Midweek Fellowship – August 24, 2016
Bishop Ariel Cornelio P. Santos
Who is God? – Part II
Who is God? The sad statement in John 7 says that Jesus’ own brothers did not believe in Him. Jesus said, “The Prophet is not without honor except in His own country because His own neighbors did not believe and accept Him.” Jesus’ own brothers did not believe in Him, and yet His brothers went to the Feast of Booth (the Feast of Tabernacle) in Jerusalem. This Feast was one of the three Feasts on which the males of Israel went to Jerusalem. (The other Feasts were the Feast of Passover and the Feast of Pentecost.)
People could have a form of godliness and yet miss the whole point of their godliness. Jesus told the Pharisees, “You search the Scriptures because you think in them you have eternal life.” They talked about Jesus. Can you imagine being scholarly in the Law and missing the whole message of what you have studied?
In the movie, “Patch Adams,” it shared that the patients are not objects of the doctors’ profession, but that they are human beings. There are people needing their attention, not their job. They need the doctor’s heart, not their expertise. What people need from them is not the ten years of college course, but their heart and their compassion.
The Pharisees and the Sadducees searched Scriptures and they put their trust there. We are somehow like this because we have a set of beliefs and traditions that we grew up embracing. We think that in them, in it, we have eternal life. We have a certain formula for eternal life.
John 17:3 is the simplest and the most meaningful definition of eternal life: knowing God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. We know the invisible God through Jesus Who is the exact representation, the definitive, ultimate representation of God the Father. Anyone who has seen Jesus has seen God.
Sometimes, we are guilty of having our own traditions or set of values – our idea of holiness. In the Old Testament, this is an example of what people think of holiness. In Psalm 137:8-9, “O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one, how blessed will be the one who repays you with the recompense with which you have repaid us. (Israel was captive to the Babylonians and this was an imprecatory Psalm against Babylon.) How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock.” Would we be involved in genocide? The current ideology of ISIS and many radical Muslims is that the more they kill infidels, the holier they become. This is their view of holiness, of pleasing their God.
Today, we have our understanding of what is bad and what is good. I spoke against homosexuality and paedophilia and those guilty of these are human beings, the least of Jesus’ brothers. They are sinners who are in need of God’s love. I am not belittling sin; sin is sin; but, many Western Christians today are so emphatic against one particular sin, but there are a lot of sins that the Bible denounces more than the sins we think are major. The number one sin that the Bible denounces emphatically is idolatry. Idolatry is not just about idolizing objects, but it is also the idolatry of hoarding more than you need when there are many others who have less than what they need. Gluttony or greed is a major sin. There is the idolatry of eating more than you need when there are those who are starving. The idolatry of apathy of saying, “I am a good; my needs are meet, not yours, and that is too bad for you.” The Bible denounces the idolatry of having and not giving. The worst about this is some attached abundance or having more than enough to holiness.
People say they are blessed because they have more than what they need and the reason people are poor is because they are cursed. The disciples asked Jesus, “Who sinned because of the man’s sickness – him or his parents?” Sin is attached to sickness in the biblical sense. What we did is to equate our blessedness or having more than enough to holiness. This is why prosperity became a gospel and it was a twisted gospel. “I have more than I need because I am blessed; you are starving because you are cursed.”
I remind of you of the Parable of the Talents and the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. One common denominator in these parables is that what was condemned was the sin of omission by those who have been blessed with more than what they need. They neglected those whom they think where marginalized.
We are guilty of this, and I confess this myself that we look at certain people differently. What if you see a very effeminate, a very openly homosexual person attending Mass at Cathedral of the King? How would you feel? Before, I thought that when somebody like that would attend our Church, it would be a blight to our reputation as a Church. It would mean, “Oh, they have sinners in their Church.” Now, I pray that God send sinners to our Church because it is evidence that they find hope in the Church. It will be a feather to our crown, not a blight to our name.
The big deal in the parables mentioned is that those God blessed with talents and abilities did not clothe the naked, visit the sick, and feed the hungry. They probably thought that in the first place, the reason these people are in the condition they are in is because they are disobedient or cursed. A Christian told me, “Do not help them and interfere in God’s dealing with them, which is punishing them. God is meting out their sentence so if you feed the poor, you are going against the will of God.” Isn’t this twisted? In the parable, the goats, those who did not feed the hungry, who did not give drink to the thirsty, and who did not shelter the homeless, ended up in a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth - to an unpleasant place.
