“The Goal of Understanding the Times”
August 14, 2016: The Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Proper 15)
Jeremiah 23: 23 – 29/ Psalm 82 / Hebrews 12: 1 – 6/ Luke 12: 49 - 56
Fr. Roberto M. Jorvina
It is always a blessing for all of us to gather as God’s people. There is something unique about it, but we are not totally aware of this because we are immersed in a world that has deprived us of this understanding.
Psalm 82:5 in NASB says, “They do not know nor do they understand; they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.” In the Contemporary English Version (CEV) it says, “None of you know or understand a thing. You live in darkness, while the foundations of the earth tremble.”
We are living and we are immersed in a world that has a very limited understanding of life and the times that we live in. One of the purposes of the Mass and the liturgy, where Christians gather every Sunday (the Lord’s Day), is to bring us to the right and proper posture, perspective and understanding of the life we live each day. All of us, male or female, young and old are to view our lives from God’s point of view.
Imagine, picture with me, life around the first 100 years of Christianity. John the Beloved, perhaps the only remaining apostle of our Lord alive at that time, was in Ephesus City. All his fellow apostles have been brutally, viciously martyred. Christians were all in hiding. The Roman government was aggressively pursuing anyone who belonged to the Church. Eventually, John was captured in a persecution campaign led by the Roman Emperor Domitian. It was believed that he was tortured by being dipped in a cauldron of boiling oil, and yet, he miraculously survived.
John was ultimately sentenced to Patmos (Revelation 1:9). Patmos was a small, rocky and barren area where many criminals of Rome were sent to serve out their prison terms in very harsh conditions. There were mines on the island that the criminals were forced to work. John was sent to the island for the same reason that the early Christians were sent to because they were considered a very strange cult group who were known for causing trouble within the empire of Rome.
In the midst of all of this, what might have been going on in John’s mind and thoughts? If you were John, after all the sufferings, the persecutions, and the pain, perhaps questions came into your mind. It was not sufferings like the flood, the rain that you had to go through or a two-hour traffic that you considered as your persecutions. These are nothing compared to what John and the rest of the Christians went through; but it were questions like, “Why are so many Christians suffering? Our help is in the Name of the Lord??? Really?? Where is the salvation and help that the Lord promised? Or maybe even to the extent, ‘Is there really a God? Is Jesus and what He taught and promised to us for real? Or is all this that I am part of, this Church, this Christianity just a big hoax, a charade, and a terrible nightmare?”
So while John was in Patmos, probably tempted to give up and quit and even renounce all of that which he thought he believed in, he had this strange, seemingly bizarre yet amazing vision (as recorded in the book of Revelation). The Lord Jesus Christ Himself appeared to him and said, “Come up here!” which is repeated by the Church now for 2,000 years, “Lift up your hearts! We lift them up to the Lord!” This is so that we can come and see our life from the point of view of God in whatever we face.
Are you tired and weary with so many things that you are carrying on your shoulders? Are your children giving you a hard time? Are your parents giving you a hard time? Are you over-burdened with the weight of life that you are carrying? Are you even aware of what life is all about? Are you apathetic to what is happening? Are you at the point of giving up, not caring about what will happen?
One of Paul’s warning to his disciple Timothy, in what was probably his last letter written, was in 2Timothty 3:1-2. In the Amplified Bible, it says, “But understand this, that in the last days, dangerous times [of great stress and trouble] will come [difficult days that will be hard to bear].
We (especially us living in the convenience of this modern, city environment) may not feel this danger, this peril which beset John and the early Christians. We are drugged and intoxicated by this narcotic called consumerism; entertained by our small toys and gadgets we have every day; amused by the people we casually call (in social media) our friends; people who make us “feel good” by liking our posts. We become unaware of the times; and even greater problem is that we have become desensitized and calloused to the real things that are happening.
Paul admonishes us in another letter in Ephesians 5:15-16, “Therefore, be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” The Amplified Version it says, “Therefore see that you walk carefully [living life with honor, purpose, and courage; shunning those who tolerate and enable evil], not as the unwise, but as wise [sensible, intelligent, discerning people], making the very most of your time [on earth, recognizing and taking advantage of each opportunity and using it with wisdom and diligence], because the days are [filled with] evil.”
In Ephesians 5:15-21, in the J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS), “Live life, then, with a due sense of responsibility, not as men who do not know the meaning and purpose of life but as those who do. Make the best use of your time, despite all the difficulties of these days.” Why were we born? Do we know our purpose in life? Is it just about work, our business and earning money? Is it just about an ATM account that we can check if our work was paid for? We need to learn the purpose of life. We need to make the best use of our time despite all the difficulties of these days, and how can this be?
What we need today is to understand from the viewpoint of God, the life and times that we live in. For most of us, we have spent, are spending, or will spend the 16 to 18 years of our lives in an institution called a school or university. However, during these years of learning, we are made aware of only one realm, sphere, and aspect of life. We have been trained in the ways that men have designed, crafted, and devised. It is an empirical world. What do we feel? What does the test tube show? What does it smell? What does this chemical have? What are these formulas on the blackboard? What do we see? I don’t know if anyone of us had a subject on “Discerning the Spirit 101” or “Building Your Heart to God 102.” All we know about our lives is based on the understanding of the sixteen years that we have been immersed in. Thus, we have even “created” our own belief and opinion of God and Christianity. What makes us feel good, that is God. What doesn’t make us feel good, that is not God.
