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Part 2 of 2 parts
“The Goal of the Straight and Narrow”
August 21, 2016: The Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (Proper 16)
Isaiah 66: 18 – 21/ Psalm 46 / Hebrews 12: 25-29 / Luke 13: 22 - 30
Bishop Ariel Cornelio P. Santos
I encourage you: every single day, the moment you open your eyes, pray for the Church. Before you sleep in the evening, pray for the Church. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem and always keep the Church in your heat.
Today’s gospel talks about the straight and the narrow – the narrow door that leads to life. A question to Jesus from one of His hearers was: “Lord, are there just a few that are being saved?” We go to this concept of salvation, which to many has a shallow definition of just making it to the door of heaven. There is a lot more to salvation than just having a passport to heaven.
Salvation is what God wills for us. Salvation is what Jesus came down here for to give to us. He gave His life to give us this salvation. Salvation is fullness of life for us. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and that they may have it abundantly.” This narrow door that Jesus is talking about leads to this life. The wide door that many are taking leads to something that is way short of that which God wills for us, that is, eternal abundant life.
We have been made with an emptiness in our hearts that only God can fill and satisfy. We look for things to satisfy it, which only God can provide the answer for it. We turn to several things that can satisfy ourselves. Many times, it leads to destruction.
Today, we live in a society which embraces what we call moral relativism. There are really no lines anymore that delineate morality from the immorality. People accept what is wrong and they justify it and they fight for their rights for it to be accepted and legalized. In the world today, there only two states where it is illegal to have divorce. One of which is the Philippines, and we need to be vigilant in fighting against this. It has long been pending in Congress for this bill to be made into law. The other state that doesn’t have divorce is the Vatican. All other governments recognize divorce when God says, “I hate divorce.”
We clearly live in a culture of divorce. People fought for it. They say, “We have irreconcilable differences.” In their employment, people want job security; tenure; but in their marriage, what they want is to make sure that it won’t last long. If the couples can’t stand each other, there should be a way out. Isn’t it ridiculous that you want to be married to a job, but not to be married or committed to a spouse? If you have a vow in marriage, I don’t know if you get one when you are employed. People want what they want even if it is wrong.
Another thing that is being pushed in this country that is legal in some nations is same sex union. It is just wrong, but people just push for it. Now that it is being legalized in some states, particularly in America, what gays and homosexuals say now is that they were born this way, and so it is not a sin for them to act the way they do.
Pedophiles, older people, who have a liking for minors now say, “I was born this way, too. This is my orientation. It is not my fault that I am old and I fall in love with an eleven year old. It is not a crime. I can’t help it. It is in my system; it is in my DNA. God made me this way.” It is happening now and people are pushing it to be a law saying that pedophilia is not criminal. Next thing we will know, drug addicts will say, “There is nothing wrong with us. We are not immoral. We were born this way. It is a deficiency in our body and we are just dependent on drugs.”
People are justifying immorality. It may be that a married person will say, “I was born to be in love with more than one person so you have to legalize polygamy. It is not my fault. I am born this way. I just love women. For that matter, I love men, too. Why do you have a law against polygamy?”
Moral relativism is the broad way to destruction. We think we know what is right for us. The book of Judges says that there was no king at that time and there was nobody to lead them to the right path, and people did what was right in their own eyes, and they fought for their right for self-indulgence. People also justify abortion as their right and consider their situation. This is how wrong becomes right. Just because many believe it doesn’t mean it is right and it is true.
Jesus was crucified because that was the popular voice of the mob. It was not right, but He was mobbed. In the Council in Nicea in 325, because of the debates, Athanasius said, “If the world be against Athanasius, then, let Athanasius be against the world. I don’t care what you say. I am standing on the truth. I don’t care what the world says. I am firm on the truth.”
Jesus said, “Strive to enter the narrow door.” Ephesians 4 says, “When we are mature, we will no longer be tossed to and fro.” Don’t be tossed to and fro. Be steadfast. Don’t be led astray by the trickery, by the deception of men. Patriarch Craig Bates told the clergy, “Beware of deception because one thing about deception is that it is deceptive.” If we know we are being deceived, we won’t allow it, but we continue to be deceived because we are not aware of it. A little leaven leavens the whole lump and many times, it is subtle. This is how the enemy operates.
Our default should be the Word of God. Our default should always be God’s way. It should not Google. What is God’s truth on a certain matter, on a certain subject or question? Our default should be God’s way because narrow is the way to life. Few take it. Wide is the way to destruction, and many take that road.
