Homily for All Saints Day. American Scripture scholar John Pilch, tells us that honour is a major characteristic of life in the biblical world. In fact, he claims, honour and shame are the public mechanisms that determine your place in that society.
Honour is defined as “a public claim to worth and a public acknowledgment by others of that claim”. Honour, the claim to worth, is often associated with success, with a large family, with good health, with many servants, with being respected in public, with being acknowledged with right hand places at table and at court.
I wonder if we have similar ways of earning honour and making a claim to worth in our world. In the western world there is a tendency to be honoured or admired by the things that we acquire, (the expensive car or the latest gadget) or even in the people that we know (the celebrity, the successful executive) and so forth. And when these things fail or when these people fall from grace, we fail and fall too and then we enter into the opposite of honour, shame.
The Gospel has something to say about this honour and shame dynamic. We read about it in the beatitudes today. We have a series of “Blessed are they” or “Happy are you”. John Pilch, tells us that a better translation in order to get the sense of these sayings, might be honourable is the one who….or honourable are you who are….
Like so much of the Gospel these ‘beatitudes’ or ‘honourables’ turn our accepted way of thinking on its head. Honourable are you who are poor, mourning and hungering. And why are you honourable? Because you will have your fill; you will be comforted; you will inherit a kingdom. And who is responsible for this? God. The God revealed in Jesus Christ is the one who designates our worth. And so our lives are not given value and honour by the things we have and the people we know but by the grace of God who brings us comfort, nourishes our souls and invites us into a new way of being and acting. The honour of God comes as we enter into the world of humility, knowing that the very life which we have is a gift. The honour of God comes when we enter into a world where human dignity is acknowledged as an inalienable gift, that is not earned or cannot be stripped away but is given by the very act of our being created in the image and likeness of God. The honour of God comes when we can laugh at our ambitions, our possessions and our status and know that we are more than our role, our belongings and our place in the social pecking order. Honourable are you instead who hunger and thirst for justice and right.
And this is the stuff of saints! The saints are not the perfect ones; the saints are not the ones who have never sinned; the saints are not the ones without foibles and fractures. The saints are the ones who know that God accepts neither, the worlds designation of our honour or of our shame. God views human life entirely differently. And the saints are those who know it.
And the saints are those who then unite themselves with the vision of Jesus Christ to bring about the kingdom of God, God’s culture, God’s dream for humanity.
Let’s pray that we too can join the ranks of the Saints.