Homily for the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C), 25 August 2013.
Christ is interested in our hearts.
At the time that our blessed Lord Jesus Christ was walking this earth, many Jews thought that salvation was based on external factors, like race and ritual. In fact, many Jews believed that only Jews could actually live in communion with God. The non-Jewish peoples, so they thought, were destined to be second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God. Others believed that you not only needed to be of the Jewish race to win God’s favour, but you also had to follow even the most minute details of the Law of Moses, as well as the many ritual practices that had grown up around that Law.
In the Gospel reading today, our Lord takes the opportunity of this question, about whether or not people will be saved to correct those wrong ideas.
Our Lord explains that in God’s Kingdom there will be people from all four corners of the earth – just as Isaiah had prophesied, and as we heard in the First Reading. Yesterday we also heard in the First Reading for the Feast of St Bartholomew about the four gates in Heaven gathering not just the twelve tribes of Israel but those of the ‘tribes’ of the Apostles. Race had nothing to do with who gets in to Heaven. Our Lord also explains that many who “ate and drank” with the Lord – in other words, many who followed all the many external rituals that governed eating and drinking at the same time – will be excluded from God’s Kingdom. So exterior rules are not the ticket to Heaven either!
So, if race and ritual are not the keys to salvation, what is?
Quite simply, it is the heart.
Salvation does not depend primarily on external appearances, but on friendship with Christ, and that is rooted in our hearts. The people in our Lord’s parable who were excluded from the heavenly banquet complained that the Lord had actually taught in their streets. But He answers them, “I do not know where you are from.” In other words, they are strangers to Him. Maybe they did let Him into their streets, but they never let Him into their hearts.
Heart speaks to heart
St Margaret Mary Alacoque was a French nun who lived in the seventeenth-century. She was privileged by God with a series of visions in which Jesus appeared to her and revealed His Most Sacred Heart. He explained to her that His Love for sinners was so great that whenever they ignored it or didn’t accept it, he felt as much pain as if someone were driving a thorn into His physical Heart.
The Sacred Heart devotion that we have all seen and heard about traces its beginnings to these apparitions. During one of them, St Margaret Mary asked our Lord a curious question. She asked Him who among His followers in the world was giving His Heart the greatest joy.
The answer that came back was even more curious than the question. He didn’t mention any of the famous preachers, or bishops, let alone the Bishop of Rome. He didn’t mention any of the great intellectuals, aristorcrats, or missionaries. He didn’t even mention someone who later went on to be canonized by the Church. Rather, our Blessed Lord told her that the person who was giving His Heart the most joy was a little known novice instructor in a small convent in the European countryside – someone who was instructing novices how to become good followers of Christ.
What matters to Christ is not drama, fireworks, and great achievements. No, what matters to Him is the humility and love that is found in our hearts. As Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said,
“If you try, you will find it impossible to do one great thing. You can only do many small things with great love.”
Following Christ is a matter of the heart: His Heart reaching out to ours and hoping for a warm welcome.
Understanding that our Blessed Lord first of all looks at our hearts can help us follow one of the most difficult commands that He gave us.
In the Sermon on the Mount, our Blessed Lord Jesus commanded his disciples:
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged.”
It is not for us to pass judgment on our neighbours, because we cannot see into their hearts. Only God can see the human heart through and through. Only God knows all of the experiences that have gone into the formation of someone’s personality. Only God knows all the hidden motives, the real reasons, and the mixed intentions behind human behaviour. Psychologists and sociologists have been trying to catalogue these things for the last hundred years, and they have drawn only only one firm conclusion: the human heart is an unfathomable mystery.
Each one of us here wants to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. If we did not, would we be here? He wants the same thing – that is why He created us.
Following Christ faithfully means walking in His footsteps.
Even at the very end of His life on earth, Jesus refused to pass judgment on sinners. He warned, instructed, encouraged, and exhorted, but even when His hypocritical, self-centred, arrogant enemies nailed Him to a Cross – even then He prayed,
“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
Our Blessed Lord, Who can actually see the depths of the human heart, refused to pass judgment. How much more should we, who cannot see those depths, do the same!
Each day this week, as we pray the Our Father, we will promise to forgive our neighbours just as we want God to forgive us. When we do that today, and throughout the week, let us really mean it.
- Isaiah 66:18-21
- Psalms 117:1, 2
- Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13
- Luke 13:22-30
- Read them online »