As a Church, we have a long history. We have been around for thirty years. Before we had liturgy as our structure, our Church was very Charismatic. Our Church has been a prophetic one, radically blazing the trail. We have done things which were at first controversial, and other churches criticized us for doing them. We embraced liturgy and people left. We joined CEC and people were affected by it. They did not agree, so they left. Leaders changed and were replaced. This also affected some people and they left. We lost the Magallanes building and it affected a lot of people in a major way. We transferred to Sheridan and we lost the building, too, and it affected the people also.
Hebrews says, “The kingdom cannot be shaken, but there is a shaking that takes place in situations and circumstance.” We must understand that we belong to the kingdom of God and we must not be shaken. No matter what the situations and circumstances, it should not be able to shake us or to move us. Psalm 46 says that though the earth should change, we shall not be moved. If our faith is in personalities, it is a weak faith because our faith is in God. If our commitment is to an organization or to an ideology, not to the kingdom of God, then we are shakeable and movable.
I just wonder about certain big Christian groups who are built on the personality of the leader because the leader is very charismatic and is almost worshipped. I just wonder, “What would happen to this group once the leader dies?” I had a CEC friend who visited her sister and attended a Roman Catholic Mass. During the Mass, which was being presided by a visiting priest, the parish priest, in handcuffs, was being escorted out by policemen. My friend asked her sister, “Hey, your priest is being arrested.” Her sister was just calm and continued to participate in the Mass. She said to her, “They will replace him.” To her, church is not a personality. Church is a church of God. It doesn’t mean that they don’t care for their leader, but the kingdom of God continues and it is not the end of the world just because of a situation.
The kingdom of God cannot be shaken. Understand that situations and circumstances are trials and challenges. Our battle is not against flesh and blood. In the book of Job, Job’s trials started in the spiritual realm. Recognize that we struggle not against flesh and blood. People leave the Church; there are conflicts and people get divorced because they look at people, at flesh and blood, and they don’t recognize what is really happening. We must identify who we are fighting against; otherwise, we will be deceived and shaken. It is sad because this has crept into the Church. Even people in the Church are affected and led astray to take the wider road.
There are churches in America that justify homosexuality. One can be a Christian and be homosexual. In fact, they consecrate gay bishops. We must understand that we must be unshakeable. Who did Jesus address when He said, “You, yourselves, will be cast into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth?” It was to the hearers of His teaching.
In Luke 13:28, He said, “You, yourselves, will be thrown out.” People said, “But You taught in our streets. We ate and drank in Your presence.” Don’t be led astray. Just because you come to Church and you receive communion and hear teachings doesn’t guarantee you that you can enter through the narrow door. You have to strive; you have to be unshakeable.
Just like what the centurion said when he went to Jesus to ask healing for his servant, we say, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter into my roof. Just say the word and my servant shall be healed.” Jesus commended his faith. He said to His disciples, “I have never seen such great faith in Israel. People from East and West - Gentiles, sinners, tax gatherers, and prostitutes – will dine in the kingdom of God and the sons of the Kingdom will be thrown out into the outer darkness.” Imagine Church people being thrown out into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. This is a place of great regret and grief because we missed the opportunity of listening, of heeding, and of obeying Jesus’ warning and command to take the narrow road.
God forbid that you have a loved one and you take them for granted and they get fatally sick without you even knowing it, and they die and you learn about it. In your mind you say, “I should have done something to express my love for them. I took them for granted.” Then, you will find yourself in a place where you would be weeping and gnashing of teeth because you missed the opportunity.
In the parable of the two sons, the father told them to work in the field. The first said, “Yes, I will,” and he didn’t; the other one said, “No, I won’t,” but then, he changed his mind and repented and worked in the vineyard. The conclusion of this parable had Jesus saying to the religious leaders, “You know what will happen? Tax collectors, sinners, and harlots will get ahead of you in the kingdom of God.” Church leaders, church people were being told, “Sinners will get ahead of you in the kingdom of God.” This is because they listened to the preaching of John and they repented. They took the narrow path. People will come all over and recline at the table and some will be first and some will be last.
Some will be first, like the sinners, and some will be last, yet ahead. My hope is, “Okay, you are last, but you still will make it.” My hope is that everybody makes it. The common denominator among all of these parables that I mentioned is: people who made it believed and took the narrow door. Many take the broad way to destruction, but few find the narrow way to life. I see this as present tense. Many take the wide way to destruction, and this is the reason God enlightens us so that we can point these people to the right way while there is still hope. We lead them so that they can repent and follow. Hopefully, all will do.
