“We Proclaim Agreement”
September 6, 2020
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Bishop Ariel P. Santos
We have a very familiar parable that Jesus tells us in the gospel, the Parable of the Lost Sheep. Matthew 18:12-14 tells us that a man leaves the ninety-nine sheep out in the open, and goes after the one that is astray. In a parallel narrative in Luke 15:4, Jesus says that the man goes after the lost one until he finds it. God does not stop until He finds the lost, and when He finds it, He rejoices! God is not a God who is full of wrath but He is a God who is full of concern. He doesn’t get mad or blames the lost sheep for being astray but rejoices when the lost sheep is found.
It betrays the false teaching that God is full of wrath and will make us pay one day. Scripture says that God is love, not God is wrath. God does not like us to go astray because we are the object of His love. We are the apple of His eye. Parents love their children and they don’t want their children to get lost or to go astray. Scripture says that if parents, being evil, know how to love and give good gifts to their children, how much more our Father in heaven? God is love and He can’t stand the thought of losing His children.
In Luke 15:7, it says the man found more joy over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous who don’t need to (or think they don’t). It is a little sarcastic because all of us need repentance. All of us have gone astray. All are like sheep that have gone astray. Jesus, as He was ministering to the prostitutes, to the tax collectors and to the sinners, was asked by the Pharisees why He needs to mingle with them as He was holy. Jesus told the Pharisees who actually and desperately needs repentance, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners." We all know that the Pharisees were also lost, sick and also needed healing. It is not the will of God that any should perish.
Ezekiel 33:11 says that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked but in their repentance that they would turn from their wicked ways. If we think we are one of the elect and others are the enemies of God, we are wrong. God does not take pleasure in the death of any one, even of the worst sinners. God loves them as much as He loves us. No one deserves this love; no one can earn this love. God just gives it because He is love.
No amount of good works on our part can make God love us more, and no amount of sin can make God love us less. In Ezekiel, Israel said, “Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us and we are rotting away in them.” We don’t do good works so that God will love us more. We don’t avoid sin so that God will love us less. Do good works and avoid sin for our fullness of life and live the abundant life that God has given us. Live the abundant life by following His instructions and avoid what destroys it. Otherwise, we will rot away in our sins.
The Parable of the Lost Sheep was shared by Jesus to His disciples that they must have love, and that God doesn’t want anyone to perish. Thus, He gave the instructions that if our brother is led astray, we are to point out to them that they are going to the wrong direction. This is because God doesn’t want them to perish and the disciples were being used as watchmen or as spokesmen to warn the people. If we don’t do our part, we are not walking in the love of God which should be in our hearts.
This is what Jesus wants His disciples to understand that God is love, and this Divine love that God demonstrates is the foundation and the prerequisite of discipline. In Matthew18:15-18, it says "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he doesn’t, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses, every fact may be confirmed. IF he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
If we don’t refute in private and instead gossip about a brother, maybe it is because we don’t understand the motivation why we correct our brother, that is, the foundation of the love of God that doesn’t want them to perish. Jesus outlines the steps in the gospel - all for the restoration of the lost.
According to the CEC Canons where there is the “Conflict Resolution”, the goal of all discipline is restoration. We discipline not because we are angry or we want revenge, but because we want restoration. Punishment may be there, but it is a means to restore. The goal of discipline is restoration. If we need to pull back or ostracize, it’s not for punishment but to deliver people into God’s hands in the hope of awakening because you love them. We leave them in the hands of God so that they could hopefully be awakened and enlightened, and come to their senses and repent.
Ezekiel said that we are the watchmen for those who are in the way of destruction to make a 180 degree turn. We are our brother's keepers because we are to love our neighbor. If we are passive or indifferent, it may mean that we don’t have the love of God in us and we don’t understand the motivation for discipline. It is all because it is not the will of God that any should perish, even the wicked.
I don’t believe in unending, merciless punishment in the after-life. It is said that if we die as a sinner, we will undergo unending torture and punishment. However, if the goal of all discipline is restoration, we can’t find it there. If there is no place where there is no mercy and no love, then, God is not God anymore because He is the Lord of all things. He is the Lord of all square inch of any place.
From love to discipline, we move towards another subject, which is agreement. In Matthew 18:19-20, it says, "Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst."
Agreement is not a mental thing or a positive thinking especially on minor issues. There is a saying, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” In 1 Corinthians 1, St. Paul addressed the divisions in the church. He asked the followers of Apollos, Peter, Paul, “Who was crucified for you? It was Jesus and we all walk in the name of Jesus.” We should have one mind and this one mind and one heart is having an understanding of Jesus and Him giving His life on the cross.” Unity is having one mind and the heart about the message of the Cross. It is all about the Cross. We all agree that Jesus gave His life and we also are to do the same.
What is the Cross? One, it is dying for undeserving sinners than killing them. Two, it is not willing that any one perish even the wicked so we are giving our lives for them. Three, it is we following Jesus in giving His life for others. This is agreement. The ground of unity, the message of the Cross is non-negotiable. This is what it means to gather in His Name – having the same mind about the Cross – then Jesus is in our midst. No matter what faith we have, if we have another agenda, it will not work.
I talked to Patriarch Craig Bates the other day and he reminded me to make sure that the Church always walks in love. Once we have hatred in their hearts against anyone, he said that we are no longer the Church. We are no longer the disciples of Christ. We have to love in our hearts for love means desiring the good of another.
What does “in Jesus name” mean? We have reduced it to a religious formula. We proclaim it sometimes with a loud, trembling voice, squinting eyes and with close fists. Even if we say this phrase but it is not in our hearts, it amounts to nothing. "In Jesus name" is not a short doxology to ensure answered prayers. It is having His same Spirit of love when we pray. It is not saying it with selfish motivations and prayers. We operate in His nature, which is love. Love always submits to the will of God who is the ultimate love. “In the name of Jesus” is equal to the name of love. It means, “I would die for you.” Jesus says that greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for another.
We proclaim agreement! It is not a mental assent, but oneness of heart where the common denominator is the love of God as shown in Christ as He gave His life on the cross. We are to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of love. This is agreement; this is unity. St. Paul said in 1Corinthians, “Even if you can prophesy, even if you have faith to move mountains, even if you pray or speak in tongues but you don’t have love, you accomplish nothing.”
We proclaim agreement that God is love and we are partakers of that love nature. We should not see ourselves as holier than others or more religious than others. We should not have the condescending attitude of the Pharisee towards the tax collector. If we do that, we are no longer being the Church. Let us proclaim agreement that God loves all of us and He is not angry at us, He reconciled us through His Son and He doesn’t take pleasure in the death of anyone.
We walk in this because this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.