In this beautiful homily for 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, Father Hanly shows us why we must learn from Jesus and become givers, not takers.
Readings for Mass
First Reading: Zechariah 9:9-10
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13-14
Second Reading: Romans 8:9, 11-13
Gospel: Matthew 11:25-30
Recording of Homily
Transcript of Homily
“Come to me, all you who labour and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.”
This short passage is said, by many, to be the most beautiful words that Jesus speaks. And the irony is he is speaking it to people who will not listen to him.
The immediate text before, he gets a little bit angry at them. He says, “Why are you not listening?”
But then he suddenly, instead of being upset and annoyed, he turns back again and he says to them, “You know, if the things that were done in Sodom and Gomorrah, the things that have been done here, if they were done there, they would have come back and repented and turned their lives around and come back to the Lord.”
And he looks at them. And I suppose they all look back at him and say in their hearts, “Show me that you’re very special.”
But then Jesus never lets them go. Why?
Because the thing that makes him hook up with everyone, the ones who deny him, the ones who maligned him, the ones that say he’s a fraud (and all through his ministry, he runs into them), all the ones who want this and the ones who want that, and the ones more interested in many things, but none of them seem to be interested in him, in him and the one thing that marks the Messiah: the Messiah is in love. The Son of God is in love.
And he loves them all: the nice ones, the ones who listen, the ones who gather around him and make him feel welcome. But he, also, deep down inside, his feeling is of great love for the ones who walk away, the ones who even curse him and, ultimately, the ones who crucify him.
It is Jesus’ love that makes all life possible. Peguy says, “All life begins with tenderness.” And it’s true that Jesus teaches people with great tenderness, not because they deserve it, but because he needs to be this way, because the Messiah cannot not love.
Everybody is stuck with what they are. We are sinners, and we go about doing good, but also sinning. Jesus only does good, only forgives, only cares, only reaches out. And he’s God.
And why is he so busy at it? It’s because he wants us to feel and understand the great happiness that comes with openly and wholeheartedly taking in the great and grand love of God Himself. “Our hearts will never rest until they rest in thee,” says St Augustine to God.
And so it is that Jesus is kind of caught in a great problem. What does he do when they finally have their way and nail him to a cross, and it’s all over, and the spear goes through his side? And, before it goes through his side, the one thing he says…He looks up at his Father and what does he say? “Destroy them”? No. He says, “Father, you must forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.”
He even gives an excuse: it’s not their own fault, they’re just kind of lost and wandering in the darkness, they don’t know where to turn, they have their own little agendas inside them and, no matter how often they fail, they still think that surrendering to you, Almighty Father, to surrender to you is a mistake, it must be something else.
And so it is that Jesus shows us how to love. You can’t love and take back. I can’t stand listening to those songs where the singer is moaning and groaning, wanting love, wanting this, wanting that, wanting up, wanting down.
And Jesus has told us, if you’re looking for love, don’t wait. It’s never going to come to you. What passes is a few moments of surcease, as they say, but true love is what Jesus does.
And what does Jesus do? He gives. He gives and he gives and he gives. People reject him and he doesn’t care, he still loves them. And he gives and he gives and he never takes back.
And what he says to all of us: “You must learn that it is in the giving you feel love, it is in the giving you are healed, it is in the giving that you are saved.” And when you turn to, “I want mine and I want it now,” you’re destroying yourself.
And that’s why he keeps loving. Because you’re not hurting him, you’re not rejecting him. He’s not walking away kind of upset that he’s not wondrously acceptable.
He knows that you’ve got to learn from him or you’ll never learn what life is. You’ll never know what it means to live. You’ll be caught in the back roads of nonsense and self-pity and all these other things that we use as substitutes for love.
But not Jesus. And that’s why he’s the Messiah. Because he doesn’t take, he only gives.
Are we supposed to be like that? Of course.
Many years ago, I was teaching in the seminary in Hong Kong and I was teaching the deacons and they were about to be ordained. And deacons about to be ordained are very enthusiastic. And, of course, I’m an old cynic from Brooklyn, so I tried my best to maintain their incredible positive outlook at the time.
And one of the men, who you know very well but I’m not going to tell you who it is, one of the seminarians, he was saying …
In about the two weeks after ordination I met him in the hallway and I said (I’ll give him a false name), “Harry, how are you doing?”
And he said, “Father Hanly, when I stood and knelt at that altar with my head down, and I was filled with joy and I was filled with peace and I gave my whole life to Him, it was a wonderful moment.” And then he stops. “And now, three weeks later, each day, I take a little back.” You understand? “I take a little back.”
When we hear these idealistic stories, we must remember they’re for ideal people who do not exist. We exist with what we are and happily. We do sin and we do fall away and we do have all these annoying habits, otherwise we’d never experience God’s love. God doesn’t love someone who needs no love.
And the ones who need love the most are the ones who fall away, who find themselves locked up, afraid, wondering what it’s all about, all these different things.
And we can be very cruel and nasty.
And the worst of us are probably the ones who think they never sin, because they hold back the love of God that is waiting for them to say, “Lord, I’m sorry.”
These are the magic words. Not that God hasn’t forgiven long before you even ask for it, because He’s God. God loves. He can’t delay this kind of thing. But the words, “I am sorry,” He knows is we opening the gates of our own heart so He can finally walk in.
If you want to remember today’s sermon, just think of just one word, okay? Our problem is to learn to be a giver and not a taker. That’s all: just to be a giver and not a taker.
Are you worried about nobody loving you? Are you worried about that you’re not accepted? Are you worried about you’re not going to climb high on the ladder?
Forget it. If people want to climb high on the ladder, help them. If people want to do this, that and the other thing? Help them. Why? Because they’re people. Jesus doesn’t give up on them. You don’t have to give up on them.
But, if you want to touch God and feel the reality of God’s life and this wonderful world He has created for all of us, you’ve got to learn how to give.
And the more you give, the more you’ll understand. And the more you understand, the more you realise how much we need forgiveness.
Because when you go in that direction, all your little faults, all your little problems, seem to increase.
But so does this great feeling that you are with a God who is carrying you through all the difficulties of life. And at times you feel that you are dropped, but He always catches you in time. At times you feel frustrated, but He’s always been there to smile at you.
Because as long as you keep the flame of gift in your heart, He knows that you two, He and you, will walk home into eternal life, together.
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This homily was delivered on 3rd July 2011.
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