“Press on Toward Lovingkindness”
February 28, 2016: The Third Sunday In Lent
Isaiah 55: 1 – 9/ Psalm 63: 1 – 8/1 Corinthians 10: 1 – 13/ Luke 13: 1 – 9
Bishop Ariel Cornelio P. Santos
Here we are again at this time of the year walking once more the pilgrim way of Lent, which is our journey to godliness. We pray that God would lead us towards the right way.
In Luke 13, the story starts with the scenario of the news coming about certain people being executed. Jesus told His disciples, “You are not worse sinners than the rest of the people in Jerusalem, but if you don’t repent, you will all likewise suffer what they suffered. You will perish, and you will be cut off from the life that God designed and intended for you.” The ‘culprit’ that Jesus used to describe the criminals actually means debtors. He says that everyone is a debtor; everyone has incurred sin. The Bible says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. There is none more than others.
We all missed the mark, which is the meaning of sin. As we do, which we do every day, we incur transgression. We build up our debt, although God doesn’t count our sins against us. We miss the mark simply because our mark has been ourselves. Our mark should be towards God, pressing on toward the goal of the upward call of God, in Christ Jesus. We have not been looking upward, but toward self and this is how we miss the mark. When we repent, our aim is to turn a 180 degrees away from self. The very essence of sin is loving self – not God and not others.
Christianity is not about not doing wrong. It is about obeying God. Repentance, therefore, is going back to that time before Adam ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. All that Adam did was to obey God and please Him. This is exactly what Jesus did. Jesus said, “I only do what the Father tells Me to do.” Adam did not have to know the right or wrong before he ate of the fruit of knowledge and evil. Up until at that time, he was simply obeying God. What God said, he simply did. This is where we need to go back. This is what Jesus did to restore all things and make them new again. Jesus was called the Second Adam because He corrected what the first Adam continued to do for eternity.
The parable in Luke 13 is connected to repentance. Repentance results in the forgiveness of sins, which should result in the bearing of fruit, evidenced by us also forgiving and showing mercy. A prominent figure in Advent was John the Baptist and he proclaimed, “Therefore, bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance.” In essence, he is saying to prove our repentance by bearing fruit. The starting point is we who have received mercy and forgiveness should also show mercy and forgiveness. The parable shows the significance of our calling. The owner said, “Why does the fig tree even take up space? I can choose some other tree and put it in this place because this is not productive.” But the gardener intercedes and says, “Let me put in more fertilizer, dig around it, and then give it another chance.” The significance of our calling is God’s very question, “Why equip, why give gifts, why put fertilizer if it does not bear fruit?” Fruit is what God is looking for.
We have boasted and missed the point in having received gifts. We mistook the New Testament Scriptures about the fruit of the Spirit, and we thought that the fruit of the Spirit is speaking in tongues, working miracles, and administration. We thought that the fruit of the Spirit is having attached to one’s name letters like D.D., PhD, or Doctor of Theology. These are the fertilizers not the fruit. Godliness is not about the fertilizer, but it is about the fruit. We majored in wrong things. We thought that possessing these things, which were freely given to us and for a reason to bear fruit, were the end of it. The gifts of God and the grace of God are to enable us to run the race. Grace is a means to an end, not the end itself. It is for the sake of others, not ours, so that we can bear fruit and the fruit benefit others.
Galatians 5:19-21 says, “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.” I can categorize these deeds of the flesh in two categories: one, love of self; two, hatred of others. The reason we have immorality, sensuality is because we love ourselves. We like to live a hedonistic life. The reason we have enmities, strife, jealousy and outbursts of anger is because we don’t have a love of others. We are threatened and intimidated by them and we think that they are a threat to our security or love of self.
On the other hand, Galatians 5:22 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” It can also be categorized into two: one, selflessness; and two, love of others. They are the exact opposite of the deeds of the flesh. We must know what kind of spirit we are of. In that instance where Jesus and His disciples were supposed to go to Jerusalem and they were going to passed through a village in Samaria, they asked the Samaritans if they could pass through their village on their way to Jerusalem. At that time, there was hostility between the Samaritans and the Jews. The ‘holy’ James and John then came and asked Jesus, “What do we do about these heathen people? What do we do about these second-class Jews? Shall we call fire down from heaven to consume these unworthy people?” Jesus rebuked them, “You don’t know what spirit you are of. The Son of Man came not to destroy men’s lives but to save.” The business of the Son of Man is and still is not destruction but salvation. We have a conflict because the parable ends with, “Well, after a year, if the fig tree still does not bear fruit, cut it down.” Is this not destruction? It is not the end because God’s mercy does not come to an end. The mercy of God is everlasting.
