Sunday, August 20, 2017

Us and Them - Homily for the 20th Sunday in OT (A)

“My house shall be called a house of prayer...”

When we speak of God’s house, we can speak of His Temple. And when we speak of His Temple, typically we think of the temple of brick and mortar in Jerusalem—the temple originally built by Solomon, destroyed, and rebuilt again throughout the ages. Part of a wall of that ancient Temple still exists today (that is, the Wailing Wall).

Of course, in the beginning, God’s temple was not simply the edifice in Jerusalem. During the time of Moses, God’s house, His temple, was the tent of meeting—a tent surrounded by the cloud and the glory of the Lord.

Before that, creation itself was the temple of God. At the beginning of the Bible, as God created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, the ancient Hebrew language of that creation denoted a construction of a temple. (It is worth noting that ancient civilizations, when they built temples, would as the last part of that construction place an image of the deity. When God constructs the temple of creation over the Six Days, the last item He places in the temple is His image—which happens to be the man and the woman, humanity who is created in the image of God).

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The Jewish people, as the chosen people of God, were called to go out to all the nations and to bring those nations into the one temple of God and into the one worship of the one true God.

Of course, throughout the Old Testament centuries, the Israelites slowly became inward-looking and forgetful of their mission. Their worldview started to morph into an us-and-them mentality where they were the chosen people and everyone else—whom they called the Gentiles—were not. Indeed, there started to grow a hatred: the Jewish people would call the Gentiles dogs and so on.

Enter our Gospel for today. Here we have a Gentile woman approaching Jesus, a Jew. The Jewish disciples are watching. They do not like her. She asks for her daughter to be healed. And Jesus says something interesting: He echoes the sentiment of the us-and-them mentality. Why?

There is, on the one hand, a sense that He doesn’t want to scandalize His Jewish disciples. He enters into their mentality for a moment. On the other hand, however, His refusal of the woman gives the woman an opportunity: an opportunity to double-down and proclaim more whole-heartedly her faith in Jesus as the Messiah—which is preciasely what she does.

It is at this moment, then, that Jesus publicly praises her for her faith and gives her daughter healing. In doing so, He is pointing out the wrongheadedness of the Jewish people's mentality towards the Gentiles: “See, my Jewish brothers and sisters, the Gentiles have great faith. How can we not embrace them as our own? Are we really going to reject such faithful people?”

This is to fulfill the prophecy we heard in the first reading from Isaiah: “My house shall be a house of prayer ... for all peoples.”

It is worth noting that this is the motivation behind Jesus’ actions later on when He enters the Temple in Jerusalem and drives out the money changers and animal traders from the Temple. He quotes this very prophecy: “My father’s house shall be a house of prayer” (Mt 21:13). But it wasn’t simply zeal for the temple that consumed Him (it was), but it was also His love for the Gentiles. You see, location is important and the location of the money changers was in the part of the temple called the Court of the Gentiles. This Court of the Gentiles was a part of the temple where the Gentiles were supposed to be gathered and worship the Lord. Of course, the Jewish people, in their insular mentality that had grown over the Old Testament centuries, gave up on the Gentiles and indeed had pushed them out.

Jesus, by flipping over the tables and driving out the money-changers, literally makes room for the Gentile people that He is going to bring in—“My house shall be a house of prayer for all peoples.”

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Ok, so what does this have to do with us? God's temple is not just Jerusalem, a tent, or creation. Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians (3:16) asks us: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” In other words, do you not know that you are God’s dwelling place—and if God’s temple, then a house of prayer? Hear again that prophecy but in this new light. "My house-- you-- shall be a house of prayer for all peoples."

Here, we could talk much about the life of prayer and what it would be like if there was no prayer in our temple. But a more pressing matter is upon us. You see, one of the temptations of our current day—indeed, one of the devilish tactics in our world—is the desecration and the destruction of God’s temple: not only in the removal of things beautiful in parish churches, but most especially in the forgetfulness that human beings are temples of God.

Let me give an example. When you flip through the newspaper, when you watch the news, when you read an article on the internet about current events—how many times have you heard about the glory of humanity, the beauty of mankind, and the great dignity of the human person? I mean, have you ever heard of a person referred to as a “house of prayer” and the “temple of God”?

