“Built Up in Christ’s Higher Way"
Sunday, February 12, 2017
The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
Deuteronomy 30: 15 - 20 / Psalm 119: 1 - 8, 16 – 18 /1 Corinthians 2: 6 – 10/
Matthew 5: 21-26
Fr. Roberto M. Jorvina
It is a beautiful morning! In God’s goodness, all things will ever be seen. Even in the most hopeless situation, we will see hope because we draw from the very life that God has placed in each of us. We come here today with a life not of our own but from God. He has given each one of us the beauty of creation. This is why God said, “It is very good,” in creation so that we can see situations as Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are pure in heart because they shall see God every day.” Even in the most hopeless situation, in a cloudy morning, always remember that above the clouds, the sun will always shine. It may be gloomy and dark, but there is always the beauty of the day.
We come to the 6th Sunday after Epiphany, and two more Sundays after this will complete this portion of our journey of faith. For six Sundays, and for two more Sundays following, we have been established and built up. The theme: to be “built up” (as used by the writers of Holy Scriptures) is a phrase taken from a construction term consisting of two words which are “build” and “home”. It gives us a picture of patience, diligence, of being meticulous and of the even painstaking work of building.
We live in a world today of the instant, and we want things easy and quick. We are confronted with this because there is something here in our hearts. We ask ourselves, “What is the connection, the significance of being built up to the situations in our lives today? Why is it so important that we are willing to spend eight weeks to have this as our focus? What is the effect of this theme in our lives, into our being as humans, in the light of the daily tasks that we face?
These are some of the questions we need to ask ourselves every time we come to the Mass. We must connect what is happening in the Sanctuary to what will happen in our lives outside of the Church. The world we are living today has many things to offer, but very few of it has any connection with the life we have.
In a few days, it will be Valentine’s Day. And the commercial world is busy, just like during Christmas, dictating the manner by which we are to live and order our lives. Most of what they say has really very little connection with the love that God intended man to have because we live in and are immersed in a world that has a very limited understanding of the life we have and the times we live in. It is vital, necessary, and essential for every Christian believer to be vigilant and alert and conscious of the connection between our religion and our devotion to God in the lives we live each day.
The gospel two Sundays ago, the gospel last Sunday, the gospel today, and that of next Sunday are all taken from the teachings of our Lord called the Sermon on the Mount. For the fathers of the church who penned this and to take the gospels for four Sundays from this portion of Christ’s teaching should make us realize that there must be something very essential and relevant in our being built up.
For one, the Sermon of the Mount is directed to the disciples. Even though there are millions or billions of people who are in the world on a Sunday, how many really are in the Church making an effort to wake up and be in the Church to hear Mass? In Matthew 5:1-2, “When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them…” The “them” here refers to the disciples, not the crowd, who were the ones who came to Jesus. There was the crowd, but only the disciples came to Jesus.
We are being reminded how privileged we are to have this opportunity and be counted by our Lord Jesus Christ, not just as one of twelve million crowd in Metro Manila, but as a choice, as precious disciples that come to Him – the men and women who have been called, chosen, and enabled by Christ Himself so that they can be His representatives and ambassadors. This is the reason we need to be built up because we have a special mission in this life.
We are here today, living on earth, not just to achieve our dreams and personal aspirations and ambitions. There is more to life than our goals. We live for a divine, appointed reason. God formed us for a purpose. We have a God-given destiny, and the sooner we realize this, the more directed and focused our lives will be because we are His disciples.
The second important thing about the Sermon on the Mount is that it shows our true identity. As disciples, we are identified by our tasks. We call that job description. Jesus uses two metaphors - very plain, down-to-earth illustrations - to show the meaning and the purpose of our lives as His disciples. The first metaphor is: you are the salt. In Matthew 5:13, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.” Our identity is that we are the salt of the earth. The salt has a potential to be tasteless. Tasteless, in the way Jesus used it, means dull, boring, uninteresting, and lacking excitement. Even though salt is exciting, there is the potential that we can be bored; but this is not the destiny given to us by God. There is the possibility of us losing our reason for living. This is why many find life boring and dull. This is why we need to have all these so-called electronic gadgets to entertain us and to fill that emptiness and boredom of tastelessness that many people have in life.
