Fifth Sunday in Lent: “Walking with Integrity Toward the Poor”
The Old Testament reading from Isaiah 43 says, “Do not call to mind the former things or ponder things of the past.” During the House of Bishops this week, one of the Bishops quoted this verse and said that God is preparing something new for us and we will be ready for it if we do not call to mind the former things or ponder things of the past. This is so that we can freely receive that which God has is preparing for us.
Isaiah 43:25 continues, “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” In Philippians 3, St. Paul says, “Forgetting what lies behind, reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal of the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus.’ God’s will for us is to not be encumbered with things of the past so that we can be free to worship Him, and to receive what He has prepared for us which eyes have not seen or ears heard.
A verse in the Song of Zechariah in Luke 1:74 says, “That we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies and all who hate us, might serve Him without fear.” Zechariah said that the will of God which was spoken through the mouth of the holy prophets is: that we are free and delivered from all our enemies and from all who hate us for the purpose of being able to serve God without fear, without care, without anything holding us back. God told Pharaoh to free His people, to let His people go that they may serve Him and worship Him. God’s will is for us to be free to worship Him. The reason for our freedom is so that we are free to be the servant of the Lord.
In the gospel, Judas and the disciples criticized Mary who poured on Jesus’ feet costly perfume, but Jesus said, “Leave her alone,” saying, “Let her be free to worship Me and to express how much I mean to her. Do not bother her because she is doing a good deed.” To worship is to ascribe worth. Mary was free from her enemies to worship Jesus. Her enemies were: sin (from which Jesus released her), guilt, and attachment to material things. Maybe, in her mind, as she heard Judas say, “That could been sold for three hundred denarii,” and she could have thought, “If I sold this, I could probably get a vehicle, the latest iphone and many other things.” But Mary was free from these. She was also free from other’s opinions – of Judas and the disciples.
Sin, guilt and attachment to material things are enemies of our soul, of our relationship with God, and a hindrance to our worship of Him. God wants us to be free from all of these. These are encumbrances that hold us back, that weigh us down and keep us from serving God and worshipping Him, and expressing freely our praise of Him. Do not fear them because they are the voice of Satan, the accuser. Be free to be the servant of the Lord and to give extravagantly without inhibitions.
In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, I shared that this is about the prodigal father who was excessive and lavish in his giving. He extravagantly provided for his son. He gave this way, which is the image of our Father in heaven. Our purpose in life is to be like Him, to be giving, to be ever blessing because from this we will be ever blessed. This is what knowing God means. Knowing God is not mentally understanding it, but it is to be like Him, to be participating in His work of giving, of blessing, and of loving without any expectation in return. Eternal life is not something that we only receive; it is something we walk in and we participate in. Eternal life is something that we do.
Reading from The Message Translation of Isaiah 43:23-25, “You wouldn’t even bring sheep for offerings in worship. You couldn’t be bothered with sacrifices. It wasn’t that I asked that much from you. I didn’t expect expensive presents. But you didn’t even do the minimum - so stingy with me, so closefisted. Yet you haven’t been stingy with your sins. You’ve been plenty generous with them - and I’m fed up. But I, yes I, am the one who takes care of your sins - that’s what I do. I don’t keep a list of your sins.”
We are stingy when it comes to giving to God, but when it comes to sin or things that we like to do or things that we idolize (taking the place of God), we do not think twice in acquiring them. When it comes to our offering, we can’t give, even in a minimal amount. It is not that God is expecting from us. It is not about law. It is not about obligation. Yes, there is an obligation; there are duties, but beyond being these, it is eternal life. Eternal life is not merely following instructions, but being like God! It is way beyond obligation. It is being like God, partaking of His nature, participating in His work – which is giving and loving without expecting anything in return.
We should know that what we give will not add an amount to the bank account of God. So why is God wanting us to give? Not because He has a need, but because we have a need, and our need is to walk in eternal life and being like Him for our sake that His joy may be in us and our joy may be full. This will happen when we walk according to His image and His likeness. His nature and likeness is to give – ever blessing as He is ever blessed. Let us erase the notion that if we give, we get blessed. Being blessed is not having new things but being blessed, according to the Beatitudes, is being a peacemaker, praying for those who persecute us and slander us. This is because we have the peace, we have the ability to be like God who loves His enemies and prays for those who persecute Him.
Be prodigal in giving worth to God, but what about the poor? The Ten Commandments are basically divided into two parts; worship and justice. The first part is about worshipping God: worship God; do not have idols; keeping the Sabbath, and not taking the Name of the Lord in vain. The second part is about justice - on how we deal with our neighbor. Love them; don’t steal from them; don’t covet their goods, their wives; do not lie against them. It is about worship and justice; but as in the Summary of the Law, love first God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and then we can love our neighbor as ourselves. It starts with what the Catechism says as the source and summit of our Christian life which is worship. Get this in order first, then, we can be genuinely effective in dealing with our neighbor with justice. If we want to give to the poor, learn to worship God first; then, we will give to the poor with the right heart. We cannot do genuine justice without first loving God and ascribing worth to Him.
Isaiah 61says, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me; it empower me to bring release to the captives, to bring good news to the poor, to give hope to the hopeless.” It starts with the Spirit of God in us first, and we get the Spirit of God by giving Him the worth that is due to Him. The worth due to Him is our whole heart, our whole soul, our whole mind, and whole body. It is our all. I have always shared that the offerings that we give, which are supposed to be representative of our one hundred percent, will be put on the Altar besides that of the offering of Jesus which is no less than one hundred percent. Jesus held back nothing and He gave it to a people who couldn’t deserve it less. Giving one hundred percent is not about emptying ourselves or our pockets, but an acknowledgement that God owns everything in our lives by right; but God doesn’t take advantage of this right. God wants us to learn to acknowledge this right and He wants us to give to Him our one hundred percent. God doesn’t need whatever we have because all that we have comes from Him.
