ancestors against the current generation. But Ezekiel delivers them a message of truth, much like Isaiah did in last week’s readings. It is not God’s ways that are unfair; it is in fact the ways of the Israelites that are unfair. Ezekiel says that it wasn’t the sins of their ancestors that caused their current situation, but rather their own sins. The Israelites are in exile because they failed to follow the laws and statutes of God. But it’s not all doom and gloom. There is a way out. Ezekiel calls on the Israelites to acknowledge their own sinfulness, to humbly ask for the Lord’s mercy, and to repent from their wickedness. And God guarantees that if that happens, their livelihood would be restored. The Israelites wouldn’t die as a people, they would live, if only they turned back to Him.
PARABLE OF THE TWO SONS – That is a similar message that we hear about in today’s Gospel from Matthew with the Parable of the Two Sons. Now, for some context, if you go back a few verses in Matthew, you will read that Jesus has already entered into Jerusalem. In other words, Palm Sunday has just happened. After Jesus asserted his royal authority as the “Son of David,” he goes into the Temple to drive out the money changers and those selling animals for sacrifice. Because that interfered with the governance of the Temple, the Jewish elders and the chief priests confront Jesus and challenge Him. The Parable of the Two Sons is Jesus’ response to them.
In that, Jesus compares the elders and the chief priests to the second son of the parable. He is calling them out for how they have failed to lead the people of Israel in their faith, how they have failed to challenge the people to live according to the laws and statues of God, how they failed to call the people to repentance. He is also reminding them that God had sent a messenger to challenge them to change their ways in the person of John the Baptist. The chief priests and the elders refused to listen to his call for repentance. Yet, there were some within the community that did heed the call of John the Baptist – the tax collectors and prostitutes. They recognized their sinful ways and, in humility, sought mercy from God; they listened to the words of the Baptist and turned from their wickedness. For that reason, Jesus says they will inherit the Kingdom of God.
SINNERS IN NEED OF GOD’S GRACE – There is a message in this for all of us today. Each of us has areas in our lives where we fail to live the ideal for discipleship, areas in our hearts where we fail to embrace the will of God – spaces where we prevent the Lord from entering. And, if we’re honest with ourselves, we know what those areas are. Like the people of Israel, like the chief priests and the elders, like the tax-collectors and prostitutes, the Lord is calling us to repentance. He is inviting us to consider our own sinfulness and to humbly come before Him to ask for His mercy and forgiveness. Why does He do this? Because we are His; we are His sons and daughters; we are created in His image and likeness; He loves us the most out of all of His creation. And He knows that we’re not perfect. The Father doesn’t seek out the perfect. Instead, he looks for those who are willing, who are humble, who are trying. He seeks those who, when they fail, will try again to do God’s will. And that’s you and me.
Relationship with God cannot exist without humility. We cannot receive mercy without humility. We can’t receive God’s grace without the ability to ask for it. We can’t be a disciple without humility because we can’t be like Jesus Christ without humility. We can’t turn from our wickedness if we don’t see our sin because we’re too proud. We can’t do the will of the Father, if our pride is getting in the way of allowing us to live it.`1
ST. FAUSTINA – Someone who understood this well was St. Faustina. St. Faustina Kowalska was a Polish nun and mystic who had several apparitions of Jesus throughout her life. Many of those apparitions were written down and recorded in her journal. As a result of those recorded journal entries, the Church received the incredible gift of the devotion to Divine Mercy. In fact, the very image of the Divine Mercy was the result of an encounter St. Faustina had with Jesus. Throughout many of those interactions with Faustina, Jesus talked about the need for humility. Faustina wrote this in one of her journal entries:
“The more a soul humbles itself, the greater the kindness with which the Lord approaches it. Uniting himself closely with it, He raises it to His very throne. Happy is the soul whom the Lord himself defends. I have come to know that only love is of any value; love is greatness; nothing, no works, can compare with a single act of pure love of God.” (Diary, 1092)
PURE LOVE OF GOD – There is one thing that the Lord has done for us that showcases the purest act of His love. He sent His Son into the world to die on a tree. He did that for us, so that we could have a way back to Him. Jesus, the very Word made flesh, is therefore the very embodiment of humility. He didn’t have to step down from Heaven to come save us. Yet, the Father desired it to be so. And all He desires from us in return is for us to say yes to Him each and every day. Yes, there will be days when we get things right. But there will also be days when we make mistakes, when we fail to live up to the Christian ideal for discipleship. That doesn’t change who we are – because God doesn’t see us for our sin; He sees us as good. We are still loved by God. We are still necessary to Him. God still wants to give us His mercy; He still walks beside us in this journey of faith and continues to call us to grow in intimacy with Him. All we have to do is say yes.
CONCLUSION – As we come forward today to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, may we embrace humility and see ourselves as God sees us, as His beloved sons and daughters who are in need of His love and mercy. May we beg him for that love and mercy today so that we can then go out and be Disciples of Mercy for others.