Homily for Thursday of the 32nd Week in Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Martin of Tours, 11 Nov. 2021, Lk 17:20-25
While I was listening to our first reading today from the Book of Wisdom I felt like I was hearing St. Paul listing down the fruits of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5. There, Paul enumerates the virtues that people are endowed with when they receive the gift of the Spirit. In Wisdom chapter 7, the writer speaks about the attributes of wisdom, and he lists down at least thirty of them!
But the line that caught my attention most was the part that says, “Wisdom renews everything… passing into holy souls from age to age, she produces friends of God and prophets.”
FRIENDS OF GOD AND PROPHETS! It makes sense. The prophets are supposed to speak on behalf of God. How can you speak on behalf of someone you have not known? And who would know you better than your close friends? Prophets and friends of God—they go together.
The major figures in the Old Testament are portrayed this way—as prophets and friends of God. Remember Abraham whom God had entered into a covenant with? Remember the audacity of Abraham to even bargain with God about the number of people who would be saved from punishment, all for the sake of his nephew Lot? How started by asking, “What if there are 40 innocent people?” When God said he would not destroy these cities on behalf of 40 innocent people, Abraham continued bargaining, reducing the number to 30, then 20, until he stopped with 10.” He is like a friend who dares to pester, in Pinoy we say, “make kulit with God.”
Actually, my best example is Moses, who is portrayed as the prophet par excellence in the Old Testament. In Chapter 33 and 34, when God got angry with the Israelites for making a golden calf and threatened to leave them on their own in the desert and not accompany them anymore to promised land, Moses reacted and said, “If you’re not coming with us, then I’m not going myself.” Then God changes his mind and says, “Ok, I will go with you. But only because you are my intimate friend.”
Later, he makes a bold request to God. He says, “If you are really my intimate friend, why don’t you let me see your face whenever I meet with you?” God says, “Oh, but you cannot see my face and live.” I suppose that is the biblical origin of the idea that to die in a state of grace is to see the face of God.
Moses does not stop there, he makes “cariño” with God as they’d say it in Spanish, until God gives in and says, “Ok, I will pass by and as I am doing so, you hide behind a rock. I will cover your eyes with my hands so you are protected from seeing my face. As soon as I have passed by I will remove my hands and let you see my back.”
The Psalms are so full of intimate lines with the Psalmist talking like a friend to a friend, sometimes expressing reproaches (nagtatampo) saying, “Why do you hide your face from me?” (Ps 44:25) Sometimes asking for forgiveness saying, “Turn away your face from my sins.” (Ps 51,11) Or sometimes in their dark moments, begging God, saying, “Let your face shine upon us.” (Ps 67:2) Of course, the most classic prayer for Israel is the line that says, “Lord, let us turn to you, let us see your face and we shall be saved.” (Ps. 80:4).
Imagine what it must have been like for the apostles to realize later when they began to confess the divinity of Christ, that they had actually seen God face to face in Jesus! John tells us one of the twelve actually dared to ask Jesus, “Please show us the Father’s face and that will be enough for us.” (Jn 14:8) And Jesus answered, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” And remember how the Gospel writers tell us how Peter, James and John saw his face transfigured? Matthew 17 says, “His face shone like the sun.”
Perhaps this should be our prayer as we go through these dark and difficult times. Don’t we often see people behaving like the people whom Jesus describes as running desperately in pursuit of the kingdom of God? These are the times when we need the friends of God to assure us with the same words, “The kingdom of God is among you.”
He is among us now, at this very moment that we gather together both physically and virtually in his name. Did he not say, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst.” If it is ruly in Jesus’ name that we gather, then perhaps in our darkness we would know what young people actually mean when they sing to Jesus and say, SINE, JESUS SHINE, FILL THIS LAND WITH THE FATHER’S GLORY!