The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Homily: Saturday, 17th Week of Ordinary Time - Year 2

Note: The following is a homily unpreached. One of our visiting priests always celebrated our parish's Saturday morning Mass and always asked the assisting deacon to preach. But he is no longer with us, so that particular preaching opportunity left with him. I had already prepared this homily so I thought I should share it with my small but faithful group of followers. God's peace...
Readings: Jer 26:11-16, 24; Mt 14:1-12

Matthew, in these verses and in those that precede and follow, seems to offer us a litany of rejections, as we encounter scribes and Pharisees, priests and kings, and even ordinary folks, all rejecting Jesus. 

Each seems to reject Jesus out of a kind of personal pride, that same lack of humility that plagues the human race and leads us to believe we are such independent beings we really don't need the God who created us out of love. 

Matthew's rejecters are actually pretty interesting.

Those scribes and Pharisees, along with the priests and Levites, all wanted to be recognized and respected for their knowledge and scholarship. They wanted to be admired by the people as holy and justified. They certainly didn't want to be criticized and embarrassed, or called out in public as hypocrites, especially by some nobody like Jesus [Mt 15:1-9].
Jesus Rejected by the Pharisees, et al.
Even the people, the ordinary folks of Nazareth, wanted to be lifted up out of their anonymity and the banality of their everyday lives. But they simply couldn't accept that one of their own was something very special [Mt 13:54-58].
Jesus Rejected in Nazareth
Then we encounter a king, Herod Antipas, actually a rather small-time king, who wanted to satisfy his every desire and maintain his power. And Herod, much like his father before him, would exert that power over others to do so [Mt 14:1-12]

It's as if Matthew is running all these people by us, one after another, so we can identify the reasons for our own rejection of Jesus. 

And yet each reason is just a symptom of the same spiritual sickness, one that prevented all of them from recognizing Jesus as He truly is. Yes, indeed, they were all wrapped up in themselves, so tightly wrapped that their minds and hearts couldn't accept the reality that faced them.

As for us, whether we accept Jesus with faith or reject Him with indifference, our choice, like the choices these others made, will reflect our circumstances and our desires. Just look at Herod Antipas and his desires, his weaknesses, his fears...

Matthew presents this son of Herod the Great as a self-important, power-hungry, lustful little man, whose shabbiness symbolizes the evil and sin that rule his life. 

We also encounter a fearful man, one so afraid of John the Baptist's moral authority that he must shut him up by locking him up. Like the prophet Jeremiah in our first reading, the Lord sent John to Herod "to speak those things for you to hear" [Jer 26:15]. Of course Herod didn't want to hear them.
John the Baptist Rebukes Herod and Herodias
Herod killed John to satisfy his lust and his pride, and his wife's anger and need for revenge. And then in a communion of evil, at a self-absorbed feast celebrating his birthday, he had John's head brought to Salome, his niece and stepdaughter, on a platter.
Passion of John the Baptist (Caravaggio)
It seems that even Herod had a conscience, though one grossly deformed, deformed by his fears. But It's not a fear of God that motivated Herod; rather a fear that this Jesus, who has such mighty powers, might be John resurrected. How would the people react to that?

Then, speaking of John, he uttered those words that seem blasphemous from one such as Herod, for they are the same words the angel speaks to the women at Jesus' tomb:
"He has been raised from the dead" [Mt 14:2; 28:6-7].
We sense that Herod didn't see God at work in this false resurrection, but that he believes those "mighty powers" are more like the magical powers of Satan and his followers. No, Herod couldn't bear the thought of God and His justice, or even His mercy.

Perhaps this petty king hoped this evil distortion of the true Resurrection would free him of the guilt he carries for John's murder and so much else. 

Satan was certainly working overtime in Herod's palace.

And note the verbs Matthew used to describe Herod's actions: arrested, bound, imprisoned, feared, killed, beheaded...Yes, Herod wanted a world safe for his desires and would do anything to maintain it.

Are we all like Herod? One would hope not, but I can speak only for myself, where the difference is perhaps just a matter of degree.

What Herod lacked, and what every sinner lacks is the virtue of humility, the one virtue without which all the others cannot be.

And so perhaps each day, as we wake and greet our loving God, we should thank Him for making us so dependent on His love.

We should thank Him for our smallness, for our weakness, and for the gift of recognizing the presence of His love, His greatness, in all the others we will encounter this day.

And perhaps, too, we should do the same at the end of each day, thanking Him for all the opportunities he gave us to share His love, and repenting for those opportunities we missed.

Then, like John, we too can be joyful as we pray: 
"He must increase; I must decrease" [Jn 3:30]

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