This is what Jesus denounced. It is not whether you attended Church or you are straight or gay. I am not justifying sin, but sometimes, we put a lot more emphasis on the minor and miss out the major. What is God’s heart? This is part and parcel of knowing God, of knowing who He is. What about the other sins that the Bible condemns? Like gossip, slander, judging and accusing others? These are strongly denounced by Jesus Himself.
In the Book of Revelations, Satan was called the Accuser of the Brethren. He points fingers at Jesus’ brothers, at God’s children, accuses them, and held their sins against them. This is what the Pharisees did. They brought a woman caught in adultery before Jesus and pointed out her sin. What did Jesus say about them? “You see the speck in your brother’s eye and miss the log that is in your own eye.” We magnify the speck; the log, which many times we are guilty of, we ignore because we belong to the chosen people of God, to a holy organization. Because we are favoured and we sin, God is merciful to us. When those outside our circle sin, God is God of justice to them. When we sin, we ask mercy for us. When others sin, we ask God’s justice for them. Jesus condemned this hypocrisy and at the same time, He forgave the likes of Mary Magdalene and Matthew the tax collector and even made him an apostle.
We have double standards. Jesus is so against condemning and accusing. This is the exact opposite of what we, the Church, should be doing. As it says in 2Corinthians 5:20, “We are ambassadors of reconciliation,” and the meaning of this job description was given in verse 19, “God was in Christ Jesus reconciling the world to Himself not holding man’s sins against them.” It is the exact opposite of being an accuser of the brethren, of being a Pharisee pointing people’s sins. I am not condoning sin or I am not saying that we don’t do anything about sin. What I am saying that first of all, we are to have a heart of God of reconciling sinners to Him. Not counting men’s sins against them doesn’t mean not correcting them, but accepting people who are guilty of sin just like us and loving them, and not thinking that they are hopeless. God is their hope.
Our attitude should be, “They may be sinners, but it is a good chance that I am a worst sinner than they.” The great St. Paul himself said, “I am the chief sinner.” He did not point the sins of others. He had a very good humble attitude to start with. Schisms, divorces, gaps, and cold war happen because people hold people’s sins against them. This is not our job as ambassadors. Our job is the exact opposite – we don’t hold people’s sin against them because that is the heart of God, and we are His ambassadors. Judging people drives them away. Tax collectors, harlots and sinners avoided the Pharisees. In fact, they could not be in the presence of the Pharisees, but they could be in the presence of Jesus. Jesus partied with them; He ate with them and hanged out with them because Jesus’ love and humble holiness attracted them. His compassion drew them.
Is it ironic that the One sinless person did not condemn the sinners? Jesus was the One person who had the right to say, “Get behind Me,” or “Stay away from Me because I am pure and you are sinful.” Jesus did not do this; the Pharisees did because they were not acting as ambassadors. We think that the marginalized is something bad for our reputation. I hope we would draw homosexuals, thieves, tax collectors and sinners, and we will not condemn them but accept them – not their lifestyle – and we will help them come out of their bondages and their sinful lifestyle. This would be the evidence that we have the hope of God manifested in our Church in our midst. It is not the ugly, judgmental, fake, repellent form of godliness of the Pharisees. Peter, in Acts 10, even argued with God. He had a vision of a sheep coming down from heaven with animals on the sheep, and Jesus told them, “Rise and eat.” They said, “Oh no, Lord, I don’t eat unclean food and I don’t have anything to do with unclean animals.” This was God conditioning Peter’s Jewish mind to be open to the hope of salvation for the Gentiles. It was unthinkable for a Jew, at that time, to accept that Gentiles could be saved and be part of the household of God.
In my generation, we thought that if you are not the so-called born-again, you were going to hell and you were our mission field. We went to our families who were Roman Catholics and because we loved them and we did not want them to go to hell, we ministered to them and we had them pray the Sinner’s Prayer. We thought they were unclean; we thought they were short of the salvation of God that we had to minister to them. We thought that this set of traditions that we grew up with would gain us eternal life, but we missed the point.
In the Council of Jerusalem, in Acts 15, they still prescribed, “Don’t eat certain foods sacrificed to idols or those with blood.” St. Paul saw it and understood it better and said, “The kingdom of God is not about eating or drinking. The kingdom of God is about righteousness, holiness, joy in the Holy Spirit.” St. Paul knew the Kingdom, and thus, the King. John the Beloved, the closest to Jesus, also took time to understand the heart of God. He thought that holiness was calling fire down from heaven to consume those opposing Jesus. Jesus rebuked him and said, “You do not understand what kind of spirit you are of. You don’t know the spirit of God.”
