The Fourth Sunday In Lent
March 6, 2016
“Press on Toward Restoration”
Joshua 5: 9 – 12/Psalm 32/2 Corinthians 5: 16 – 21/Luke 15: 1-3; 11b – 32
Bishop Ariel Cornelio P. Santos
We continue with our Lenten journey. Don’t forget that our journey leads to Easter; but the process involves carrying of our cross. I have mentioned this prayer many times before and it is traditionally prayed on the Monday of the Holy Week which goes, “Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first He suffered pain, and entered not into glory before He was crucified, mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace.” The prayer says that the way to resurrection and glory is through the Cross, through suffering. The way to the Promised Land is the wilderness and we ask for grace that we may find it none other than the way of life and peace. It is not a journey per se, the beating up of ourselves and carrying of our cross for nothing, but it is one that leads to life and glory.
The Cross is a dying to self. It is a dying to self for the sake of others who do not necessarily appreciate what you do for them. We pray that they do may find life and peace. Jesus did not need to go to the cross. He was too accomplished to get to the glory the cross leads to. Jesus was already in glory, in the first place, but He did it not for Himself but for us.
The gospel today in Luke 15 is a very, very beautiful story and lesson that we can glean a lot from. It is more popularly known as the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but the message is really about the father’s awesome love for a son who has gone astray. The father’s attitude, the father’s love is forgiveness. Psalm 32 says, “Blessed is He whose transgression is forgiven.” Joshua 5 says that God ruled out our reproaches. God loves us all the time, while we were yet sinners. It is not that God will love us when we are mature, when we don’t offend Him anymore or when we are lovable already. God already loved us while we were yet sinners, while we still don’t understand, and while we still don’t appreciate what He does for us.
When the prodigal son came back home, the father saw him from afar, ran to him, and our Bible simply said, “Kissed him.” The actual meaning of the words “kiss him” in Tagalog means, “Pinupog ng halik. Tinadtad ng halik. Ngala-ngala lang ang walang latay.” The son stunk, smelled like pigs. It was then that the father kissed him all over. The father did not wait for him to take a shower. The father kissed him right when he smelled offensively because he loved his son as he was. The father did not wait for his son until he was all clean, perfect and inoffensive. He showed his love to his son right there.
God loves us, not the prospect of our perfection. He loves us as we are all the time – when we were sinners, when we are still repenting, still growing and when we get to that point of perfection and glory and sinlessness. God doesn’t love our state; God loves us! There is that big difference.
Quoting from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is from God the ground of unfathomable love. God establishes a most intimate unity with this. God becomes human, a real human being. While we exert ourselves to grow beyond our humanity, to leave the human behind us, God becomes human; and we must recognize that God wills that we be human, real human beings. While we distinguish between pious and godless, good and evil, noble and base, God loves real people without distinction.” God makes it rain for the righteous and the unrighteous alike. What God loves are human beings, not what they tend to become or what they classify themselves as or categorize themselves as. He loves all His children – the black sheep, the white sheep or the pink sheep.
If I was the son, this is what I would think, “How embarrassing it is that my father showered me with his kisses even if I haven’t taken a bath! But, I like him kissing me and pouring his love on me. As a consideration to my father, and because I love him, what if I take a bath first?” You would think yourself to clean up because you like what your father does to you; and you also love him. I am sure that you would agree that the father prefers clean than pig smell. So, you would voluntarily clean yourself up and get yourself together. If the son is a little slow in thinking that, I am sure the father would say something like, “Son, you may have noticed that I have showered you with my kisses, but I don’t know if you are numbed to your offensive smell. Maybe, you can take a shower even once a month so that I could kiss your thoroughly. I love you and I know that you love me also.”
In the story, there was the brother who was unforgiving and angry. He did not understand the love of the father. He distinguished himself as righteous from his brother whom he thought was evil. This is the common misunderstanding of godliness - based on rules, not on love. Did Jesus say this, “This is My commandment: do not drink; do not smoke; do not listen to worldly music; do not watch filthy movies; and you will be known by this, that you are My disciples, if you are three-streams, if you are in convergence worship, if you sing in Church and raise your hand and dance like crazy; if you serve in ministry; if you attend regularly and speak in tongues?” No, Jesus said, “This is My commandment, that you love one another and they will know that you are My disciples if you have love for one another.” 1Corinthians 13 says that if we speak in tongues, if we do spectacular things and praiseworthy things, and we don’t have love, we are nothing. We are not even a disciple of Christ.
In the parable, love is expressed in the father’s attitude towards the son. Love is also what St. Paul is driving at in 2Corinthians 5:16 when he said to recognize no one according to the flesh and to his weakness. This was how the older son saw the younger son. He saw his weakness; he did not see him as a son whom the father loves anyway. Sure, the father did not want the older son to stay prodigal and stay evil, but the father accepted him because he was the son.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer also says, “Judging others blinds us to our own evil and the grace which others are just entitled to as we are.” There are two things that we are blinded to when we judge our brothers. One, we don’t see our own sin. Two, we don’t see the grace of God for others which we, ourselves, are also receiving. There is really no ‘us’ and ‘them” because we are all children of God. There is no ‘chosen’ and ‘not chosen.’ God forgave us all; God loves us all. We know it, as Christians, but others may not know yet, which is why we have been called to be ambassadors of the kingdom of God. We are ambassadors of reconciliation, bearers of good news so that we may be able to proclaim to those who don’t know the grace of God of this scandalous, very controversial love of God who accepts those who smell like pigs and those who squander His wealth irresponsibly. This is the good news and many don’t know about it.