Observe a couple on a date at a nice restaurant with all the trappings that provide a very romantic mood. We see each of them not basking in the presence of their surroundings, but busy with their own gadgets - texting, calling, checking their social media account, oblivious of the very purpose of their being there in that elegant setting. They have lost the meaning of the event, and so they lose the meaning of their lives. They become tasteless, so life becomes dull.
Have we lost our taste for the vital things of life? Is our own existence losing its purpose and meaning? Is it losing its taste? Salt was designed to build us up. Salt is a necessity because it has a transforming power. In 2 Kings 2:19-22, “19 Then the men of the city said to Elisha, “Behold now, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees; but the water is bad and the land is unfruitful.” 20 He said, “Bring me a new jar, and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him. 21 He went out to the spring of water and threw salt in it and said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘I have purified these waters; there shall not be from there death or unfruitfulness any longer.’” 22 So the waters have been purified to this day, according to the word of Elisha which he spoke." These verses show that salt purified the water, showing the transforming power of salt.
In Leviticus 2:13, “13 Every grain offering of yours, moreover, you shall season with salt, so that the salt of the covenant of your God shall not be lacking from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.” In Colossians 4:6, “6 Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” The connotation here shows that salt has a transforming effect and power. We need to realize that we are the salt of the earth, as Jesus said, and that within each of us there is the capacity to transform any existing state of our lives to what God intended it to be. Every situation we are in becomes heaven on earth. If we come into a situation with strife and hatred, we salt it with love. If there is despair and doom, we salt it with hope and optimism. If there is sickness and disease, we salt it with healing and peace.
As salt, we are built up in Christ’s Higher Way. When there is death, our presence gives it life. When there is despair and a feeling of hopelessness, our presence gives hope. When there is the impossible, our presence makes it possible. It is not because of us, but Christ in us and because we are the salt of the earth. Situations will change because of our presence. It will reverse the things that are doomed leading to terminal despair, and life will be brought in so that we can see hope unless we lose our saltiness. Being salt is our identity. It transforms every situation into what God intended it to be.
The second metaphor is: you are the light. In Matthew 5:14-16, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; 15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” A light bulb shines not just within itself. None of us goes to a hardware and finds a light bulb that just lights up, but does not brighten its surroundings. Every light source has a transforming effect on its surroundings.
The purpose of light is to affect and it causes an effect on the area surrounding it. Our presence in any situation should cause a brightening influence on the place. We glorify the source of the Light as we glorify God the Father. To glorify means to manifest, to reveal, and to make known something or someone who is not there. The Bible says that the sons are the glory of their father, and we know the son because he is manifesting the father.
When something is wrong, and we constantly talk about it, when we allow it to affect our lives and our disposition, and we tell everyone about the problem, then we glorify the problem. In the same token, when we talk about God and His Word, when we show love because God is love, when we are compassionate to people and forgiving and long suffering, even to those who are hard to deal and we always maintain our joy, then, we maintain our position as the light and we glorify God who is in heaven. Heaven here implies the unseen, but our presence makes it visible and we glorify God who is in heaven.
Understanding these two metaphors, and the theme of “built up” in this Season, we can now understand the gospel today in the same context.
Much of Israel has lost its purpose in life, the meaning in life. For hundreds of years from the time of Malachi to the time Jesus appears on the scene, the Jews have lived a ceremonial and legalistic religion. They have not been able to connect the purpose of the Law, their religion, and its relevance to their everyday life. Whenever the commandments or the Torah was read in the synagogue (in the churches), whenever they came to worship in the temple and performed the prescribed rituals, whenever they celebrated the Feasts of Israel (tabernacles, Passover, unleavened bread, Pentecost), they went through the motion of all of this as just a plain, dull, boring, tiresome, monotonous, wearisome, meaningless ceremonies and rituals.