The Lord confronted Jeremiah the prophet in Jeremiah 23:23-29New International Version (NIV), “23 “Am I only a God nearby,” declares the Lord, “and not a God far away? 24 Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” declares the Lord.
“Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord.” Jesus confronted the disciples in Luke 12:49-56, “He (Jesus) said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. 55 And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. 56 Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?”
We have limited God based on our own training and learning. We have looked at the happenings in and around our lives with an inadequate, restricted, and narrow understanding. But God and the life He gave us are much greater than we can imagine! Our life is not limited to the physical things that we face and that we go through. What takes place, what occurs and goes on in the day to day experiences we see, is really connected to something spiritual which we do not see and understand. Physical events that happen every day are influenced, caused, or provoked by something spiritual.
In 1 Corinthians 15:44-46, Paul said, “If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual.” There are two realms that God created: the visible and the invisible. This is what we say in the Creed – the visible and the invisible, but we have only been trained in the visible and we have lived this way all years of our lives.
In Ephesians 6:12, “ For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Our second proclamation today makes the point even clearer in Hebrews 12:1-2, “ Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…” Don’t think that we are the only people present here today in this place. In every liturgy we say, “And so, with all the angels, the heavenly hosts, and all the powers of heaven.” It is not just us; we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on because something spiritual, indiscernible, unknown and unseen is the source of everything that we see today. “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
There is a spiritual activity that takes place in the invisible, unseen realm whose effect is seen and is apparent in the physical activities that we see all around us. The causes of the things happening around us are events that take place in the core, unseen, concealed (covert) sphere of life. All through life, we really did not understand what the Bible said. We saw it just as a book. We saw the Mass only as incense and things that we feel and touch. Really, it is greater than this because we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.
Our Gospel today has two parts. The first part talks about the family and the divisions and the effects which our belief in Christ will bring. While the second talks about knowing how to read the times. They seem to be unrelated, but actually these two parts are tied together.
There is a very clear connection that shows that: whatever is happening in our family life, whatever state our family faces each day, whatever success or failure that takes place at home has a spiritual link and basis. The root cause is spiritual; the source is spiritual.
Are family problems just psychology and personality differences? Is divorce just a legal issue? Are adultery and unfaithfulness just a menace caused by incompatibility between a man and woman? Is child abuse just the concern of a social worker? How about rebellion against parental authority? What is its root?
On the other hand, are obedient children, who are well-behaved, obedient just because of good child psychology and faultless parenting? Is a happy, strong and resilient marriage all about compatibility and matching personalities? Our battle is not against flesh and blood (Ephesian 6:12). Do we have the ability to read into, interpret, and understand the times we live in and that our own family is immersed in? There is an aggressive ploy to take the children of this age. There is an aggressive ploy to split the families where husband and wives always argue. Husbands and wives both go to work because they need the money to support themselves of being a consumer. There is a real strategy in the heavenly realms that takes on this.
Was Jesus really talking about division in the family or was He also wanting us to see things, to understand the times that our family is in and to recognize it from a spiritual perspective? This is why it is necessary to be spiritually vigilant and watchful. This comes only through prayer, which is the only activity that Jesus was asked by His disciples to teach them, “Lord, teach us to pray.” A united action and stand for Christian families is needed to pierce through the darkness of this present age, the darkness of sin, the darkness of divorce and abortion, the darkness of sickness and poverty.
As God’s people, we need to stand up. Politics will not solve it. Economics is not the key. Our government’s war against drugs begins with God’s people falling down on their knees in intense, fervent, passionate prayer of faith so that we can come with confidence to the throne of God’s amazing grace where we can find help and we will receive mercy and grace in time of need. What we see is just the effects of prayer or the lack of it.
Now is the time for our families to come up and level up in our prayer lives. Let us no longer postpone our response to the call to pray. There is a vigorous enemy who has been defeated at Calvary, but whose defeat must be enforced by the Body of Christ. He is out there to steal, to kill and to destroy. We cannot allow this. We cannot just sit back and play religion and take a form of godliness, and yet deny the power of God in our lives. We cannot continue from Sunday to Sunday thinking that we will survive. It is not about the Mass per se in terms of our form, but it is about the power that comes through it. If we want to save our families, if we want to save our society, if we want to save our nation, we need to pray. This is the call of God today. This is to understand the times that we live in today.
Prayer produces intimacies. When we pray, we become intimate to the One we pray. We become intimate with the ones we pray. What is being destroyed today is the intimacy of family, of father and son, the intimacy of mother and daughter and the intimacy of mother-in-law and daughter-in-law.
Husbands and wives come together. Fathers and sons need not divide. Mother and daughters can always be together. Mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law can be in agreement. Parents and children join hands together. Brothers and sisters, there is no more appropriate and no more opportune time, but now for families to understand the times we live in and to come with the armor of God, the armor of prayer that each believer has been given.