Worth is seen in how much we give of ourselves. When we give gifts to people, don’t we have different budgets for each of them? This is because we value people differently. Worth is seen how much we give in our gifts. Different people have different values in our hearts and in our minds.
There is this story of an employer and his driver who went to the same shop to buy gifts for each other. They bought dress shirts for each other. The first to buy his gift was the driver and he asked the shop owner to give him the most expensive shirt that the store has. The owner asked him to whom will he give it to, and the driver said, “To my boss because I appreciate him.” The employer went to the same shop and he asked the owner to give him the cheapest shirt, and he was asked to whom it will be given to. The employer said, “Just my driver.” This showed how these persons valued the worth of the person they were giving their gifts to.
How much worth do we ascribe to our God? It is seen in our giving to Him. This is not all about offering which is between us and God. More than this, it is our time, effort, spirit, soul, our body and our heart which will demonstrate how much we love our God.
Jesus said in a parallel gospel in Luke 7:47, “Mary loved much because it is seen in her giving.” Mary, Martha, and Lazarus live in a house in Bethany, two miles from Jerusalem. Every time Jesus went to Jerusalem, He would stay with them, and every time, Mary and Martha would splurge and anxiously scramble to serve Him. They gave Him a VIP treatment and honored Him every time which showed how much they valued Jesus. If Jesus Christ went to our homes, what kind of treatment will we give Him? What kind of preparation will we do? The good news is that Jesus is already here! In fact, He is here in the Church every Sunday, every day. Also, He is with us every single day. So how much value do we ascribe to Him? What kind of treatment do we give Him daily?
With Mary using a pound of perfume costing hundreds and thousands of pesos, she was considered a fool for doing so. I ask you: Are we a fool for Christ? Are we like Mary who would spend a lot on perfume to pour on the muddy feet of Jesus, showing that she was free from attachments to material things? Whose fool are we? What do we spend our money on foolishly?
Worship is not just about prayers and songs. Worship is our whole-hearted participation – the offering of our substance which is time, talent, effort, money, and even our poise, which we have to let go. Be like King David who was carefree giving God what was in his heart. Dance, clap, raise our hands, and shout; be free to worship Him because this is God’s will. Being delivered from all our inhibitions and our enemies, serve Him without fear.
Who protested in the gospel story? Judas, who was a thief, was the accuser and was the loudest critic. We should be careful and cautious in seeing the speck in another’s eye, and yet having a log in our own eye. Don’t be judgmental. We should guard our hearts. In the song “Trust and Obey” it says, “But we can never prove the delights of His love until all on the Altar we lay.” Until we are free from all these encumbrances and inhibitions and our enemies, can we only prove the delights of God’s love. This is when He is pleased, and it is not a waste.
What is a waste? A waste is coming to Church, going through the motions and not having an encounter with God. A waste is coming to Church and not have peace, but having hatred, bitterness and jealousy. In Philippians 3, St. Paul enumerated his credentials, “I was circumcised on the eight day. I am of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as the Law, I am a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But compared to the knowledge of God, if I have those things and I don’t know God, it is all rubbish and it is all wasted.” We can have the form, the religion, but if we do not have the substance, and we have no relationship, this is how we waste our time and our effort compared to the knowledge of the Son of God. What is not wasted is when we give our all. Freely we have received, freely give. When we do, the fragrance of our offering will fill the house of God and will rise up to the throne of God. We will hear Jesus saying, “Leave them alone. They are doing a good deed.” It will be worth it and we will not see that it is not a waste.
God is not counting our sin because He wants us free from this. He wants us to renew our minds so that we will know that we are free to worship Him. Again, we should be free from our enemies of sin, of guilt, of opinions of others and even of attachment to material things.
See the heart of God, reading from Colossians 1:15-23 NIV translation, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. 21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.
God was pleased to restore everything through Jesus. All things were created good and sin entered into the world that marred the whole of creation, but God restored everything. St. Athanasius said, “It makes sense that the Agent through whom all things were made is the same Agent through whom all things are restored and it pleases God.” Verse 21 says, “Once, we were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds.” We are only alienated and enemies of God in our minds! We are never an enemy of God. The prodigal son left, but in the eyes of his father, he never ceased to be a son. The son was the one who said that he will be a hired servant, not the father, because this is what he was thinking. We have alienated in our minds because of the guilt of sin. We alienate ourselves from God, but in reality, we are not. We are still the son, but if we alienate ourselves from the Father, we will end up in the pig pen and desiring pig food.
Psalm 40:11-12a (NASB) says, “You, O Lord, will not withhold Your compassion from me; Your lovingkindness and Your truth will continually preserve me. 12 For evils beyond number have surrounded me; My iniquities have overtaken me, so that I am not able to see.” We become blind and we forget the compassion and lovingkindness of God because of sin. Our sins alienate us and it makes us an enemy in our mind. But God says, “Even I, removed your sins.” God doesn’t want us to sin because we will end up in the pig pen. God may forgive us, but we don’t abuse His forgiveness because it blinds us and it deceives us. It alienates us and brings guilt.
Col 1:22-23 (NIV), “But now, he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard.” The good news is that God loves us; He has forgiven us and He is not angry at us. God will never leave us nor forsake us. But if we sin, we will forget this. If we sin, we will think that we are an enemy of God. If we sin, we alienate ourselves from our mind, and all that we hear is the accusation of the enemy.
As we enter the Holy Week, let us be free from all the things that encumber us, that hold us back and that slows us down. Freely, like Mary, worship God because this is treasure of God. This is the will of God and this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.