In Romans 11, my Bible has a heading ‘Israel Is Not Cast Away’. Verse 2 says, “God has not rejected His people for whom He foreknew.” In Romans 8:29, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.” Many means all. God foreknew Israel and predestined. The Israelites did not like it and did not understand it at that point, but they were predestined. Romans 11:11-12, “I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be!” They did not fall; they only stumbled. Their sin was used by God to bring salvation to the Gentiles, to the whole world. He used the transgression of Israel and turned it to good which is very much like God. St. Paul asked, “If their fulfillment was salvation for the Gentiles, can you imagine what their fulfillment would bring?” There is in store for us much more excitement in the kingdom of God.
Romans 11:23, “And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.” St. Paul was cautioning the Gentile Romans telling them, “So you probably think that you were grafted contrary to nature into the olive tree. If God can do that for you, God can do that for them if they do not continue in their unbelief.” God is able to graft them also. Romans 11:25-26, “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved.” This is the hope that we have. In verse 28, “From the standpoint of the gospel,they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved.” They may look like enemies because they rejected Christ, which is the standpoint of Pharisaic, doctrinal rigidity, but by the standards of God’s gracious choice, they are beloved. God loves them anyway.
Verse 29, “For the gifts and callings of God are irrevocable.” God called Israel. In Isaiah 5:11, it says that God’s word does not return to Him empty with accomplishing that for which it was sent. If He sent His promise to Israel, it will be fulfilled. It may take time until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, but it will be fulfilled. In Romans 11, St. Paul is essentially saying that the Gentiles were formerly disobedient, and so God shows mercy. Israel is now disobedient, so God now turns to the Gentiles to show them mercy because God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all, Gentile or Jew. The awed and breathless Paul concludes the chapter with a doxological ode to God’s wisdom – the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
Banish the mentality of “us or them,” but it is “us for them.” All of us were shut in disobedience so that God can show mercy to all of us. If one is sinful, God shows mercy. If they are not sinful, they are not in need of mercy. St. Paul says in 1Corinthians, “Let him who thinks that way take heed lest he fall.” There is no “us or them.” If it comes to that, let it be “us for them,” which is what Jesus did. If sin’s price has to be paid, let it be “us for them.” The ‘them’ are those who are guilty.
The reason that the gospel, the good news of God’s love, is offensive and scandalous is not because of whom it excludes, but because whom it includes. The Pharisees thought, “How can Jesus eat with sinners? How can He say, “The spirit of God is upon Me? I am here to help the sinners. I am here to call the tax gatherers.” The Pharisees just could not get that into their minds, much less into their hearts. “Now, our enemies, themselves, also are blessed. Now, the heavy laden rest. Because of the Cross, every valley is lifted high; every lofty hill (prideful hill) is brought low so that others are not persecuted.” This is how we prepare the way of the Lord.
We are at war, a war that is fought with love. Our only war is love. God’s judgment is love. May our judgment be love, which is why we need to forgive because it is the fruit of the seed of forgiveness sown in us. God’s mercy is everlasting and His love endures forever. So, we are also to forgive seventy times seven. This is the kind of Spirit that we are of. It is not a spirit of retaliation, but a spirit of forgiveness, the spirit of offering the other cheek.
This is how we bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance. I may sound like a broken record to be preaching and giving you a license to go on sinning because God’s mercy is everlasting anyway. No! not at all; absolutely not! What I am preaching is God’s love because if and when you experience God’s love and mercy, nobody will tell you to stop sinning. The spirit of God in you and the mercy and love given to you will make you want to please God and not offend Him. It will make you open the Bible and read what pleases him.
I may sound like a broken record to some of you, but as Paul says, “I don’t mind saying the same things to you; it is not trouble for me.” You cannot exhaust the love of God. I cannot stop preaching about it, but my emphasis is “This is the Spirit that we are all and this is how we should operate and live our lives because this is just the way it is in the kingdom of our God.”