October 7, 2013

Homily for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

I usually sign MS after my name. It means “Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette.” I think I’ll start adding my academic titles: PhL (Licentiate in Philosophy)and STB (Bachelor of Theology). More impressive, no? Like a doctor with MA, and MD, and PhD.

This way I can show off my qualifications and accomplishments. Degrees are not to be sniffed at, much less anything to be ashamed of. What’s wrong with showing people that I’m “somebody”?

And yet, Jesus says we are to call ourselves “unprofitable servants.” We may be tempted to reply, “What? After all I’ve done for you?”

In the opening scene of Shakespeare’s King Lear, the old king asks his three daughters to say how much they love him, and he will give them a portion of his kingdom in proportion to their love. The first and the second carry on, boasting that they love him more than life, beauty, honor, etc., and that they are happy only when he is with them.

The youngest (and favorite) simply says, “I love your majesty according to my bond; nor more nor less.” In other words, she loves him as any daughter should love her father. The foolish old man takes offense and disinherits her. He learns, much too late, the she alone of the three daughters truly loved him.

St. Paul is not above comparing his accomplishments to those of others. “Are they ministers of Christ? I am still more, with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, far worse beatings, and numerous brushes with death” (2 Cor. 11:23). Much more important for our present purpose, however, are his words: “If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it!” (1 Cor. 9:16).

Paul tells Timothy, in the second reading, not to be ashamed of his testimony to the Lord. In the first reading, poor Habakkuk apparently was embarrassed at having to be a prophet of doom. But ultimately, right at the end of the book: after foreseeing a catalogue of disasters, he exclaims, “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord and exult in my saving God. God, my Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet swift as those of deer and enables me to tread upon the heights.” (You might recognize here the source of the title of Hannah Hurnard’s famous book, Hinds Feet on High Places.)

Jesus’ command to call ourselves unprofitable servants is not an invitation to low self-esteem. If we are really loving and serving him “according to our bond,” doing what we are “obliged to do,” we have nothing to be ashamed of. Being God’s servant, faithful and true, is a good and beautiful thing.

Instead of boasting, we should be grateful for the opportunity.

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