HOMILY WEEK 01 04 – Year II
Humble Faith and Trust
(1 Sam 4:1-11; Ps 44; Mk 1:40-45)
Have you ever wondered, “Where is God?” when something bad happened to you?
The readings today provide us with a simple, clear and important message: Be humble and trust in God at all times and in all circumstances.
To better understand the first reading and its relationship to this message, we need to know the back-story from the Book of Samuel. God called the young Samuel as he was ministering in the temple, to give him a message that God was fed up with the whole corrupt, self-serving sacrificial religion the institutional temple worship had become, and would give Israel into the hands of its enemies to chastise it, wake it up, purify it and try to draw it back to the original humble, intimate covenant relationship it was to have with God.
That is what we see happening in the first reading today. Israel had a skirmish with the Philistines, lost that skirmish, went to Plan B involving the ark of God, and tried again. This time they were totally defeated, there was a great slaughter, even the ark of God was captured, and the sons of Eli killed in battle. Realistically, one could say that these men whose false religious practice had no use for God, were not above using God and religion when these would serve their own selfish interest.
The psalmist reacts to this event, wondering if God was asleep and trying to wake God up. The psalm becomes a lament at what seems to be rejection by God – they have been abased, taunted, scorned by the enemy, made a laughingstock among the nations – it was a total disaster and all they can do is wonder why would God allow such a thing to happen.
Bishop Robert Barron, in a homily on the call of Samuel, reflects on how similar that situation is to today. Certain priests in the church have abused their priestly position to sexually abuse others. Sexual abuse is especially heinous because we are created male and female in the image of God. To be abused in that way is to strike at the very essence of our being and becomes soul-pain. Certain bishops have also been negligent, failing to report this abuse and even covering it up, putting the institution before the needs of the innocent victims. The point Barron makes is that God today is doing what God did in the time of Samuel – use those who seem to be enemies of the Church – the media and the courts – as instruments to purify the church, to chastise it and renew it. It may be some consolation to realize that now Hollywood and the Church have something in common – perhaps God is also using abused women as instruments to bring to task sexual abusers in that industry and also purify Hollywood!
If we have the eyes to see, in this gospel Jesus reveals who God really is, how God operates, and the stance we must have before our God (and that Israel, church leaders and Hollywood should also have before God).
First, a leper comes to Jesus, humbly kneeling and begging him for healing. The leper presumes nothing – he fully expects Jesus to shun him like everyone else, and so leaves it up to Jesus to heal “if he so chooses.” In contrast to the sinful sons of Eli, the leper had no desire to use God at all – he came transparent, bringing only his brokenness and illness. In so doing, he becomes an icon of the spiritual life in general.
That leper is us (and what Israel should have been) with a stance of humble faith that we are to have before God. We come fully aware of our leprosy – our sin and sinfulness, our false pride and selfish ways, clinging especially to and abusing those false gods of possessions and pleasure, prestige and fame, power and control.
In the face of this humble faith, Jesus reveals to us the true face of God who is mercy and compassion to the humble who alone can receive it. Jesus chooses to heal, and the leper is made clean. It is interesting that Jesus admonishes him not to tell anyone about this, but to show himself to the temple priests (an allusion that the situation in Jesus’ day was no better than in the time of Samuel). More than that, the gospel ends with a wonderful, delicate touch that many may miss – the leper, in his joy at being healed, disregards Jesus’ “messianic secret” request not to say anything and proclaims it freely. As a result, Jesus “becomes the leper” himself, isolated like a leper, unable to go into a town openly.
This is who our God truly is – one who loves us so totally and fully that God will send his Son to become one of us, take on our sinful human condition (become a leper), to the point of dying for us on the cross. As we know, it does not end there, but rather led to resurrection, the overcoming of sin and death, and the possibility of a new, eternal life of walking humbly with our God.
Rabbi Kushner wrote a book, “Why Bad Things Happen to Good People,” addressing this mystery. The best answer to that question is Jesus – who demonstrates that God is always drawing good out of evil, turning everything to the good for those who love him. For that reason, we are to always be humble, and place our complete trust in Jesus at all times and in all circumstances.
The Eucharist is an act par excellence of humble faith. We humbly confess our sins and admit our sinfulness and brokenness in the penitential rite. We open our hearts to hear God’s Word in the readings. We believe humble gifts of bread and wine, representing our sorrows and joys, the totality of our lives, are transformed into the very body and blood of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. And we who receive are in turn transformed into the Body of Christ, sent out to bring that unconditional love of God that we have received, to an unbelieving and struggling world.
So, let us celebrate with humble faith, and as the prophet Micah so aptly put it, act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with our God.