“The Outsiders Make Him Known”

 

The Fourth Sunday of Epiphany - January 31, 2016

Jeremiah 1: 4 – 10/Psalm 71: 1-6/1 Corinthians 13: 1 – 13/Luke 4: 21 - 30

 

Bishop Ariel Cornelio P. Santos

 

 

Epiphany! God is showing forth His glory which He still does through the Church.  I am not saying this because we are still within the Season of Epiphany, but that is the whole idea until the whole earth is covered with the glory of God through our lives that He has appointed.

 

In the gospel today, the Jews thought they were an exclusive people and they thought everyone else was excluded from the household of God - from His love and from His blessings. They missed it. Out of Isaiah 61, it says, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you.”  Israel, hearing such a message, thinks that it stops with them; that it is about them.  Isaiah says that Israel was given as the light to the nations so that God’s salvation may reach to the end of the earth.  Israel was only for a starting point. Salvation was for the whole world, not just for a select group of people.  Israel missed it. They thought it stopped with them; they thought it was about them.  It is not about them; it is not about us.  It is about God and His will. It is about His salvation.  It is about His glory covering the whole earth.

 

In the gospel, the Jews got mad because at first, Jesus was doing good in their eyes.  He was healing the chosen people of God, and then, Jesus tells them that the Spirit of God was in Him for the reason that He was sent also to those who were afflicted, to those who were broken-hearted, to those who were imprisoned and to those who were captives.  In the minds of the Jews, them being the chosen people of God, the righteous people of God, the reason that they are being blessed is because they are not those other people.  They are not criminals who just got what they deserved, so when they heard the words coming from Jesus’ mouth, the respected prophet that He had been so far, they changed their minds about Him.  They thought, “If You are a man of God, You would understand that God is a God of justice. The reason these people are sick is because they must have done something wrong.  The reason they are imprisoned is because they might have committed a crime. God, being a just God, would not free them. God, being a just God, would give them what they deserve.”  They forgot that God is a God who is abounding in loving-kindness and mercy.

 

Mercy and justice should not come against each other.  There is a healthy tension and balance between them in our God. Looking at it, you would seem to think that there is a great imbalance in the fact that we sinned, yet somebody else, God’s only Son, took the hit for us.  The Israelites seemed to have forgotten all about this.  Despite Jesus making a lot of healing and deliverances in their midst, their attitude was, “Never mind that.  You offended us.  You said something against something that we have known for centuries.”  So then, Jesus became a prophet without honor in His hometown. 

 

I remember a quote which can be attributed to Mother Teresa and I made some changes in the text so that we can understand it better:

 

People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies. Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you. Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight. Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow. Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. Give the best you've got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God; it was never (just) between you and them anyway.”

 

In the last statement, I inserted “just” so as not to exclude people who are unlovable.   The encouragement, the instruction is to overlook the injustice. Do good anyway. Be merciful anyway if people treat you unjustly.  Be bigger than the situation. Jesus said, “How different will it make you if are a Gentile?  You are to be sons of your Father who is in heaven, who is a merciful and loving God.”   People do these things sometimes intentionally or not, sometimes in tactlessness, because of immaturity and hatred or just because of ignorance.  The encouragement is to be bigger than this because God who sent you is a God who is abounding in lovingkindness.  He who sent you is the Father of the very Jesus who endured all things that are worse than what we have to endure.  Hebrews says that we have not yet come to the point of shedding blood so don’t be discouraged.  Jesus endured much worse persecution.

 

In Jeremiah 1:5, we are reminded that it was God Himself who called you from the womb, nay from the foundation of the world. It was God Himself who is abounding in lovingkindness, slow to anger, and full of mercy and compassion.   In 1Corinthians 13, God tells us that love does not seek its own.  It encourages us to do away with childish things like saying, “Why will I do good to you when you don’t treat me well?” Be mature; endure all things; rather, be wronged and offer the other cheek.   I think offering the other cheek is not being taught enough in Christianity.  What we hear a lot is, “What is it for me?  It is prosperity for me.  It is blessing for me.  It is healing for me.”  It is all “for me.”   This is like Israel saying, “Shine Your light on me, Lord.”  There is nothing wrong being blessed, to ask that your borders be enlarged, but we need to see that it doesn’t stop with us.  In the process of us ministering to those who are in need, people will badly treat you.  People will be illogical, unreasonable, self-centered.  People may accuse you of selfish motives.  People will be jealous of you.  People will destroy you and seek to wish bad things about you.  However, our calling is to be bigger than this.

 

If your brother sins against you, forgive. Don't stop ministering to them; forgive them because they need to stop sinning against you and others.   All the more, they need help. If he does it again, forgive him again.  You lather; you rinse and repeat - seventy times seven a day.  Love does not seek a return on investment; otherwise, it wouldn’t be love.  Give to those who can’t repay.  Invite to your party those who cannot hold parties themselves so that they can invite you.  Love the strangers, the unworthy, and even your enemies.  I have heard popular preachers say that if people don't respond, leave them alone, and you go on.   There may be a truth there.  There may be some truth where you have to leave them in the hands of God, but the spirit is sometimes wrong. They are slowing you down, so for their sake, you just move on and leave them.   We are not to leave them because God did not leave them.  If we only love those who can repay us, if we only love our relatives, our loved ones, Jesus asks us, “How different are you from the Gentiles?”  Jesus Himself came to His own and they did not receive Him.  The fact of life is that some people would bite the hand that feeds them. We are bigger than this.

