By Bishop Martin Amos
(Editor’s note: Bishop Martin Amos gave the homily during Mass at the Davenport Diocese’s high school youth rally in the Coralville Marriott on Oct. 24. We’re sharing it with readers.)
Did God so love the world which includes you and me because we were so good? No, I don’t think so. In fact, our Scriptures say God loved us while we were still sinners. God loved us WHILE we were still sinners.
It is easy to assume God loves people who are religious: God loves people who go to church every Sunday or better yet, every day; God loves people who follow all of the 10 commandments; God loves people who love God and neighbor, and the list goes on. Does God love people who sin? Who break the 10 commandments? Who play sports on Sunday rather than go to church? Who cheat and lie and bully other people? Certainly if they were sorry, repentant sinners, that would be OK — if they put their sinful lives behind themselves.
St. Luke in his Gospel tells us about three people who God is like: God is like the shepherd looking for the lamb; God is like the lady sweeping the house looking for the coin even though it wasn’t necessarily a significant amount; God is like the Father running out to meet a son who left home. Certainly God does not love our sin, but God does love us sinners. It isn’t because we were good that God loves us. Rather, we try to be good because God first loved us so much.
Two people went up to the Temple to pray . . . one went home justified, the other did not. The first thought God should love him because of all the good things he did. The second asked God to be merciful to him because he was a sinner.
So the God who sent his Son into the world to save it was able to save the second man, but not the first — only because the first didn’t think he needed to be saved. Sirach in our first reading says the poor, the weak, the orphan, the widow — those in ancient Israel who had nothing and depended on God for everything—when they prayed, their petitions reached heaven; they pierced the clouds.
As the responsorial Psalm said, the Lord hears the cry of the poor. We don’t have to be materially poor, or an orphan, but we must be poor in spirit, dependent on God.
As St. Paul writes to Timothy he says: I am already being poured out … the time of my departure is at hand. He knows the end is near and he says: I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.
He is not bragging because a few lines later he gives all the credit to the Lord: the Lord stood by me and gave me strength . . . I was rescued from the lion’s mouth . . . the Lord will bring me safe to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory forever and ever.
We are still running. We know we can’t make it alone. We need God. We need each other. We are still running. God be merciful to me, a sinner. We are still running. Hear the cries of the poor. We are still running. So we come to Eucharist to be nourished for the run. We are still running.
And with God’s help we try to be good and to do the right thing.
And when we finally finish the race, hopefully we, too, can say: I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. And then God will indeed be exalted. Amen. Alleluia!