“The Children Make Him Known”

 

January 17, 2016: The Second Sunday of Epiphany

The Feast of the Lord, the Giver of Life

Genesis 1: 26 -28/Psalm 10/Romans 8: 35 – 38/ Matthew 18: 1 - 5

 

Bishop Ariel Cornelio P. Santos

 

One part of the Mass is called the homily. There is only one reason that I do this, that is, hopefully, to make God known.   The purpose is not to entertain or to please people. Neither is it to offend people or to promote self or anything else. It is simply to make God known. For my epitaph before I pass on, I want it to be written: He knew God and he made Him known. This would be such a great honor. Since I want to make God known, I want to make this statement: God is love. I know that you would say, “I have heard that before,” but I would say it again: God is love.

 

The reality of this will not be realized just right after I said this or after this homily.   Let us be teachable and let us make this our meditation for the rest of the week. If you don’t get anything out of this homily, make sure that this statement is impressed in your mind: God is love.

 

Because love is not yet perfected in us, this is the very reason that we have the very wrong idea of who God is. Let us face it, we don’t understand love, especially because we live in this age and we belong to this culture that preaches against the real meaning of love.   God is misrepresented by wrong interpretations of Scripture or the legalistic theology. All of these give God a bad rap.   Because of a wrong idea of love, we don’t know how to live this life that He, whose nature is love, has given to us.

 

Today’s proclamation is that: all life is sacred.   We proclaim that the Lord is the Giver of life. All life is sacred because it came from Him. Sacred means holy, set apart, exclusive, consecrated, dedicated. In baptism, this is what we declare to our children. It is setting apart for exclusivity, for dedication. Baptism is the same as ordination. This is similar to marriage and Holy Orders or ordination. When you get married, you declare that you are exclusively the partner of this other person and you are one with them and you vow to validate that and seal that. You submit yourself to conditions with the vow that you make and also to the consequences of not fulfilling those vows. State law has such a thing as adultery. If you don’t fulfill your vows to your wife and you have an affair with somebody else, you are liable to be guilty of adultery.

 

This is similar to the sacredness of our life as children of God.   God is the Giver of life and His will for us is for that life to be lived in abundance. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, not just life, but that they might have it abundantly.” Therefore, His laws, though they have their consequences, are restorative not punitive. It is not to punish, but to restore, to lead back, and to draw back. Romans 8:33-34 says, “God is the One who justifies; who is the one who condemns?” Jesus said to the woman who committed adultery, “Neither do I condemn you.” God is not in the business of condemning. John 3:17 says that He sent His Son not to condemn the world, but the world, through Him, might be saved. It is to have life.

 

Roman 8:32, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also, with Him, freely give us all things?”   God has chosen freely and gladly to give us all of His kingdom. I know of two people in the Bible who were willing to give up half of their kingdom. One is Ahasuerus and Herod. Ahasuerus told Queen Esther, “What is it that you want?   I will give it to you up to half of my kingdom.”   Herod told his stepdaughter, “What do you want and I will give it to you up to half of my kingdom.”   God, whose Kingdom is infinitely bigger and greater, has chosen gladly to give it to all, to all people who don’t deserve it. This is because God is love.

 

Why would God give something with infinite value to people who don’t deserve it? This is because of love. Maybe, this is something that we couldn’t fathom at this point, but God has chosen gladly to give of His kingdom. He is the Giver of life, not death. He came to give His life; not to kill, to steal, or to destroy. There is more than enough of that life to go around and to be shared by all. There is absolutely no reason at all whatsoever for anyone to want it all for himself and not wish for anybody else to have it. There is more than enough of it to be shared by everyone. It is wrong for somebody else to be cut off from the life of God.   If we have that wish in our hearts, maybe, in the first place, we don’t have the life ourselves because we are not living it according to the nature of the Giver which is love.

