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Homily of the month

A public vocation

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is unambiguous about how we are to be judged. Jesus’ standard for our final judgment is not how well we followed the rules but rather what we did—especially for those less fortunate, writes Gregory Pierce in our featured homily for the death of a public servant.

PREPARE THE WORD's library includes insightful sample homilies for funerals, sacraments, holy and feast days, and special occasions. We regularly add new homilies to the mix. Feel free to submit a homily you've written or from someone on your parish preaching team that you want to offer for consideration. Send homilies to mail@preparetheword.com.

Funeral: Death of a public servant

AS WE GATHER to celebrate the life of [name of the deceased], let us take a few moments to look at the vocation of a “public servant,” because [name of the deceased] was certainly that—a public servant.

For while we are all called by virtue of our Baptism to serve our fellow humans, some of us do it more “publicly” than others. And certainly [name of the deceased] was one of those.

[Name some of the ways the person served publicly.]

In the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is direct and unambiguous about how we are to be judged. It was surprising to most at the time (and still surprising to many if not most people today) that Jesus’ standard for our final judgment is not how well we followed the rules (important as that may be) but rather what we did—especially for those less fortunate than we are.

Here is how Jesus set up the final judgment in the parable: “The king will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’”

And why are they “blessed by Jesus’ Father”? Really quite simple: They did what we are all called to do—they fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, and visited people who were incarcerated.

Most of us, however, do that only or mostly in our private lives—with our family and friends and neighbors, with those who are part of our church or our group, maybe with people we work with. Sometimes we might even give some money to a cause that helps people we don’t even know. But we properly do that privately, quietly, sometimes even anonymously. And that is enough to get us into heaven if we do. Jesus promised it would.

But public servants can't and don't do it privately, quietly, anonymously. By definition! That’s why they are called public servants.

But public servants can't and don't do it privately, quietly, anonymously. By definition! That’s why they are called public servants.

It’s a tough vocation, being a public servant. It’s difficult for some very real reasons that most of us don’t have to contend with in our own work or lives.

Consider:

  1. What public servants do is subject to constant scrutiny. In many ways, their lives are an open book because—you know—they are doing their jobs in public! And that scrutiny has only grown because of social media and cable TV.
  2. What public servants have to do is often controversial, maybe more now than it has ever been, at least in our lifetimes.
  3. Public servants have to care for everyone in their jurisdiction, not just the people they know or even just the people they like. They sometimes have political rivals or even enemies. They sometimes make mistakes, like all the rest of us do, except theirs are made—you know—in public!
  4. Public servants don’t get to treat everyone the same, because some people have more needs than others: Some are more hungry, some more thirsty, some are immigrants—even undocumented—some don’t have anything to wear or a place to live or are sick or in trouble with the law. The public servant must be the servant of the public—which means everyone, not just some of us.
  5. And public servants aren’t using their own resources to help others, they are using public resources, so they have to be even more careful that they are using them wisely.

So here today, we celebrate one of our wonderful public servants, [name of deceased], who did what all of us have to do in our private life ... but also chose and was chosen to do it in their public life as well.

“Then the king will say to them, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’”

Amen.


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