Our default, when we find ourselves in situations and circumstances and challenges to our faith should be God’s ways. It should not be what man would say or the popular thinking is. Psalm 1 says, “Delight yourselves in God’s ways,” and then, you will be unshakable and you will be like a tree firmly planted by the streams of water, nourished well, evergreen, and you will never thirst. Stay in the kingdom of God because only the kingdom of God is unshakeable as Hebrews 12 says. Stay in the Kingdom and be committed to the ways of the Kingdom and be unshakeable. God does the shaking and the reason is to prove those who are committed and who would take the narrow road to life.
In 2 Samuel 23:13, David, who grew up drinking water from the well of Bethlehem, expressed a whim to drink from the well of Jerusalem. He said, “Oh, that I would be able to drink of the water from Bethlehem.” It wasn’t a command, but just a whisper. Three of his trusted servants heard that whisper and they went through the enemy camp to Bethlehem, got the water and brought it back to David. They risked their lives to satisfy a whim of their leader. It wasn’t a matter of life and death for David. The three servants made it a matter of life and death for them in order to satisfy and please their leader. These three servants were close enough to their leader that they heard what David said.
If we are close enough to God, you will hear His heartbeat. John the Beloved pressed his ear on the breast of God Himself and he was said to have heard the heartbeat of God. There were thirty chief men of David, but the twenty-seven did not hear him; the three did and they were close enough. They gave their all – risking their life and limb in order to satisfy this craving.
Intimacy with God makes us hear. The narrow way means we give our one hundred percent. Our tithes and offerings end up in the Altar beside the bread and wine, which is the offering of God Himself symbolizing His one hundred percent. Jesus did not withhold anything; He gave His life. Our tithes and offerings must not be ten percent figuratively. It must represent our one hundred percent. The reason we give our ten percent plus our other offering is because we say to God, “This is a token symbolizing You own everything that I call my own. I give You ten percent because I acknowledge that You are the Owner of all things.” We dare put our tithes and offerings right beside Jesus Christ offering Himself of one hundred percent so it shouldn’t be short of our all. The narrow way is not for the complacent, which is why we strive to enter it.
I would like to say that I won’t get tired of saying this and I won’t get tired of fulfilling this to the best of my ability. I will strive to fulfill this mandate I was given on my consecration by Patriarch Craig Bates and I was mandated to teach the narrow way. I was told:
“The reason you are being consecrated today is not because you earned it. It is not because you are such a great guy and people love you and you are super spiritual, super knowledgeable. You are called by God and you are expected to do something. What we want from you is not your administrative skills, not your management skills or your social abilities. It is not your eloquent preaching, if you have that. It is not your degree in Theology or Divinity. What we want from you, what God expects from you is for you to minister to our souls; for you to teach us to pray when there are no words because the pain is so deep. You are being made a bishop today so that you can teach us to have hope when everything is hopeless; for you to teach us to come out of fear with faith when we are shaking with the terrors of the world; when there is shaking going on. We need you to teach us to be firm. We need you to teach us to forgive when our hearts are consumed with anger, bitterness and resentment.”
Who would have thought that what happened, happened or would happen? I was being prophesied to forgive when our hearts are consumed with anger. Answer this to yourself, “Have you been betrayed? Have you been bitter? Have you been angry?”
To continue, “Teach us to love when we have been betrayed, rejected and abandoned. Teach us to dwell in the arms of Jesus and learn what it means to have mercy. Teach us the way through this narrow way of forgiving, of loving one another, even if these things had happened to us already, so that we will not be affected and be shaken.”
It is a tall order and I would try doing this mandate not just for homilies, but in everything else that I can do. I was told, “This is the reason you were being made bishop today. Not because of any other reason or reasons that you are being accused of. It is not because of politics, but because God expects you to do these things that we mentioned.”
Who would have taught that it would be needed one day? We were in our security during those days. We were being secure and we did not even think that storms would hit us. Take the narrow path. Don’t be shaken. Don’t go the world’s way. Don’t justify bitterness and anger. This is the wide path that the world picks. Continue to walk the narrow path and learn to forgive, learn to have mercy and learn to love. I know it is a lengthy process, but by God’s grace and His strength, we will not be shaken.
I was told, “This is why you are being made a bishop today because this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.”