 

If your religion tells you to hate someone, it is time that you look for another religion. Hate is not what Jesus taught. Love is what Jesus taught and He made God known by preaching love even for enemies. Jesus died for us while we were yet enemies. Romans 5:6-8 says, “For while we still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Love is most expressed when given to those who don't deserve it because they are most in need of it.

Romans 5:9, “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” God’s nature is love, not anger. God’s anger has grossly been misunderstood and wrongly justified. My purpose is to make God known to us. God is not a God of anger. God is a God of love. Man’s anger is different from God’s anger. God’s anger is because He wants us to be reconciled to Him and He is disappointed and upset when we go astray. His will is for us to be reconciled to Him and for us to experience His life for us to also walk in love being created in His image.

Man’s anger is based on and motivated by hate, not love. Why do we get angry? Is it because we were offended or we were inconvenienced?   It is not all about revenge. This is not our God. James 1:20 says that the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. Our motive in being angry is questionable at death, even with those we love. How sure are we that we can say our anger is pure? Sometimes, parents get upset with their children because they are not being what they should be – like they eat slow or they don’t do their homework. We get angry for their sake.   However, when parents are watching TV and they get angry at their children because they are noisy, is the anger for the children’s sake? No, it is for the parents’ sake because they don’t want to be disturbed. Sometimes, we abuse anger to say that it is righteous anger. How can we say that? Do we have a heart of God? Not yet. What we need not to major in is what we call righteous anger, but to be perfected in love before anything else.   It is love – which is the essence of God’s life, the essence of God’s nature, which is Christianity 101.

 

Everything else we think is more important will get us nowhere if we don’t start with love, even if we think that we look righteous, good or smart. We need to learn from the Jews. They were angry at Jesus, angry at people because they said, “The Law says…What you are saying is blaspheme!” They missed the whole point of the Law which is love – love for God and for neighbor. It is not strict and abusive adherence to the letter of the Law. It is love, the spirit of the Law. St. Paul says of the Jews, “I can testify that they have a zeal for God but not according to knowledge. They have the wrong knowledge.” They thought the Law was about legalism, but not about the heart of God. Not knowing about God’s righteousness based on love, they insisted to establish their own and they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.

 

God's Son is love. He who has the Son has life. Without love, we have no life. Without love, we are nothing. Knowing God is knowing love because God is love. In the Biblical sense, to know is to have communion with, to experience in an intimate way, to know in a deep, deep way. John says that he who does not love does not know God because God is love. Don’t hate; don’t envy; don’t curse. These things are sometimes subtle and deceptive.

 

Patriarch Craig taught the clergy: one thing about deception - it is deceptive. You don't know that you do have hate in your heart.   You don’t know that you are not operating in love. You think like the Jews, that you have a zeal for righteousness, but it is not according to the knowledge of God and who He is. God is love! We build our righteousness on other things – on wrong theology; on legalism which is strict adherence to, “Thus saith the Bible…. Thou shall not do this…” The Bible says that if your brother sins, forgive him seventy times seven. We need to ask God for help, be open enough not to immediately say, “That is not me.” We need to be like the apostles at the Lord’s Supper when Jesus said, “One of you is going to be a traitor,” and immediately, humbly, the apostles said, “Lord, is it I?”

 

Let us ask God for help and learn to bless instead, not curse. It is a growth process. Then, we get the fullness of this life which came from God who is love Himself. We get the fullness of life in the kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. More importantly, we need to please God and this should be our desire.

Romans 14:19 says to pursue things which make for peace and the building up of one another. It is not building up of animosity, the building up of walls between people, not barriers and the tearing down. Saul, before he was Paul, was angry with Christians. He persecuted them and killed them thinking he was doing right. He was thinking that he was serving God, which is why he said that of the Jews also. They thought they had the zeal for righteousness, but they missed the whole point. They had the wrong zeal.

 

In Luke 19:42 – 44, Jesus said, “If you had known things which make for peace,” (they were not pursuing peace but animosity), “but now, they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you when your enemies will throw up a bank before you and surround you…” Jesus was weeping for the people because He did not want them to experience the consequence that was necessary for them to get back to God. He made them jealous in order that the Gentiles may be drawn back to Him.

