“The Goal of a Saintly Life”
November 1, 2016: Feast of All Saints
Revelation 7: 9 – 17/ Psalm 34: 1-10, 22/1 John 3: 1 – 3/ Matthew 5: 1 - 12
Bishop Ariel Cornelio P. Santos
What do people go to cemeteries for on this day? We prayed earlier in the Collect that we asked God to grant us grace that we would be followers of the example of the saints, particularly in their virtuous and godly living. Many times, we remember a saint for their martyrdom – how they withstood persecution, the gruesome way they died standing up for the gospel. We are really to remember not their dying, but their godly living.
In the Sermon of the Mount, Jesus started with the Beatitudes. He defines for us Beatitudes, which is blessed. In my Bible, the margin says in the note: fortunate and prosperous. If Jesus defined it that way, then, it must be true. Society has its own definition of the word blessed. Blessed means landing a good job; closing a good business transaction; or somebody giving a person something valuable. It is also sad that the Church has redefined blessing by adopting the worst definition of it so that people come to Church to be blessed, that is, to be materially prosperous. It is not to be prosperous in the sense of what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus said, “Blessed are you when men revile you.” When Christians are reviled and we counsel them, we tell them, “Oh, that is okay. That will pass.” We don’t say, “Man, you are blessed!” We say, “Oh, you are persecuted. God will avenge you from your enemies.” Are they enemies or are they blessings?
We are particularly blessed when we follow God’s commands, when we seek after His righteousness and His heart. Things may happen. People may agree or disagree with us strongly to a point of persecuting us; but our blessing does not depend on this. Our blessing depends on the fact that we seek God’s will and we walk in His likeness to a point of being reviled, and to a point of dying as the saints of old have demonstrated with their lives. Thanks to their witness, we have an inspiration, a cloud of witnesses cheering us on, encouraging us, and telling us it is way worth following God, even if we die for it because blessed are we when we do so. It is a testimony of God’s grace work in men who would just yield himself to Him.
Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men as a witness.” We are to demonstrate God’s grace and God’s likeness in us. We are to demonstrate it before men and let our light shine before men, and the first step is demonstrating.
When Peter and John were at the temple in Acts 4, they saw a beggar, a lame man, and Peter told him, “Look at us. Look at how God blessed us. We who would follow Him; we who would obey Him, look at us. We may not have what the world calls blessings, we don’t have silver and gold, but we do have which God has blessed us with, we give to you so that you also would be blessed.” The lame man accepted this blessing and found life and followed after the example of the disciples.
Let your light shine! Demonstrate it, but it doesn’t end here. As a Church direction for the next year, we will focus on discipleship and evangelism. Evangelism starts with discipleship. How do you disciple? One of the patterns is in Luke 10 when Jesus sent His seventy of His disciples two by two. One of His instructions was, “Do not go from house to house. If somebody welcomes you, stay in that house. Dwell with them and be committed to giving them the good news.” This is such a confrontation because if you dwell with somebody, they will not just hear your good news, but they will also see how you conduct yourselves. They will see whether you walk your talk.
Another focus for our Church is family with whom we dwell and who sees our strengths and our weaknesses. This is discipleship. We don’t hide anything, but it keeps us on our toes so that it behooves us to walk our talk. Nobody has the right to say something to anyone, “Do as I say and ignore what I do.”
In the story about Jesus and the Samaritan woman, He told her the good news of the gospel. She turned out to be an evangelist to her village. What happened next was that Jesus stayed with the villagers for two days. After two days, the people told the Samaritan woman, “We believe now not because of what you just proclaimed to us, but because we have tasted and seen and experienced for ourselves what you were talking about. Jesus dwelt with us for two days and we saw what we heard from you.”
People don’t just need a statement from us. What they need is a revelation as a result of a personal encounter and experience. Psalm 34 says, “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” It is not just to hear about it, but to taste of it and see for ourselves. The Bible is a result not of a boss dictating to his secretary what to write and putting them in a trance by the Holy Spirit. The authors of the Bible tasted and saw the goodness of the Lord. What they experienced, they put in writing so that long after they die, the next generations would at least read about their experience. The Bible is not just a book of facts or information. It is a book of revelation, the Word of God in power that people had tasted, seen and experienced.
1John 1 says that what we touched, what we have seen, what we have heard, what we have experienced, whom we have walked with, what we have personally dwelt with, this is what we proclaim. It is not something that we learned from a Bible school or from the seminary. It is not something that somebody told us that which is important. What have we tasted and seen, we proclaim so that our fellowship with God will also be the fellowship of others.
Our mission of evangelism is not coming up with a spiel and reading it to somebody who hasn’t heard it and telling them that this is important. If we do this, we are just like a product endorser. We are not just to give a report, like a student wanting to get a high grade, or earning points to get to heaven. We are not just supposed to be relaying the news like a journalist. People don’t need book reports or the evening news. What they need is something that we have tasted, seen and experienced because this will be alive with people, especially when we dwell with them, and when they see that it is alive in us as well.
Sunday’s gospel was about Zaccheus finding life and Jesus staying with him in his house. Zaccheus found salvation that resulted from his encounter with Jesus. It takes incarnation to get to Zaccheus’ of the world. Incarnation is not just demonstrating, not just dwelling with somebody, but identifying with them. It is not just reading a speech or a book to them, gathering facts for them, but to enter into their story. It is to get into their shoes to experience their plight and to go through their experience.
This is what Jesus did in the incarnation. He didn’t just come and dwell with us; He put on flesh. He was tempted as we all are. He goes through the problems and the challenges that we also face. He enters into our experience; He goes through our plight. He is not just like an insurance agent pretending to be concerned for us and that we only see once a year when it is time to collect the yearly fees.
One of the most difficult jobs that I could see is a staff at a memorial park. They would like to coordinate burials, and they would pretend to be in grief with you even if they don’t know you. That would entail a mastery of hypocrisy. In the Philippines, if somebody dies, what do people say to the family? They say, “Nakikiramay,” meaning that they grieve with the bereaved ones. Do we really grieve with them and feel what they feel?
Jesus, to the full extent of our grief, of our plight and experience, could identify with us. When He says, “Nakikiramay,” talagang nakikiramay Siya. He knows what we go through. He was tempted as we are; He experienced what we experience; and yet, He can tell us, “By God’s grace, you can overcome. By God’s grace, you can live a saintly life.” It is more than empathy. It is incarnation, putting on the flesh. It is taking on our life. It is the opposite of condemning, of separating, of elitism and thinking that we are better than others. If we think that we are better than others and we think that they need help, we go down to where they are and we reach out to them. Experience their plight and show them how faith in God and God’s grace can take them out of wherever they are and be lifted with Him and ascend with Him far above all that they are challenged with.
We are blessed if we do these things. Thank God for the lives of the saints who came before us to give us a witness and a testimony. The next time you go to the cemetery, don’t just remember how you loved the dead, but recall their lives, their virtues, and how we can be inspired by their virtuous living so that we can also apply this in our living.
The whole point of All Saint’s Day is not just to remember our dead because we loved them so much, but because we remember the good deeds that they have done and the example that they left to us. If we follow that example, we would belong to a company of saints that have washed their robes clean and white in the blood of the Lamb. We can join them in enjoying the blessing of giving glory and praise to our God with the saints who understand the way it is in the kingdom of our God.