I haven’t.

Instead, I have heard all sorts of derogatory, desecrating language used in the past week. This is the great, horrible trick of the devil today: to get us to forget about the dignity of every human person and instead to focus on humans as simply problems.

Case in point: there was a former governor (this will not be political, I promise)—there was a former governor who recently issued a video statement telling our current political leaders how they can craft a more peaceful message and a more effective stance regarding the issue of racism. The former governor said, and I quote: “If you had a tumor, you wouldn’t quietly hope that it slowly disappears, you would zap the *expletive* out of it … and cut it out.”

Now, I understand the sentiment: the governor wants to eradicate racism. Who doesn’t? But in his analogy, he equates human beings to tumors. Again, I understand the analogy: racism is bad and those who hold on to it are not in a good place.

But here’s the fundamental truth: human beings are not tumors. Indeed, every human being—even human beings who hold positions that are diametrical and indeed diabolically opposed to the dignity of every human life—those human beings have the same human dignity as we do. For is not every person—even those whom we dislike—aren’t they created in the same image of God as we are?

Didn’t Jesus see all of their sins from the Garden of Gethsemane and decide to go to His Cross for love of them anyway? Is not each person—even your greatest enemy—are not all people purchased at a price: did not Jesus Christ bleed for them?

Have we really devolved into the old us-and-them worldview of the Israelites and the Gentiles again?

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Yes, there is justified anger out there. But I must admit: some of it is not.

As I saw a particular monument to Robert E. Lee fall—and I do not know enough to comment on his life or the appropriateness of removing statuary—but as I saw the monument fall and white college students starting to kick and stomp on the man’s effigy, I couldn’t help but wonder whether, within all of their anger, whether they had forgotten that he too was made in the image of God. In all of that hate, did they forget that Jesus died for Him too? That he was once-- whether he lived up to it or not-- a temple of God?

And did they forget that they too were sinners? And that Jesus came not for the righteous, but for the sinner? And isn’t the worst possible sinner still within the realm of God’s redemptive power? Isn’t that the essence of Christianity? The thief on the Cross with Jesus—a terrible life, yet in one moment, his deathbed moment, he apologizes to God. And what does God do? Canonize him. That thief, St. Dismas, is in heaven. I think we as Catholics need to proclaim these truths anew and this is our opportunity.

You see, I don’t know whether or not these statues should be down or not—but I do know that we must never forget the dignity of every man and woman-- black or white, racist or pacifist, Communist or Facist, etc and etc-- we must never forget everyone's dignity nor must we ever forget the incredible mercy of God for us all.

As an side, and this is my own personal opinion, but... if all of this vitriol out there were truly and only about the offenses committed against the dignity of the human person, then there would also be a mob tearing down the bust of Margaret Sanger—she who was the architect for mass genocide of babies, the vast majority of them being African American. If there is going to be movements that uphold humanity, then they must be genuine, self-reflecting, and logical-- and thus they must also embrace the person in the womb. If we cannot protect the innocent person there, then we are not going to be able to protect any person here.

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Brothers and sisters, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

Let us remember that we are in the 100th anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima, who called us to radical and trusting prayer, fasting, and recourse to the Rosary. There was a great miracle of the sun that happened as proof of her presence and validity of her message—even the atheists got it. She warned that if we did not pray, great wars would be upon us.

Do we not see the echo of that today? The 100th anniversary, a great American celestial event tomorrow in the eclipse, and a country on the brink... Do you not see?

If we do not become people of prayer at this time, what will it take?

“Do you not know that you are a temple of God”—a house of prayer for all peoples? Let us pray. Pray not only for your friends and family, but for all peoples. Prayer for your enemies—not just your buddies (for even pagans love their buddies). Pray for those who you don’t like. Pray to recognize the dignity of those groups and leaders that have been labeled in the media.

We are not an us-and-them church as Jew and Gentile. No, we are one people called to go out to all the nations to bring all peoples in—by our words, actions, and especially our prayers—to worship here this one God and Father of us all. For we are all one family in God-- and don't let anyone convince us otherwise!


  1. This is truly beautiful and utterly necessary today. Thank you very much for this.

  2. Great homily! I thoroughly enjoyed all your points.