 

As creatures made in the image and likeness of God, we are also to love and never hate. Never bear a grudge and never wish evil on anyone. We must also not see loving as just an obligation like, “I have to love this person. I know he is unlovable, but I have to love him. In my heart, I just know he won’t make it to heaven. His sins will catch up with him one day. I know this, but God says to love him so I love him.”   This is not genuine love. Love is, like God, not willing that anyone should perish. No matter how hateful, no matter how sinful, no matter how offensive, no matter what they have done to anyone or to us, love is not willing that anyone should perish. It is a growth process. We grow and we are to be perfected in love.

 

God’s perfect love casts out fear. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The motive or the drawing power is love. God does scare people out of hell into heaven. He draws them by love to Him. It is a wrong gospel to say, “If you don’t pray the Sinner’s Prayer right now, you are going to hell.” “Sign that insurance policy right now and say that prayer. Otherwise, you will burn in hell for eternity.” We don’t know how many years is eternity and this gives God a bad rap.

 

There is also the wrong theology like the prosperity gospel. It is putting God in a hypostatic union with mammon. It is like mixing together oil in water. This is impossible, and this is not God. God is love! He wants an abundant life for us, not necessarily in terms of currency. It may include that but it is way more than that.   If you hear such gospels, they are proclaimed by false Christs. They would say, “Come, He is here. Don’t go there.” This is not God. God is love!

 

I pray that God will touch us, will heal us, and will deliver us if we have anything in our hearts that is not accordance with love, with God’s nature. It is the love of God and love of neighbor.   I pray that God will deliver us all from love of self.   I pray that He will let you know about this. I pray that my prayer would be answered not so that I get credit, but so that you would know God more and His nature and live this life to the fullest according to His will. The life that God gave us is sacred, so we are to treasure it, to nurture it, to cherish it and to appreciate it by living it according to His will in love for His glory.

 

Quoting St. Leo the Great, “We have not to go back therefore to children's games, nor to the inadequacies of our tender years, but to take from it something that still befits a mature age, like the fast appeasement from irritation and a speedy return to calm, the total oblivion of offenses, the absence of cravings for honors, the love of companionship, a sense of natural equality. It is good not to know how to harm others and not to enjoy evil. It is the policy of this world to inflict and to repeat wrong, but not to repay evil with evil which is the childhood of Christ equanimity. Dearly beloved, the mystery of today’s Feast invites us to this likeness with children.”  

 

This tells us that we are not to go back to the immaturity of children, the pettiness of children. Little things like you unfriend someone because you were ignored; you unfriend someone in social media because of a post you did not like. We don’t go back to childishness, but we are to be childlike. It is like the childlikeness of Adam before he sinned, when he was innocent, when he did not know better. We are guilty of the same thing. We took a bite of the fruit; and now, we think we know good and evil. We need to go back before that when all we knew was to obey God. It was simple. We don’t have to evaluate whether it is right or wrong. It is pure and simple obedience like a child. We now think that we know better and judge for ourselves. When we do that, greatness is affirmed when it is farthest from our mind and service is foremost in our heart.

I challenge you: remember the former days when you were a baby Christian. Remember when you were newly born-again.   Remember how it was when you were a baby Christian where you had this new-found life. You were so excited. You were full of joy. You had fulfillment in giving, in serving, in supporting. You were attending tirelessly, selflessly, dropping everything else when God calls and where there is something that needs to be done – the work of God.   Remember that they were all real. They were all from God and we were excited.

 

I pray that those days will come back in your hearts. This is the life that God wants for us. It is not gadgets, expensive things which can comprise life. Circumstances may have changed, but they are not supposed to affect us, because God’s calling hasn’t changed. God has not changed and He never will. He is faithful and He will never leave us nor forsake us. God is love and He will dwell with us forever like He promised.

This is who our God is and this is the way it is in His kingdom.

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