Homily for 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Sept. 23rd and 24th
We need to see our world through the eyes of God rather than seeing God through the eyes of our world. Let me share with you two examples.
When I was a pastor at a previous parish, which shall remain unnamed, we had to close the church because of a winter storm. I was sitting at home enjoying my Sunday morning coffee when I got a call from the alarm company - "probably just someone with a key opened the church and didn't know how to set the alarm off." "No, Father, it's the fire alarm." o-oh. So I drove out there (I lived a few miles away from the church), and nothing was happening. A truck circled the building but was long gone. "Do I go in and shut the alarm off?" I said to myself. Maybe I better. When I opened the door, the building was filled with thick smoke. The furnace belt broke and melted the air conditioner coils. I called 911 again, and they saved the church but said it was just about to go up! Meanwhile, while waiting for the fire department, I ran in (never run into a burning building; I was months getting my lungs tested), and the first thing I got was the hosts out of the tabernacle.
Now, here's my point. To the eyes of those who have no faith, getting a cheaply made cup out of an oddly decorated box filled with what appear to be small, tasteless wafers would have been ridiculous. And certainly, running into a smoke- filled building was foolhardy (looking back), but I did it nevertheless because I believe strongly in something invisible.
Here's another example: A few years ago, thieves broke into the cathedral and stole the cup from the tabernacle. It was finally recovered because it was practically worthless to the eyes of someone wanting to steal something of material value. But when that person entered the cathedral, his eyes would have been drawn to that which we hold most dear - the Tabernacle. who stole the tabernacle - their eye is drawn to what we value most, which is the tabernacle. The mistake this thief made is that it wasn't what was on the outside that was most valuable; it was what was invisible to the eye. As St. Antoine de St. Exupery said in The Little Prince, the most important thing is always invisible. Even inside the Tabernacle, the order of value is turned upside down - ordinary unleavened bread is the seed that changes into the divinity of Christ.
This represents a difference in the way of seeing between God’s eyes and the eyes of the world.
Consider today’s Gospel - the first people were looking at their experience through the eyes of the world. It has three characteristics:
It's relative - My work has value only in comparison to something else - in this case, the wages of the other workers.
It's relational - My value is only expressed compared to the apparent value of others who worked beside me. I wanted more because I bore the brunt of the day; they didn't.
It's completely rational - What is fair is fair based on an economy of exchange. You owe me, and I owe you. What happened, based on an hourly wage, I suppose, just wasn't fair, seen through the eyes of the world.
We apply that to our lives and ask, I’m a good person; how could this bad thing happen to me? How is it that this sinner over here who is corrupt leads such a great life and is richly rewarded?
Or we can see things through God’s eyes - remember the Tabernacle - God sees what’s most valuable, and it might not be visible with the eyes of the world:
It's absolute - God’s generosity to one is not limited by his generosity to anyone else; it’s not a zero-sum spirituality but infinite.
It's singular - God doesn’t love you for what you did yesterday, what you might do tomorrow, or what you did or didn’t do compared to anyone else, or who you are on the outside. He loves you for who you are right now, from the depths of his heart to yours.
It's also irrational - from the world's perspective, faith makes no sense. The Eucharist makes no sense to the thief, who discovers that the gold-coloured container is practically worthless. I would have liked to have seen the look on his face when he discovered that from the perspective of our worldly vision, there was nothing in it, just a few wafers. He probably thought it was empty. Interestingly, as an aside, it was empty from a spiritual point of view - we read in scripture, "Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be exploited; rather He emptied himself and took the form of a slave." To be present to us so humbly in the appearances of bread and wine is incredible.
Go back to our tabernacle for a moment. Whatever is in there is nothing you can ever take, like a thief in the night looking for a cheap way to make a dollar. On the contrary, What’s in the tabernacle is given to us freely. But we, like the thieves we sometimes are, must surrender to it. We have to put our hands up and give ourselves up: OK, I’m guilty, I’m a sinful person, I am not worthy to receive you, I need healing, of being restored - not by the world’s standard, but by divine love. Don’t worry; God says, I caught you, and since Jesus has paid the price for your iniquity, he’s given up his life for you because he also sees who you are. So not only has he forgiven you, but he gives feely that you most desperately need — He gives eternal life. “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” When you surrender, you become one with what you most hoped to steal.
What it means for me, in conclusion, is that everything that we have has already been given to us, which also means that nothing in the world is ours to begin with. To keep it is to keep something that does not belong to you. What does belong to you is your salvation in Christ, which you can and must give away.
How can I not conclude with that very beautiful first reading:
Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.