Homily for Epiphany
January 4, 2014
Herod’s Double Life
Studying history makes me absolutely convinced that the Holy Spirit is in charge of this church of ours. The Renaissance was a rough period for the church – many of the popes were very corrupt, such as Pope Alexander the Sixth, who fathered four children as pope and ended up bankrupting the Vatican for his various projects, even though he was happy to make anyone a bishop for the right amount of money. Here was this man, who on the outside was supposed to be a man of God, but who in reality was totally corrupt. He seemed to have no regret for his evil – he famously said one day, “God gave us the papacy – let us enjoy it!” Hey, what can you expect from a Borgia. And yet, despite his corruption, the Church continued on, guided by the Holy Spirit.
But even today, the challenge for Christians is to not live a double life. I mean, what made King Herod such a despicable character in the Gospel? I think it was because he was so duplicitous. He told the Three Kings that he was excited to worship Jesus, when in reality he wanted to kill Him. Herod wanted to be seen as a good man, a follower of God…when in reality he was a power-hungry murderer.
On the other hand, we have these three wise men, who were genuinely interested in getting to know the Lord. Look at the sacrifices they make to come to visit Jesus – they travel hundreds of miles, and give Him these valuable gifts. These three kings were authentically interested in having a relationship with God.
So who are we – the Wise Men, or Herod? We can be tempted to live a double life, too. We come here on Sunday, praising Jesus with our lips, but then we leave here and we curse and gossip with those same lips. We say we believe in Jesus, but then when He says something difficult like “stay faithful to your marriage vows”, we disobey Him. We say our faith is important, we say we’re spiritual people, but won’t spend ten minutes a day reading Scripture. We pray our prayers, but then are racist or prejudice against people who are different from us.
But the goal of the Christian life is to practice in our lives what we profess to believe with our lips. I remember at one parish where I was stationed, we had a youth group night about the Mass, presented by the high schoolers to the middle schoolers. So six high school students got up and told the middle schoolers what they loved about the Mass. As I was watching this presentation, I realized that five out of the six had not been to Mass that weekend. So afterward, I said to one of those high school kids, “Wow, that was a great talk. So which Mass were you at this weekend?” He stared at me blankly, before bowing his head, ashamed, and saying, “Ok, Deacon Joe, you got me. I didn’t go.”
As a friend of mine used to say, “I can see right through you, plastic man.” Our goal is not to be someone who lives a double life, being a Christian in one area of life but having a secret life on the side. There is a virtue we should strive for – the virtue called integrity – which means being the same person in public as you are in private. We should be a Christian in our workplaces, our schools, our families, online. If you have a double life – if you are struggling with a secret sin, addiction, or if you are professing to be a Christian today but not willing to live it tomorrow, then you need to repent of this and seek to live an authentic Christian life.
I love what the American author Nathaniel Hawthorne said about living a double life: “No man can have two faces: one for public and one for private. He will soon forget which one is which.” We will never be at peace if we are two different people – a Christian on Sunday but a pagan on Monday. No, to have that deep peace, we need to be striving for Christian holiness every day. We may not be perfect, but so long as we are striving every day, and really giving a real effort – like the real effort the Wise Men gave – then we will find our inner peace.
The temptation to be Herod is within all of us – to say we believe in Jesus but then live like we don’t. Don’t give in to such a temptation – be a man or woman of integrity.