Sunday Sermon for July 26, 2015, the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary time, Year B
Readings: 2Ki 4:42-44; Eph 4:1-6; Jn 6:1-15
In the second reading today St. Paul exhorts us to live in a manner worthy of the call we have received. This has always been required of Christian people, but today it is more important than it has been since the early centuries of the Church. What set the people of the early Church apart from the rest of society was the virtue they lived.
Society had gone astray. The Roman Empire officially worshiped the gods while the Christians, of course, worshiped the One true God. However, the morality of the people in many parts of the Empire had degenerated to the point that there was widespread fornication, adultery, divorce, abortion, etc. In many ways it looked tragically similar to the situation in which we live today.
The people who professed their faith in Jesus rejected not only the worship of the false deities, but also the gross immorality of the time. St. Justin Martyr testified in the second century that it was the morality that set the Christians apart from everyone else. He said they dressed like others in society (the manner of dress was much more modest than it is today), they spoke like others, they engaged in work and daily activities like everyone else. However, he pointed out that while they shared their meals, they did not share their wives.
Christians, he said, were like a leaven in the world. They did not do the evil that surrounded them, yet the influence of their example brought about a hatred for these people that led to being ostracized, arrested, and in some cases, put to death. It was in the face of this kind of persecution that the reality of the virtues of these people was proven. One can be kind when everything is going well, but to continue to practice charity when one is being treated unjustly requires a great amount of virtue.
So, St. Paul tells us that we need to practice humility, gentleness, patience, and charity so that the bond of unity can be preserved in peace. In other words, to compromise or back down in the face of persecution is not an option. At the same time, being angry, nasty, and arrogant is not an option either. We have the truth and we have to put it into practice in a society that has largely rejected the truth.
It is incumbent upon us to speak the truth when we have the opportunity, but we must live it all day, every day. Our Lord told us that we have to be a light to the world, a leaven in the world, and the salt of the earth. While we have not yet seen much in the way of outright persecution we have to be prepared because the day is coming quickly.
We need to assess whether or not we are being humble, gentle, patient, charitable, and peaceful. In the year 107 St. Ignatius of Antioch mentioned, as he was chained to a detachment of soldiers on his way to be martyred, the kinder you are to these people the nastier they become. The nastiness of these people did not give him the permission to stop being charitable and begin treating the soldiers the way they treated him. Neither will it be for us.
Most people today are not going to listen to you if you try to speak to them about the Lord or about living an upright and moral life. They will, however, be profoundly affected if you live the life. It is your example, more than your words, that will be effective. This is being the leaven in the world.
Unfortunately, most of us are not able to do this very well. This is actually a blessing because we are going to have to rely on God to provide the grace for us to hold fast to the faith and to live it in love. The Angel Gabriel told our Lady that with God, nothing is impossible. Jesus told us that all things are possible for those who believe. Look at the faith of Elisha in the first reading. God let him know that there would be leftovers if he set the twenty barley loaves before the crowd of a hundred people. He believed, acted on his belief, and saw what God accomplished. He could take no credit for feeding all these people. It was God who did it; Elisha merely acted in faith.
In the Gospel Jesus feeds five thousand with only five loaves and a few fish. He can and will accomplish great things in and through us if we believe. We have not seen this yet because it has not been necessary; what is necessary for us is to live in a manner worthy of our call and trust God to do the rest.
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.