Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: “Walking in Narrow Pathways”
Today is the day of the Lord’s favor. We are grateful that God is with us even though sometimes circumstances are not perfect. We are grateful that we can trust in the Lord our God. Scriptures says to count it all joy when we fall into various trials and temptations. Even if things look like they are not going to according to our expectations, it doesn’t mean everything is going to go apart because we have a God who’s got our backs.
From the reading, God wants to communicate to us this principle: let us not neglect the opportunities which God’s favor provides. Because of His favor, we always get another chance. A minister named Richard Roberts, the son of the famous Oral Roberts, did some mistakes when he was young and got divorced. He thought that it might be the end of his ministry because he may be bringing shame to his father. One day, he repented before God for bringing shame to his father and to God. He received a prophecy from someone that God is not finished with him. Even though we made mistakes, the grace of God does not stop. Even though we fail the mercy of God does not dissipate. God used Richard in such a way that he was able to bring the healing power of God to his generation. His father could heal by the laying of hands, but Richard was healing in a way that he will receive a word of knowledge that someone’s sick in one area and if that person would acknowledge it, that person would be healed. His ministry began to prosper that he was able to write a book entitled “He is the God of the Second Chance.”
We may have failed in our second chance but God has given us another chance. His favor never ever stops. There is always an opportunity that God gives to us because of His favor and His grace. St. Paul said, “I did not receive the grace of God in vain.” We want to be able to take advantage of this favor, of this blessing, and of this opportunity that the grace of God has given unto us.
Today’s first reading says that the invitation of God was for all the nations. He does not exclude anyone; He includes everyone. His grace, His favor, His blessing and His calling is for everyone. In the second reading, it tells us not to neglect the word that comes to us because some neglected, thus, they were not able to escape whatever it was that was detrimental to them. Everyone is invited and for us to be able to walk in what God said, we need to be able to put into practice the Word of God in our lives.
Scriptures says that from the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks, and God has spoken to us His heart. He says, “The plans that I have for you are plans not of evil but plans that will give you hope.” Plans that will give us a future. Plans that will fulfil God’s divine destiny for us. We were not born because we were an accident. We are here and from the moment we were born, the plan of God has been given to us. It is up to us to take hold of this plan and make it also a part of our lives.
In the gospel, we find the Lord Jesus Christ taking somebody’s question and teaching us a truth of the kingdom of God. It says, “And He went to the cities and the villages teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem, and one said to him, “Lord, are there a few who are saved?” This question is answerable by “yes” or “no”. It is not as simple as this because the Lord answers the question as if the question was, “How do we continue in the way of being saved or what should our attitude be now that salvation has been freely given to us?”
Jesus says, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” The word “strive” comes from the Greek word to mean: to agonize. Somehow, it doesn’t seem to jibe with the word grace. With grace, God makes things easy for us. With the favor of God, He empowers us to do something that normally we would not be able to do. He gives us the help from heaven; He gives us the power; He gives us the ability. We’ve got the Father’s love. Our Father will continue to love us unconditionally. It was because of this love that He planned this great thing for us. We know that man sinned, and because of this, he was ejected from the Garden.
The door was closed, but it was not fine that it would remain in this state of affairs of a Father who loves us and who created these things for us that we might enjoy them. Thus, God sent His beloved Son, the second Person of the Trinity that lived the life that we were supposed to live. Then, He suffered the punishment that we were supposed to suffer. He took the pain of our punishment so that we no longer have to take it. He set us free, and by doing so, that door that was being slammed against us was open once again.
All we had to do is to have faith in Him and walk through the door. The moment we walked in, we were showered by so much blessings that we don’t even know what to do with them. The sins that kept us back from God are suddenly gone. Scriptures says that our lawless deeds He will remember no more. Some of the people that remembered our transgressions might still remember them to this day, but God does not! How can God forget something? But He has chosen to forget. We might say, “Lord, remember the sin that I committed last week?” Then He will look at us and say, “Honestly, I don’t know what you are talking about.” The sins were not merely covered; they were deleted! They were erased and they do not exist anymore. They only exist in our mind and probably, they exist only in the notebook of the enemy who tries to remind us so that we would be placed in such a heavy guilt.
Our sins are no longer there. We are forgiven! Not only are we forgiven, but we are now a new creation in Christ Jesus! The old things are passed away, behold, all things have become new. When we find that we stand in the holy presence of God and say, “Lord, I am not worthy,” the Lord says, “Change your feelings because right now, you are worthy! You have been clothed with the garments of honor and worthiness.” He who knew no sin became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. We stand righteous before Him not because of what we have done, but because of what He has done, and we receive this.
Scripture says, “Come boldly before the throne of grace.” Don’t come hesitating or we are a stranger. Don’t come like we don’t belong there because we belong! We find out that when we walk inside the throne of grace feeling awkward, the angels maybe looking at us wondering what is going on with us and whispering, “This is one of our Father’s sons.” We find out that we are not just a forgiven creation, but a son of God, and we have been given the same ability, the same inheritance that the Lord Jesus Christ was given.” We are heirs of God; we are joint heirs with Christ Jesus. So now, we say, “What do we do with these things? How do I operate them?”