John turned from being the son of Thunder, a fire calling disciple, to “God is Love” preacher. Jesus said that to know God is eternal life. This is way, way more than just securing our eternal destiny. It is more than just saying, “Am I going to heaven if I die tonight?” Eternal life is knowing God and knowing Him is communing with Him. Communing with Him is knowing His heart. We are to be ambassadors of the good news and the preachers of the good news to others that God was in Christ Jesus reconciling the whole world to Himself and not counting or holding their sins against them.
God does not condone sin. Jesus did not condone sin. When He accepted Mary Magdalene, He said to her, “I do not condemn you. I do not judge you.” But after that He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven; go and sin no more.” “I accept you as you are. I forgive you but sin no more.” Did she sin? Of course, she did. Did Jesus forgive Him? Of course, He did, just like He did to you and me.
Knowing God and communing with Him means knowing His heart and being involved in His ministry of reconciliation. The first step to knowing God is for us to restore our intimate quiet time, our prayer time with God. We have to spend time doing this, but it doesn’t end here. We have to be involved in God’s ministry that comes out of His heart. Mark 3:14 says that Jesus appointed the twelve so that they can be withHim. Spending time with Him, being intimate with Him and knowing Him. Jesus appointed the twelve so that they can be with Him, AND so that He could send them out to preach His good news.
It is not spending time in our prayer closet for one hour a day, then, we could say, “I can get to heaven. I am fine with God. I get to be close to Him and I know Him. Then, I can have eternal life.” The first step is to be with Him; and the second step is to be sent out to preach the good news and to proclaim His ministry of reconciliation. It is two-fold: first, knowing Him in prayer by spending time, quiet time with Him; second, by participating in His work of compassion and restoration.
Jesus said to those who were guilty of the sin of omission, of not participating in His work, “I do not know. I do not know where you are from.” These are harsh words to hear from God, but this indicates that there was no real relationship or knowledge between Jesus and them. To know is intimate communion. When Jesus says, “I do not know you,” in effect He is saying that we don’t have a relationship with Him. Hence, we are not experiencing eternal life. This is because of non-participation in God’s work, in His mission.
The Rectors Council wants to restore our sense of mission as a Church. If we don’t have this, we are guilty of the sin of omission. We are non-participants in God’s work. Not being involved in mission, in harvesting souls into the Kingdom brings what we claim to our knowledge of God into question. It brings to question having our eternal life. We can go to a driving school or a culinary school, but we will never learn the skill until we use the tools to help us learn. We have to be sent out. We need to be involved. We need to be participating.
If we are not involved, we can’t claim knowledge of God. There is a positive side in the parable of the Sheep and the Goats in that Jesus said to the sheep, “You clothed Me. You did not condemn the least of My brethren, but You ministered to them. You visited them when they were in prison. You ministered to them when you were sick. You were involved in mission, and you harvested them into the Church and you turned them from sinners into oaks of righteousness.”
Our intimacy with God is not personal or individualistic. Our intimacy with God is both personal and corporate. Colossians 2:19 says, “Hold fast to the head.” We cannot hold fast to the head without being connected to body. We cannot be connected to the vine without being grafted to the tree because the tree is the tree of life. Zion is the tree of life where God commanded the blessing. The Church is the place where we bring people in so that they can participate in this ministry of reconciliation, to be participants so that they can know God.
We must have a regular prayer time and it would be very good to observe what the Church prescribes. We never stopped Saturday night vigil. We recommend that you follow the Daily Office readings in your daily prayer so that we, as a Church Catholic, can be on a spiritual journey together. We read the same Scriptures every day, believed by all, always and everywhere, and this is what Catholic means. Our fellowship, as a Church, is with the Father and the Son. We know God, as the Church; as the Church, we are to be Body of Christ to the world most especially to the least of His brothers.
Jean Valjean, the main character in the play Les Miserables in an emotional scene said, “To love another person is to see the face of God. If you want to know God, you cannot know Him only in your prayer closets and only reading the Scriptures. If you want to see the face of God, love another person, the least of His brethren; participate in His work, in His ministry of reconciliation.