“What a Friend We Have in Jesus” – Fr. Bob’s Homily for Sunday, September 24, 2024

What a friend we have in Jesus, brothers and sisters. As our psalm tells us today, he is good to all and has compassion over all his creatures, he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, he is near to all who call on him.”  Listen, brothers and sisters, if we  have a different picture of God, then we will have to make a choice, either go with our own picture of God, or go with the one given to us by God’s own word. I have heard it said so often “the God of the Old Testament is an angry God, the God of the New Testament is a loving God.” But that is to make God schizophrenic or to suggest that between the Old and the New Testament, he somehow had a personality transplant. No, it is the same God in both Testaments, one who is both just and kind. 

This comes across in our gospel parable today. 

You know, a great spiritual teacher and author, once wrote that the parables of Jesus often contrast the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless, the one on top, and the one who is the underdog. If we want to step into God’s shoes and see the world as God does, then we have to put ourselves in the position of the underdog and see it through their eyes. And so, in today’s parable, we must put ourselves in the place of the workers who have been standing around all day, waiting for someone to come along and give them some work, so they can feed themselves and their families. In one town to the north of London, England, which had a very Irish population, I have seen men lined up in the town square, waiting for some construction manager to come along and hire them for a day’s work on some building site. Who do you think that manager is going to choose first? Obviously, the fittest, the youngest and the strongest. That would be the clear, common-sense choice. But what about those left behind, those who are not as fit, or as young or as strong? Can you imagine their feelings as they stand throughout the day, desperate for someone to hire them and put some money in their hands, so they can pay the rent or buy food for their families? What does it do to a man’s self-confidence and hope to see himself overlooked time and time again, because he does not fit the criteria for a good workman? Can you imagine how grateful such a man would be to the person who hires them, despite their defects. 

If Jesus, in our parable is telling us, who are the poorest, the weakest, the less confident in society, that God has a place and a role for each of us in his kingdom, regardless of how the world might see us, how do you think we would respond? Obviously, with gratitude, with faith and trust, and love for such a God who is “gracious and merciful and abounding in steadfast love, good to all and kind in all his doings”, as our responsorial psalm today says. Wouldn’t we want to live and work our whole hearts out for such a God, careless of ourselves and our comforts, just as St Paul did, as he tells us in our second reading today? Jesus came, wrote St Hilary of Poitiers, to reveal to us the Father heart of God, because the spiritual teachers and leaders of the Jewish people had muddied the waters, represented God as an angry, tyrannical, merciless judge who had no patience with those who did not, or could not,  keep all the rules, who dismissed all those with any kind of defect as unworthy of being part of God’s chosen people. 

So, what a friend we have in Jesus, brothers and sisters, who challenges us to open our eyes, our minds and our hearts to the true picture of God, that the Pharisee in us or in others has misrepresented. To get into the mind and heart of God, then, we have to look again at some of Jesus’ parables, and identify with the real underdog of the story, be it the lost sheep, or the prodigal son, or the ignored and overlooked labourer in our parable today. If we can see ourselves as that lost sheep or son or labourer, then we can let our hearts warm with affection and love for our God and want to serve him with all of our lives. Are we willing to do so, brothers and sisters?

Sometimes, it is we who must have the personality transplant, not God!