I remember when I receive a laptop as a gift. It had so many features, but all I knew what to do was to go to the internet, open my email, and research something. My son said, “Do you know how to connect that to the TV? Do you know how to take your work here so that when you go anywhere, you can access it?” Somebody had to show me the features of what I had. If we have something, and we don’t make use of it, we don’t benefit from it. During my first trip to the U.S. to go to my sister, I got hungry. My sister asked if I did not eat in the plane. I said, “I did not want to pay because I am on a budget.” She asked for my ticket and saw it and said, “You are entitled to one snack and one drink.” I did not know! I was not able to take advantage of what I could enjoy because I did not know it was mine in the first place – “a promdi” (a person from the province).
So that we wouldn’t be a spiritual “promdi”, the third Person of the Trinity came to show us who we are in Christ Jesus. He shows who our Father is to us and how to make use of the things that He has given us. I remember December 1982, a few days after I surrendered my life to the Lord Jesus, I was awakened in my sleep, and I heard God saying to me, “I want you to burn your books.” I was sure it was not the Bible because I had only one at that time, but I had books on sorcery, on black magic, on witchcraft, and on new age philosophies. I tried to negotiate with God if I could just sell them to recover the money I put into buying them, but He said to burn my books.
I got one of my sisters to help me bring down the books. We got a trash can and put paper and started lighting matches and throwing them at the books. Every time we did that, it would lit the books but would easily fizzle out. I did this several times and even place some gas. It still would fizzle out. I lighted the entire matchbox and threw them there, but it still easily fizzled out. I told God, “I tried to burn the books and it can’t.” He said to me, “Use the name!” I said, “What name!” I haven’t read much of the Bible yet. I was still trying to figure out if I should read it. I haven’t been to John 14 that says, “Whatever you ask in My name, I will give it to you.” I haven’t been to Mark 16, “In My name, you shall cast out…” I haven’t been to Philippians that says, “The Name that is above all name…” I didn’t know what God was talking about. I said, “Lord, what name?” Then, it flashed to my mind one of Pastor’s prayer when he ended his prayer, “Lord, we ask all of these in the Name of Jesus.” I took my matches, lit it, and said, “…In Jesus Name.” I wasn’t sure then, and there was not much conviction on my part, but said it anyway. The moment I said it, the fire whooshed out and scared my sister. I found out that the Holy Spirit will teach us. If I never did this, I would not have seen the power of our Lord.
Striving is obeying what God wants us to do as against to what is the logical thing to do. Sometimes, what God tells us to do is very simple and logical and very easy to follow. If God asks us to encourage a friend, it is not hard to do. Sometimes God tells us to give money to a person who is richer than us, but we still obey God and we find out that the person is going through some problems. We follow what God says and this is when we begin to see how God moves in our lives. This is where the striving is – fighting what seems illogical to us or unnecessary. Yes, we strive through the narrow door, and we enter into the way of salvation. Yes, we become sons of God. Therefore, God says to us to behave like sons of God right now. We have learned to hold grudges and our favorite word at that time was, “Payback” but God tells us to forgive.
I remember a Pastor who was praying for the daughter of one of his parishioners. The daughter was very sick and dying. They prayed but nothing was happening. The Pastor said, “Every time we are praying, I get this one particular name.” He told the mother, “Does this name mean anything to you.” The mother said, “Yes, that’s the name of the woman that destroyed my family, who stole my husband, and is the reason why we are going through this stress and this problem. The Pastor said, “Sister, I think God wants to heal your daughter, but the answer is being held back or deflected by your unforgiveness.” It may sound very unfair if we are the one wronged. The Pastor said, “Is your hatred towards that woman greater than your love for your daughter? Would you rather let your daughter die or would you have your daughter alive even if it means reconciling and forgiving the woman?” The mother found out that it was up to her at that particular time. She repented before God and said, “Lord, I choose to forgive.” When she did this, they prayed again, and her daughter was healed.
Sometimes, there are things that we need to obey and do. We can read about the promises and they may sound great. They can give us a thrill, but this is all what the promises could do if that is all that we do – to read about them and not do them. God’s information mixed with your action becomes a power explosion. Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all of these things will be added to us. We read this, we sing this, we talk about it and we feel good about it. It is all that it would do if that is all we did. Scriptures says, “Ask, and you shall receive; seek and you shall find; knock, and the door shall be open unto you.” It may be simple but if all we do is read about it and not do anything about it, it is not going to provide the necessary strength and ability for us.
Jesus Christ said, “He who comes to Me, hears My word, and does them is like a man who built his house on a solid foundation.” Come – hear –do. Jesus added, “The other person comes to Me, hears My words, but unlike the first person, he doesn’t do what the Word says. He is a person who builds his house on sand.” When the winds come, the storms come, and the floods come, the first person’s house remains standing; the second person’s house is broken down and destroyed. The second person might say, “Maybe, it is God’s will for him and not for me.” Or, “Those promises are only good for him, not for me.” It is putting the blame on God, when actually, God wanted his house to stand. God gave him the materials to build on this. The grace of God was given to the first and the second man, but the first man did something with it, and the second did not. When the storm and the floods came, the power of God protected the first man and the power of God could not be received by the second man. God gave us His grace and His grace gives us a lot of opportunities.
