HOMILY WEEK 32 03 – Year I
Grateful Servants of the Kingdom
(Wis 6:1-11; Ps 82; Lk 17:11-19)
“Because as servants of the kingdom you did not rule rightly.”
That quote from the first reading caught my attention for two reasons: one, it is the first time that I have seen it written, and two, it connects with my episcopal motto: Regnum Dei Intro Vos – The Kingdom of Heaven is Among You (lk 17:21). So, I have a vested interest in the Kingdom of God.
The readings today not only provide us with the invitation to be greatful servants of the kingdom, they also outline what we need to do, and what we need to avoid, to be good servants of that kingdom.
First, what we need to avoid: The author of Wisdom is quite clear on that matter as he chastises the leaders of Israel for their neglect – “You did not rule rightly (justly), or keep the law, or walk according to the purpose of God. That is what we need to avoid if we are to serve the Kingdom of God.
The flip side of that is the imperative of doing what these leaders did not do: act justly, keep the law of love and do God’s will. The book of wisdom adds the dimension of striving to be holy and being devoted to God’s word, while Jesus in the gospel stresses the importance of gratitude. There in a nut shell, is what it means to be a servant of the Kingdom of heaven.
To “rule rightly” is to act justly. Justice, on one level, is a right relationship with God, all other people in our lives, ourselves, and all of God’s creation. It means being honest and fair in all our dealings, and to do what we can to make sure that the needs of others, especially the poor, are met. It is injustice throughout the Old Testament that causes God the most grief, and that compelled Jesus to cleanse the temple.
Keeping the law means to keep the commandment to love, that I like to summarize as four levels: we are to love God with our whole being; love others as we love ourselves; love one another as Christ has loved us, and finally, love our enemies by forgiving them from the heart. All very challenging, for sure, but also very possible through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Doing God’s will can be a bit trickier. There are times when we may be inadvertently doing our will in God’s name. As T. S. Eliot wrote, “To do the right thing for the wrong reason, is the greatest kind of treason.” There are also many in this world who actually do violence in God’s name, believing that they are doing God’s will. Step Eleven of the 12 Step program is very pertinent – “seeking only the knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry it out.”
Regarding the call to be holy as God is holy, St. Therese of Lisieux claims genuine holiness is precisely a matter of enduring our own imperfections patiently. Paul Filbert, author of a book on the priesthood of the faithful, would say that “Holiness is not about our impressing God, but about God embracing us. God’s agenda is transformation through intimacy, not moral self-improvement for respectability. The agenda for holiness is in fact the ruling force of the Holy spirit within us.”
Another aspect of being a servant of the kingdom, according to the Book of Wisdom, is to “set our desire on God’s words, to long for them and to be open to be instructed by them.” Lectio Divina: reading, meditating upon, praying with and finally, resting in God’s presence while pondering that word, is an excellent way to live that teaching of Wisdom, and an essential element of serving the Kingdom.
Finally, Jesus in the gospel recounts the story of the ten lepers that are healed on their way, and only one, a Samaritan, coming back to give thanks. A grateful person is a happy person. If there is only one prayer that we would say in our life that would suffice, it would be “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” We need to count our blessings, and thank God for them.
Did you ever wonder why it was only the Samaritan who returned to give thanks to Jesus, and how as a result, received not only physical healing, but salvation as well? “Your faith has saved you,” Jesus tells the Samaritan, who was despised by the Jews and accepted by the other lepers only out of dire circumstances.
Could it be possible that the Jewish lepers were prevented from returning to show their gratitude to Jesus, the new law, by their obsession with the written law? The Samaritan, not bound by institutional religion, was freer to respond to his healing with relational love, rather than legalistic fulfilling of a rule. Could Jesus be teaching us that love and mercy trumps rules and regulations?
When I joined the International singing group Up With People as a university student, I was so grateful at being accepted that I decided I would not smoke, drink or even consider dating any other cast members while I was with them. When I arrived at our staging session in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I discovered that UWP had three rules: no smoking, drinking or dating! I chuckled to myself when I observed some of the members struggling to keep those rules, because I realized that I didn’t need them. My gratitude had placed me within a relationship with the cast making those rules irrelevant for me. One could say my belonging was based on love and not on law. I suspect Jesus is saying much the same thing to the Jewish leadership in the gospel.
The Eucharist is a banquet fit for servants of the Kingdom of heaven. Not only is it a foretaste of that heavenly banquet in the fullness of the kingdom, it brings together all the attributes mentioned in the readings: justice, love, doing God’s will, growing in holiness, attention to the Word of God and especially gratitude, for the word Euchariston means giving thanks.
May our celebration today empower us to work for justice, keep the law of love, do God’s will, strive for holiness, dedicate ourselves to God’s word, and do all of that with grateful hearts as servants of the Kingdom of Heaven.