Sunday Sermon for January 27, 2019, the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Readings: Neh 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10; 1 Cor 12:12-30; Lk 1:1-4, 4:14-21

The Church is very clear in teaching us that every person is created equal. Sadly, many people have difficulty believing this teaching or, if it is believed in the mind, putting it into practice has proven to be a challenge. There are various reasons for this. Sometimes we look at the gifts we have been given by the Lord and we think people who are more intelligent are more equal, or people with more talent artistically or athletically are more equal. Perhaps we think people who have more money are more equal. Some people think their sex or the color of their skin makes them more equal than others who do not share these same qualities. These are all lies inspired by the vile creature to cause division and destroy souls.

It is true we are not all equal in ability, that is, some people are smarter or more talented than others. However, our equality is as human persons who all have equal dignity. To look down on another, for whatever reason, is to violate that person’s dignity as well as our own. If we regard a person to be less than ourselves, we lower ourselves to that same level because we are equal. It makes more sense to lift that person up in our minds, to recognize and uphold their dignity, so we see them as having the same dignity as ourselves. I must point out, this holds true even for people who violate their own dignity. We need to recognize their dignity and treat them with dignity even if they do not act according to their dignity.

Consider the readings today. First, we hear about the reading of the Book of Deuteronomy after the people of Israel returned from exile. No one had heard the words of the book because it was buried in the Temple by the priests before the Temple was destroyed and the people exiled to Babylon. It is important to note that the Word of God was read to everyone: men, women, and children. No distinction was made because the Word of God is intended for everyone without exception.

In the Gospel our Lord speaks to the people of Nazareth, telling them He is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy which states He will bring glad tidings to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and let the oppressed go free. The poor, the captives the handicapped, and the oppressed are people who were often looked down upon, people whom others might have treated as less than themselves. The Gospel is certainly for those who are wealthy, of good health, or in positions of power, but our Lord makes it clear the Gospel is equally for those who are poor, lowly, and oppressed.

St. Paul makes the same points, but with even greater clarity. He reminds us that in baptism we all became members of one Body, that is, the Mystical Body of Christ. Although the body is made up of many members, together all the members make up one body. Now, one might suggest the brain or the heart is the most important member in our body. The appendix, on the other hand, is relatively unimportant. However, if one suffers from appendicitis, the health of the whole body is threatened. In the ancient world, appendicitis would result in death, even if the heart and the brain were healthy. An infection in a minor part of the body can cause death.

St. Paul makes clear there are no distinctions regarding dignity in the Mystical Body: there is no Jew or Greek, slaves or free persons. Elsewhere he also mentions there is no male or female. All are one in Christ. At the same time, distinctions do exist in the body based on what a person is called to do. Some are called to be prophets, apostles, teachers, workers of mighty deeds, gifts of healing, assistance, administration, and varieties of tongues. Of course, many other tasks exist within the body. However, as mentioned above, one’s call or ability does not increase or decrease one’s dignity. As members of the Body of Christ, we share the same dignity and have been given to drink of the same Spirit.

If someone recognizes the greatness of their call or ability, that person should heed St. Paul’s teaching: “the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary, and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable we surround with greater honor, and our less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety.” In a society wounded by much division, only true charity based on our unity in Christ will bring the mutual respect our equal dignity as human persons demands and bring healing to the Body of Christ.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.

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