There are other thoughts about “striving”. First, to strive means to compete as for a price. Philippians says that we are to press on that we may lay hold of that for which Jesus lay hold of for us. There is something that Jesus Christ died for to give to us. Why are we pressing on? There are opposing rules against us. There are temptations that distract us. Fear distracts us from reaching forward. Doubt distracts us from reaching forward. This is where the struggles are thus we press forward until we lay hold of what we have been given.
Second, to strive means to contend as with an adversary. Peter says, “Your adversary, the devil prowls about looking for those he might devour.” The devil is never a friend. He is looking to oppose us to everything, and when he opposes us, we can’t just sit down and not do anything. We have to contend with him. He tries to hold things back, but we contend with him by pushing with our faith in the Lord our God.
Thirdly, to strive is to endeavor to accomplish something. We plan things, and it is good when we see things work out right. Sometimes, there are circumstances that oppose us so what are we going to do? Earlier this morning, I receive a text from the Patriarch saying, “I have a problem and there is pain and I can’t move.” I could have said, “Patriarch, I could tell Bishop Ariel and we could just cancel the worship.” Just because a problem comes, some people are tempted not to go through with things to be done. God is still here! The Holy Spirit has been given to us. He is our mentor, our guide and He teaches us. I said, “Patriarch, you don’t have to worry about anything. We will push through.” The presence of problems does not mean that God’s purposes are invalid. The Book of Acts says, “It is through many tribulations we enter into the kingdom of God.” God never promised that it would be easy, but from the Scriptures He says that it would be worth it all. When we experience the rewards and the blessings of God, somehow, what we perceive as sacrifices will not look as sacrifices anymore because of what God has done for us.
Fourthly, to strive means to be determined and to be disciplined in continuing with the Word of God. There are certain things in the Word of God that are easy to do. To give thanks to the Lord is easy to do. If the Word of God says to pray, how difficult is this? But there are some things that goes against our flesh. It says, “If someone offends us, forgive!” We might say, “Can’t we have another counsel, Lord, so we can talk about it?” If the Word of God says, “Count it all joy when we fall into various trials and temptations.” Who of us enjoy trials? I don’t like trials or problems and I don’t like them coming. If my life is calm, I don’t say to God, “Can You send a trial to make it exciting?” How easy it is to give praise to God when we are receiving blessings, but how easy is it to praise God when things are not coming to our expectations? Habakkuk says, “Even if we don’t see the fig tree blooming…and the fields produce no food…yet, I will praise the Lord, my God.”
Our eyes should always be on Him. He never fails us. This is where we strive because we can’t live based on our own terms. We have to live based on God’s terms. When we do things God’s way, then, we see God’s results in our lives. We are not to give up on the things we have learned. We have learned to pray – continue in them. We have learned to have faith in God – continue in them. We have learned to love no matter how bad things become – continue in them. We have learned that with God, all things are possible even if things may look impossible right now – continue in them. Continue because the grace of God has given all of these things. The grace of God has given us all of these opportunities.
God opened the door and the only door is through Christ. We might be tempted to do it another way, and get a temporary relief; but it is not going to work. If we do it God’s way, then, it will work continually in our lives. God gave us His grace. Jesus Christ said, “If you love Me, you will obey Me.” The proof of our love to Jesus is our obedience. He said, “He who loves Me will keep My commandments. I and My Father will make Our dwelling with them and We will manifest Ourselves to them.” This is a relationship.
In the gospel, some people said, “Lord, why are You closing the door on us? We were there when You were preaching. We were eating and drinking together with You.” Jesus Christ said, “I never knew you. Depart from me, evil workers.” This is where they missed it. They thought they only needed to listen, but they did not obey what Jesus Christ was saying. They had no relationship with Christ. They knew what Jesus was teaching, but they decided to do it a different way. There are those who say they are Christians and yet they believe in killing babies. If we want to maintain our relationship with God, then, we have to do things according to His way, not our way. The first king of Israel was Saul, and he was chosen by God. He had an independent spirit, not agreeing with how God does things, so he did things his way. He lost the kingdom because of this.
Church, it is not enough to hear the Word of God. We have to act on it and make it our lives. We are sons of the Kingdom, so we have to live this out in our lives. We are talking about this so that we would never, ever forget this. Let us not neglect the opportunities provided by God’s grace. They are not hard. God has given us the ability to do it. He is at work within us both to will and to do for His good pleasure. He has given us power from on high. We are no longer the same person. We are no longer made of sin, but made of His heart. We are a new creation in Him. The life of God is in us. The love of God is at work within us. Let us not resist them but rather let us give ourselves completely to Him. Take advantage of the things God had made available to us.