The Sermon on the Mount is a wake up call. Jesus was not pointing to the Law against murder, adultery, offering, and making an oath just to expose a deeper sin in the lives of the people. He wasn’t emphasizing the wrong men do. Remember that Jesus came not to condemn or judge the world, but to save the world, to save the sinners. Jesus came not as much as to reveal sin in man and the weakness of humanity as much as He came as the Savior to bring to us a better life, to show us a better way, to express the heart of His Father that has loved and will love us with an everlasting love.
The third point of the Sermon on the Mount is to transform the dull, lifeless, boring religion into a life of true godliness, excitement, enthusiasm, and pure exhilarating joy. Christianity is not a life of laws, but a life of joy. The very essence of Christianity is not morality. True morality is not about right or wrong, but the joy of the life of God in us.
Jesus does not want the people to just stay in the rituals and ceremonies of religion, but to show a higher, much more wonderful, a greater and delightful way for us to experience the joy of Christianity. The Mass is not a boring thing and the rituals are being done because there is something exciting. This is what many people miss in Christianity. Jesus wants to lift up our hearts and to elevate us to a better and more superior way of life.
In Deuteronomy 30:19-20,“ 19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” 1 Corinthians 2:6-10 TLB says, “6 Yet when I am among mature Christians I do speak with words of great wisdom, but not the kind that comes from here on earth, and not the kind that appeals to the great men of this world, who are doomed to fall. 7 Our words are wise because they are from God, telling of God’s wise plan to bring us into the glories of heaven. This plan was hidden in former times, though it was made for our benefit before the world began. 8 But the great men of the world have not understood it.”
Many people find Christianity boring because they want to understand it according to their own perception. When the Law says, “You shall not murder” or that “Hating a brother is murder,” it is not just talking about murder or hating a brother, but pointing us to a life of pure joy and exhilaration so that we can walk with no enemies, having no hatred with anyone. Have you ever experienced the feeling of having a grudge, or bitter feeling against anyone? That just the sight of the person makes your blood boil? That is emotional torture because it tears you inside. The Sermon on the Mount tells us that we don’t have to stay in this condition. The love of God is poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, so the law’s ultimate goal is to make us experience the joy of walking in love with no hatred against a brother.
When the Law says, “You shall not commit adultery,” it is not pointing one to the evils of having an affair with another person other than one’s spouse. It is about the joy one has when they live a life of faithfulness to their spouse. It is not about ceremonies and rituals, not about the law, but it is about the joy. There is a higher life – the life of Christ, the life of a true disciple in His Kingdom.
How do we bring this in a living and tangible way in our lives? Psalm 119:1-5 says, “How blessed are those whose way is blameless, Who walk in the law of the Lord. 2 How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, Who seek Him with all their heart.3 They also do no unrighteousness; They walk in His ways. You have ordained Your precepts, That we should keep them diligently. Oh that my ways may be established to keep Your statutes!” The higher way is the Word of the Lord. The higher way is to be walking in the Word of God. I admonish each and every one of us to start the habit of being disciples of the Word of God. If we want the higher way in our lives, let the Word of God richly dwell in you.
I end our study this morning with the very same thought that we started with: being built up. So let the Word of God be built up in us. This will entail work, effort, and diligence on our part because there are lots of distractions in front of us.
We end this teaching with a prayer in Psalm 119:18, “Open my eyes that I may behold the wonderful things from Your law.” True treasures are hidden from the naked eye. It takes one who has the capacity to pursue and to explore the treasure in something of great value. Like precious stones in the earth, it has to be mined, cleaned, and polished. We have to work at it so that its true luster will come out.
Many times we lose our focus in the Mass, which is feeding us with the things of God. In 2 Timothy 2:15Living Bible (TLB), we are told, “Work hard so God can say to you, ‘Well done.’ Be a good workman, one who does not need to be ashamed when God examines your work. Know what his Word says and means.” This is the challenge to us so that we can see the joy of being built up in Christ’s higher way.