Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 13A
From time to time, I wonder whether I’ve made much of a difference, working as a priest. Priests don’t often get to see the fruits of our labor, which can be fairly intangible. I may have mentioned before that my dad likes to joke with me, that because I entered the priesthood right after finishing school, I’ve never actually had a real job. There are definitely times when I’m rather envious of the work that my dad does. He knows how to fix almost any appliance, and a lot of what goes wrong with cars. And at the end of the day, it’s usually very clear to him whether he did his job well or if he needs to keep working on the same thing the next day. It’s easy for him to tell whether this refrigerator, air conditioner, light switch, or car that wasn’t working before is working like it’s supposed to when he’s finished. I like to do some of the same type of work or tinkering in my free time.
But as a priest and prophet, so much of what I deal with every day are invisible realities: the mysteries of God and our relationship with Him and with one another, faith which knows—but often does not see—on this side of heaven. Even if people tell me that I’m doing a good job, that they enjoy my homilies, or how I pray the Mass and celebrate the other sacraments, still, I don’t often see whether it makes a real difference in people’s lives, whether it motivates anyone to actually change their behaviors and have a healthier approach to God, to life, to their families and to those in need.
But these more spiritual works are not just for those who have been ordained as priests. All followers of Christ, all the baptized, each one of us has a prophetic vocation in the world today. No matter what other jobs or occupations you might have, we are all commissioned by God to faithfully proclaim His Word by the way we live our lives, even by the way we carry out those other jobs or conduct ourselves in school or in our time off and recreation. All our words and actions are to bear witness and give glory to the One Word of God who is Jesus Christ. But we can’t give what we do not have. We can’t proclaim God’s Word and live as true Christians in the midst of a world that wanders further and further from Christ, if we have not first listened and received the Word of God ourselves. The readings this weekend focus on what it means to really receive a prophet, to receive the Word of God deeply into our lives. The woman and her husband who received the prophet Elisha in our first reading, who went to all the trouble of even making a place for him in their own home, these were rewarded with the promise of a baby boy, after many years of being unable to have children. In today’s Gospel, Jesus promises, “Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.”
What does it mean to receive a prophet because he is a prophet? To receive a prophet, not because we find him entertaining, not because we agree with almost everything he says, not because he tells us what we want to hear, but simply because he is a prophet, because he proclaims the Word of God to us. How well do we receive someone who, instead of making us feel good about ourselves, actually challenges us to conform our lives to Jesus Christ and to God’s laws? To receive a prophet because he is a prophet. To go to Mass every Sunday, not because of what I can get out of Mass, but because of what God wants me to receive from it. That even if the homily is boring or stupid, if I don’t like the priest or the people around me, God still gives us His most holy Word, as the Scriptures are proclaimed, as the prayers of the Mass are pronounced, and especially as the Word of God Incarnate, Jesus Christ, gives us His own Body and Blood to transform us and make us new.
To receive a prophet because he is prophet. Do we actually change our course of action when the Word of God convicts us, convicts us of the sins, the failings, the imbalances and excesses of our lives, or do we leave Mass, week after week, unchanged, unconverted, untouched and unaffected by the Word of God? The seed is sown to us whether we realize it or not, but what have we done to actually make ourselves into good soil for its reception, that we might bear good fruit for the glory of God? “Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.” Whoever receives the Word of God because it is the Word of God will become a word of God to others. Do not be sterile and unfruitful. God wants much more for us. He wants our transformation. May God give us the grace to really open ourselves to Jesus Christ and surrender to His will for our lives, that we may bear witness everywhere in the world to the One whose kingdom has no end.