Not Worthy

(January 13, 2019)

Bottom line: Like John the Baptist we are not worthy, but in Jesus we become worthy. We can truly say, "I'm OK, You're OK - because He's OK."

Back when I was in college a popular book came out: I'm OK, You're OK. Written by psychiatrist Thomas Harris, the book encouraged people to affirm themselves and others. It had some good points, but I have to admit I took pleasure in a book that came out as a response to I'm OK, You're OK. Its title: I'm OK, You're Not So Hot! That's probably how some of my classmates felt about me.

Many people follow the "I'm OK, You're OK" approach to life. It's a pleasant philosophy, but is it really true? As we will see at the conclusion of this homily, in one sense it is - or at least can be, but first we have to face some hard truths. When we look at our long, sad history, human goodness does not exactly shine through. Our history shows wars, greed, torture, rape, mass murder, concentration camps, genocide. And if that's not enough ask these questions: If we are so good, why do two people deeply in love with each other, have such a hard time staying together? And why do we love hearing other people's faults? Once I mentioned in a homily that gossip was circulating about me. People later told me they wanted to know what the gossip was! Maybe you're curious yourself. Come to Generations of Faith - I'll talk more about it. We can take a deeper look at the I'm OK, You're OK philosophy.

Some of the people we most admire acknowledge they are not OK. One of the greatest men in Bible is King David. Yet he committed terrible sins - adultery and murder. When the prophet Nathan confronts him, David admits, "I have sinned against the Lord.' David then writes a Psalm which states, "Have mercy on me, O God...My sin is always before me."

Another great figure in the Bible is Job. Misfortune befalls him and his friends think he must have done something wrong to deserve it. Job defends his innocence, yet when he meets God face to face, he says "I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes."

And today we have John the Baptist. Jesus calls him the greatest man born of woman. But John, speaking of Jesus says, "I am not worthy..."

That is our stance as Catholics. When we come to Mass we begin by telling each other, "I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do..." When we stand before Jesus present in the Host, we say, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof..."

So we admit, I am not OK. How then do we become OK? Well, today we see Jesus - a man without sin - accepting baptism on our behalf. St. Paul tells us we are saved by the bath of rebirth - "not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy."

You sometimes hear that Protestants believe we are saved by faith while Catholic say we are saved by works. That is not true. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has nine paragraphs on justification - how we are saved. They are short and well worth reading. They brings out clearly that we are justified - made OK - not by works, but by grace. The Catechism cites the Council of Trent which describes justification as a gift. The Catechism has this quote from St. Augustine: "the justification of the wicked is a greater work than the creation of heaven and earth," because "heaven and earth will pass away but the salvation and justification of the elect...will not pass away." (#1994)

So what do we make of this? As we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus what do we take home?

Before summing up, permit me a word about Martin Luther King. He was part of my life as a youth. A book I appreciated about him was Death of a King. I wrote something about it in the bulletin. It shows Dr. King as he was: a Baptist preacher, a scholarly man who had his own demons, who nevertheless used the Bible especially the Book of Exodus, to call us back to our roots. Martin Luther King spoke of the God who sees our sinfulness yet calls to something better, not just individually, but for each other.

With that in mind let's sum up. Like John the Baptist we are not worthy, but in Jesus we become worthy. We can truly say, "I'm OK, You're OK - because He's OK." Apart from Jesus we sink into misery and despair as is happening with so many today. But by accepting Jesus, entering into a relationship with him through prayer, sacraments - and care for the outcast - we are justified, we are saved. Not by any righteous deed, but by surrendering to Jesus. In him and him alone we become OK. St. Paul says that in Jesus we are made OK - we are "justified by his grace." Amen.

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Spanish Version

From Archives (Epiphany Sunday)

2016: (Year C): New Beginning: Second Birth
2015 (Year B): A Scientist Who Renewed His Baptism
2014 (Year A): Entering The Big Story
2013 (Year C): Generous Love
2011 (Year A): Seven Teachings about Baptism
2010 (Year C): Saved Through the Bath of Rebirth
2009 (Year B): The Power of Baptism
2008 (Year A): Road to Sanity
2005 (Year A): Most Shocking
2004 (Year C): With Whom I Am Well Pleased
2003 (Year B): The Membership
2002 (Year A): The Grace of Baptism
2000 (Year B): Limits of Solidarity

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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Other Priests' Homilies, Well Worth Listening:
Fr. Frank Schuster
Fr. Brad Hagelin
Fr. Jim Northrop
Fr. Michael White
Fr Pat Freitag (and deacons of St. Monica)
Bishop Robert Barron

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