Homily for 21 August 2011 – 21st Sunday of Orddinary Time - Year A

Isaiah 22:15, 19-23; Romans 11:33-36; Psalm 138; Matthew 16:12-20

In our second lesson St. Paul writes to the Church at Rome, “How deep are the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How inscrutable his judgments, how unsearchable his ways!” The word ‘inscrutable’ means impossible to understand or interpret. Are the ways of God impossible to understand? This is one of those trick questions, because the answer is both yes and no. To our ordinary human intelligence, yes. Trying to understand the ways of God is like trying to understand a movie from one frame, or the character of a person from their senior high school yearbook picture – we don’t have enough information. God sees and understands everything all the time, the whole picture, the whole of our life. We see only a tiny bit, and understand from an impoverished position. We cannot know as God knows, therefore, when God acts in our lives we simply cannot understand how the decision was made. So, yes, God’s ways are impossible to understand.

But, on the other hand, we can know with the knowledge of faith, we can humbly and trustingly accept whatever God sends us, and know, with the certainty of love, that whatever happens we can rest in God’s powerful hands. From that perspective God is not difficult to understand at all. The struggle, for us, is getting and keeping that perspective.

Frequently the problem is where our heart is. You know the verse, “Wherever your treasure is, there your heart is also.” Where is our heart, what do we treasure? For what do we work, yearn, desire, strive? If it is not God and God’s kingdom, then we will have a hard time understanding God’s work in our lives. For most people the only reward of a life lived faithfully is the knowledge that we have been faithful. It will not bring us riches, or celebrity, or health, or even ongoing happiness. Nothing that the world values will be ours because we have been faithful to Christ, we may possess it, but that is not why. Look at the Apostles in our Gospel lesson, to whom Our Lord proclaims, “On this rock I will build my Church, and the jaws of death shall not prevail against it,” most of them died as martyrs, poor, despised and outcast from their society, both the Roman and the Jewish. Their treasure was the Gospel, and they all lived and died more wealthy than Caesar, or Solomon.

Recently I have been reading novels by the Bronte sisters, and Jane Austen, who wrote in the early to mid nineteenth century, they wrote about ordinary people, governesses, schoolteachers, professors, and a common theme through all of them is self-control, doing what is right regardless of the personal cost, that even if we lose everything we care for, we can be content with our lot if we have been faithful to our duty. This austere view of life is no longer in fashion, in our modern world self-denial and sacrifice are dirty words; pleasure, self-fulfillment, entertainment, satisfaction, having our own way is the order of the day. Strangely enough, or perhaps not so strangely, this focus on self has not produced people of character, and has not brought contentment or ease or peace. We have everything that we need and a lot of what we want, and it is not enough. It is not enough because it is the wrong thing. We are not created to commune with things, we are created to be in loving communion with God and one another, and to be fulfilled as a human being we need to be willing to let go of everything in order to keep that one needful thing, we need to choose the better part.

To our minds the ways of God are unsearchable and inscrutable, but to our hearts they can be as clear as a loving smile, as firm as a hand held out in friendship, as essential as air or water. “For from him and through him and for him all things are. To him be glory forever.”

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