 

Remember who called you. God is love.  He is slow to anger; He is abounding in lovingkindness. He is patient. He is kind and He endures all things. He doesn’t throw the legal book on people. He doesn’t invoke the law on people even if only He is the only One who has the right to do so.  The Psalmist said, “Thou are justified when Thou dost speak.”  He is the only One that can actually read reproaches on us, and yet He does not do this.  Jesus tells us, “Where are they who condemn you? Neither do I condemn you.”

 

Love is what is being impressed on us. It is not law or technicality.  It is not whether you eat or not on the Sabbath.  It is not whether you heal or not on the Sabbath.  It is not whether you wash your hands before eating ceremonially.   It is not about knowledge of those things.  It is about knowledge of God. Knowledge about the technicalities makes us arrogant.  Knowledge of God, who is love, edifies.   

 

In the gospel of John 5, there was a man who was sick for 38 years and there was a pool in Jerusalem called Bethesda.  Once in a while, an angel comes down from heaven and stirs up the water and the first man that gets into the pool after the stirring gets healed.  This sick man was very slow getting into the pool.  Somebody else would always get ahead of him.  Jesus healed him and after he was healed, on the instruction of Jesus, he picks up his pallet.  What did the Pharisees and the Jews say, “You shall not pick up your pallet on the Sabbath.”   What about being healed after 38 years?  Is the technicality of picking up the pallet on the Sabbath more important than getting healed after 38 years?  

 

When Abraham was 100 years and Sarah at 90 years, God promised them a child which is a miracle.  Can you imagine Sarah giving birth in their bedroom and Abraham would tell Sarah, “You are going to give birth today.  Don’t mess up with my bedsheets.  My bed sheets are more important than the promise of God.”  Do you set aside the excitement of finally having a child because you are concerned about washing the bedsheets? 

 

We are the people of God.  What are our priorities?  Is it technicality or the salvation of God reaching to the end of the earth? Is our concern law or life?  Jesus said, “Don’t think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope.” Even if the Jews were legalistic, Jesus had compassion on them.  St. Paul’s premise in the book of Romans and Galatians is that Jews had been very technical about following the law.  In Romans 2:12, he said, “All who sin under the Law will be judged by the Law.”  Do not put your trust in the Law but in God, in His mercy and lovingkindness.  In John 5, it says that the Scriptures are all about Jesus, not about technicalities, knowledge of theology that we have made ourselves and not according to the spirit of the writer of the Law, which is God Himself.  In Romans 10, Jesus is the end or the purpose of the Law for all who believe.  The Jews missed God’s visitation.  They have been praying for God to send them a Messiah, and He finally came but they missed Him. 

 

Church, could it be that God had, in the past, visited us in a form of a person, an event or a situation and we missed it by not responding to it?  Or did we respond to it wrongly?  Could it be that He sent someone to us like a beggar or an irritable person and Jesus was knocking at our door and we missed the visitation?   We need to apply wisdom in all cases, but the fact remains that in many of these cases, the person is hungry or the person needs to eat.  Our knowledge of what is supposed to be done would not feed that.  Love will if we are bigger than our knowledge. Have we responded?  Did we miss God’s visitation thinking, “Well, I am being inconvenienced.  I was trying to protect myself.”

 

I am not preaching lawlessness, but the law may be correct, but the verse before 1Corinthians 13 says, “Love is the more excellent way.” (1 Corinthians 12:31b).  Romans 13:8b, “He who loves neighbor has fulfilled law.”  Romans 13:10 says, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.” Galatians 5:14 says that the whole Law fulfilled in a statement: love your neighbor as yourself.  If we know God, we would know that He desires compassion - not sacrifice, not unhealthy, hypercritical, over-adherence to the letter of the Law.

 

I ask this question to us:  do we want the same measure that we use on others to be used on us?  Is our prayer something like, “God, have mercy on me because I sinned.  God, apply justice to them because they sinned.  God, give them what they deserve.  God, I sinned. Forgive me and don’t give me what I deserve.  On top of these, give me what I do not deserve.  Bless me! I haven’t been a good person, but bless me anyway.”  This is double standard. Do we want rigidity to be applied to us also?  According to Jesus, there are weightier matters of the law.  He said, “Don’t neglect these other things.”  They are good.  In fact, they are instructions from God.  Understand that love is greater.  Love has priorities, but the others are not to be neglected. 

 

God says, “I desire mercy more than sacrifice.”  It is weightier; it is more important.  The other things should not be neglected, but mercy is desired by God more.  In 1 Corinthians 13, it says that “If I do these all these things, like speak in tongues and operate in the gifts of the Spirit, which are Scriptural and which comes from God, but I do not have love which is the more important part of the Law, which is the motive behind the application of these things, then I am nothing.  It is useless.”  We would say, “Lord, we prophesied in Your name.”  Jesus says, “Depart from Me.  I never knew you.”  Even if you did this church work, but you did not do them with love, which is the more important thing and which is the spirit of the instruction for law. 

 

Let us not major on the minor. Let us focus on that which is really important. If we are to minister to the whole world, expect conflict, opposition and persecution.  It is not new news.  Expect that it will not be pleasant.  Prepare by being like Him who sent you Who are bigger than these things, Who overlooked these things, Who did good anyway and Who ministered anyway. He who sent you is compassionate and gracious, abounding in lovingkindness and full of mercy.  He is our God.  He is our Father.  Do you want to know God and make Him known?  This is our God and this is the way it is in His kingdom.

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