Homily for Ordinary Time 32
November 11, 2018
Undercover Child of God
Ever seen that TV show, “Undercover Boss”? It’s still on, and still pretty popular. It features a CEO of some company who, for a week, takes on a new hairstyle and new identity and works alongside the entry-level workers in his company. It’s pretty funny to see how the big bosses struggle to perform tasks in their own company – like hauling trash or working on an assembly line or cleaning port-a-potties. At the end of the show, there is always the “big reveal” as the boss reveals his actual identity, and all of the other workers are shocked and amazed. The employees had been treating this CEO as just “one of the guys”, but now that he has revealed himself as the head of the company, I’m sure some of them are wishing they hadn’t said things or done things around them!
We all treat our bosses differently than our fellow employees. In fact, there are many people we treat differently because of external factors. We treat people differently if they are rich…or if they are good-looking…or if they are talented…or if they are famous or powerful. Many times we do this subconsciously, but we do it nonetheless. For example, a recently-published study showed that attractive-looking people made 3-4% more money at the same job than people whose looks were below-average.
But Jesus cuts through all of that external stuff and looks directly at the heart. While these dozens of wealthy patrons in the Gospel were putting their contributions into the Temple, I am quite sure that the priests were welcoming them, thanking them, cultivating relationships with them. But then comes this poor widow – was she ignored? Was she disdained? She was old and poor, the opposite of what any fundraiser would look for.
Jesus penetrates right to the heart, though, and sees the person beyond the externals. He recognizes and praises her generous heart, which was far more virtuous than these self-important wealthy people.
How do we see people – with the eyes of faith, or just according to the externals? How do we treat them – as beloved sons and daughters of God, or do we treat the rich and good-looking better than others?
St. Alexius of Rome was a saint whose true identity remained hidden. He was born from a wealthy family – his father being a Roman senator – in the fourth century. His father tried to arrange a marriage for him, but he wanted to dedicate his life to Christ. As the date of the arranged marriage approached, Alexius ran away from home, determined to live for the Lord alone. He fled into the deserts of Syria, living as a beggar for the next several years, all while growing in holiness.
The people of Syria began to notice his holiness and come to him for prayers and wisdom, calling him a “living saint”. Out of humility, he wanted to live a life of complete anonymity, so he ran away again…back to his father’s house in Rome. But his appearance had changed so much in the intervening years that his father didn’t recognize him. His father reluctantly allowed him to rent a room in his house, a tiny, dark and dirty closet underneath a staircase. For the next seventeen years, Alexius prayed, begged, and lived a life of charity. All the while, his parents still thought he was just some random beggar who was living with them! Finally, upon his death, they found in his room a document that revealed that he was their son. They were overcome with grief and sorrow at how poorly they had treated their son!
Someday, if we have the good fortune to be saved, we will be in Heaven for the “big reveal” when we see everyone as they truly are. The poor will be princes; the plain will be beautiful; the mentally disabled will be brilliant; the anonymous people will be glorified. I know that many people who I have treated poorly or judged harshly based on external things will be far ahead of me in Heaven. Here on earth, let us resolve to see and treat others as we will know and treat them in Heaven – not according to temporary external factors like riches or beauty, but as sons and daughters of the Heavenly Father, in disguise.