Homily for Ordinary Time 20
August 20, 2017
God’s Favor Is for Our Fruitfulness
Why did God pick the Jews as the Chosen People? Doesn’t it seem like God is picking favorites? That doesn’t quite seem loving of God, right? Here we see in today’s Gospel Jesus seeming to reject this foreign woman because she isn’t part of the Jewish race – is Jesus being racist? Why would He choose one person over another?
Let’s go back to the Old Testament to see the answer to these questions. God did indeed choose a Chosen People – but He did so in order to prepare the world for His coming. It was never enough for the Jewish nation to be insular, separated – they were supposed to be transformed by obedience to the Law so that other nations saw their holiness and were attracted to the Lord. Our first reading speaks of how any nation or foreigner, who loves the Lord and sacrifices to Him with a virtuous heart, will be accepted.
The Jewish people were set apart precisely so that they might be a light to the nations. They were given a unique law so that they became holier than the other nations. When the Jews entered the Promised Land, they were surrounded by nations who worshipped Ba’al and the other false idols, who practiced sexual immorality, and who even had human sacrifice at times! So, God needed to give them a Law which set them apart and taught them the true way of holiness.
But the problem was, the Jewish people became proud, arrogant, and idolatrous. They said to themselves, “We’re the Chosen People – we can do whatever we want and God will protect us.” So they started to adopt the practices of the surrounding nations – worshipping false idols, living lives of violence and lust, breaking the Law. They thought that because they were “chosen”, they would be able to sin with impunity.
But that is not WHY they were chosen! They were chosen to be a shining example to the other nations of how to live as beloved sons and daughters of God. But they shirked that responsibility and even turned away outsiders who sought to know the Lord – in fact, even now, if a person wants to convert to Judaism, a traditional Jewish rabbi will turn someone away three times or more before allowing them to convert!
With Christ’s death on the Cross, salvation was no longer only for the Jews, but now accessible to anyone who had faith in Him. St. Paul, in today’s second reading, talks about how God’s mercy is showered upon all people – Jews and non-Jews (called Gentiles) alike. We are the new Chosen People of God – we, the Catholic Church.
Have you ever thought about how blessed you are to be Catholic? I was born Catholic, like many of you, and so I never had to wrestle with the challenge of conversion – I always knew the Truth of our Catholic faith from the time I was very young. That is a great gift, one that we don’t appreciate enough – the fact that we have been chosen, by God’s free grace, to belong to His Chosen People in the Church. We didn’t earn it – it was freely given to us!
But like the Chosen People of the Old Testament, we too must bear fruit. Just like it wasn’t enough for the Jewish people to say, “God will protect us because we are Jewish”, we cannot believe that God will save us or that we will automatically go to Heaven because we are Catholic. On the contrary – we are chosen so that we will bear fruit! The fruit that the Lord requires is a holy life, so that we too may be the light to the nations.
When I was ordained a priest, a very wise older priest wrote me a note where he said, “Bring thousands of souls to Heaven with you.” I never forgot that exhortation. Yes, my vocation to the priesthood is a free gift, one that I did not earn – and one that I must use now for His glory, for my own salvation and the salvation of thousands of souls. It’s not for my own benefit or pleasure, and it certainly doesn’t guarantee a free ticket into Heaven. As my grandfather used to say, “Just because you put on a collar don’t make you a saint!”
Likewise, just because you are baptized a Catholic doesn’t make you holy automatically! His grace is there – but we must respond with eager hearts. We have been chosen by grace so that we bear the fruit of a holy life.
When you stand before God, you will understand all of the graces you have been given: the gift of your faith, the Sacraments, the ways in which the Holy Spirit has inspired you, the people in your life who have encouraged you along the right path. My question for you is this – when God asks, “What have you done with all of those graces I offered you?” – how will you be able to respond?