St. Paul continues to say in 2Corinthians 5 that if anyone is in Christ, the old has gone; and the new has come. Why do we constantly see the old nature in others? They are new creatures! For ourselves, why do we resurrect in ourselves that old nature? It is dead! Do not recognize anyone according to his flesh, according to his weakness. See him as a new creature. The old has gone and the new has come.
Oswald Chambers, “When we can imagine our worst enemy forever alive in the new creation, adoring God alongside us, then we can begin to say we have loved like Christ.” Think of somebody who has offended you and harmed you like nobody has before and apply this quote. Somebody said, “I imagine this. In the final banquet, I don’t know our seating arrangement, but I can imagine that to our left would be the person who harmed us the most. To our right, the person we harmed the most. We would be sitted between grace received and grace required. This is radical, but this is the father’s love for the prodigal son. To think that anyone is beyond forgiveness, like the older brother, is to misunderstand God’s love. You can reason with God to say that the person squandered His estate and the person did something with the prostitutes, and yet he is welcomed with open arms with a feast. God did it because the son came home and God loves him. If the father, who is the lord, the owner of the house, the owner of the fattened calf, says that he will do it for his son, who are we to say that he is wrong?
C.S. Lewis says, “Not my idea of God, but God. Yes, and also not my idea of my neighbor, but my neighbor. For don't we often make this mistake as regards people who are still alive—who are with us in the same room? Talking and acting not to the man himself, but to the picture we’ve made of him in our own minds? And he has to depart from it pretty widely before we even notice the fact.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, “Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial.” Those who love the prospect of a perfect community, not the community itself with all its imperfections, they destroy that very community because of their zeal and passion for the perfection of it. They get frustrated because of the imperfections.
Jean Vanier says, “Almost everyone finds their early days in a community ideal. It all seems perfect. They feel they are surrounded by saints, heroes, or at the least, most exceptional people who are everything they want to be themselves. And then comes the let-down. The greater their idealization of the community at the start, the greater the disenchantment. If people manage to get through this second period, they come to a third phase - that of realism and of true commitment. They no longer see other members of the community as saints or devils, but as people - each with a mixture of good and bad, darkness and light, each growing and each with their own hope. The community is neither heaven nor hell, but planted firmly on earth, and they are ready to walk in it, and with it. They accept the community and the other members as they are; they are confident that together they can grow towards something more beautiful.” The father did not say to the prodigal son, “Go to the rehabilitation center. When you are well, that is when you come back to me.” The father accepted his son as he was. We all want an ideal community. The Church would really, really be perfect if there are no human beings in it, but it is the design of God.
2Corinthians 5:18 says that all these things are from God. You might ask, “Bishop, does all include this evil, younger brother and this one who did that and the other one who still does this thing?” Yes, all the imperfections included are from God. If we think we have a better idea, we should let God know about it. He put all the imperfections all in and He loves real human beings as they are not when they are glorified or when they are in heaven or when they are mature and sinless. Right now, God loves them while they are yet sinners, and while they still did not understand the father’s forgiveness and love.
Yes, the old nature manifests, but the old nature is not more powerful that He who is in us, in each of us, baptized Christian. It won’t ever replace the new. There is a provision for cleansing in 1John 1:9, which is simply to confess our sin and God will cleanse us so that the old is washed away again and our reproach is rolled away again. It doesn’t mean that we concede to or we condone sins. The point is about the father’s love no matter the sin. We must address the sin. If we are the son, we would clean up ourselves in order to please the Father. Once in a while, we stumble, but God’s love does not change anyway. It doesn’t mean to condone sin. It is a fact that we are commanded to stir up one another, to correct, to encourage, to speak the truth to each other in love, and to rebuke each other where open rebuke is better than love concealed. God has a plan for us – the imperfect human being. He predestined us to be conformed to the perfect image of Son, the image of perfection.
There is a process, but the Father’s love will not wait for this process because He loves us, not the perfect us, but the real us. Apply it towards our brothers, to our community, towards our Church. Our hope toward that destiny for all should be with understanding that it is a process. Lent is a journey that we get to Easter, to glorification. Recognize that we will have hardship, difficulties, irritation, and discomfort. This is what the Cross is all about. The Cross is less suffering than it is the love of God. The Cross does not mean suffering, but the love of God. In order to prove that, we go through suffering. The point is not the suffering, but the love of God.
We should understand that it is a process and we should not be overcome by hopelessness to a point of giving up and being disappointed and being disenchanted because we have this idea of a perfect place for the Church. The Church is made of human beings like us. God did not give up on us, and we should not give up on each other. It is journey. If we have that kind of love, we will be demonstrating the Father’s love.
My brothers and sisters, this is the way it is in this very kingdom of our God.