Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12
THE ‘ABC’ OF HOLINESS
During World War II, England had a great difficulty keeping men in the coal mines. It was a thankless and unglorified job. Many wanted to join the military, which would give them glory and recognition.
To motivate them to stay in the mines, Winston Churchill delivered a speech to thousands of coal miners stressing the importance of their role in the war. He told them to picture the grand parade that would take place when VE day came: first would come the armed forces; then would come a long line of sweat-stained, soot-streaked men in miner’s caps who had helped those ahead of them stay in battle.
A portrayal of the grand parade at the end of time would be similar: first would be the apostles, then the doctors of the church, and the founders of religious orders; bringing up the rear would be thousands of “ordinary” men and women.
The first reading depicts this parade “of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.”
The heavenly parade is truly an international assembly of ordinary people who have been faithful to God, who have struggled through everyday crises, who have lived lives of humility and service, and quietly witnessed to the gospel.
These unheralded and unknown saints have lived the beatitudes, which we heard in the Gospel.
Blessed are the poor in spirit! The “poor” are those who do not have the resources to meet their needs; they recognise and acknowledge their absolute need of God. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven! Jesus assures his disciples that when they totally depend on God, they belong to God!
The second to the seventh beatitudes spell out aspects of being “poor in spirit”.
In the eighth beatitude, we hear again “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Here, the “blessed” are those persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Righteousness, for Matthew, is doing God’s will.
The blessed are those who
– acknowledge their need of God;
– belong totally to God;
– commit themselves to God’s will every day.
That’s the ABC of becoming a saint!
Today’s feast is a reminder that God’s call for holiness is universal; all of us are called to live in his love and to live the beatitudes.
Will I strive to be holy in my daily and ordinary life? Will I live the beatitudes: acknowledge my absolute need for God, belong to him, and commit myself to doing his will?
(By Fr. Vinod Mascarenhas SDB)
30 Week: Saturday, 31 October 2020
“For me to live is Christ, and to die is a gain”. Phil 1:21
St. Paul’s statement, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is a gain”, is an outright courageous affirmation to two difficult realities: Life and Death. If one is taken seriously the other one follows as by-product. A person who lives well, is always ready to face death. It is in death that true Life springs forth. St. Paul was too sure of this close connection.
It is a pity that 21st century humans are not ready to die; they pretend as if they would live forever. Covid 19 is still with us. Many have fallen prey to this unprecedented pandemic. The whole world is scared so much so this pandemic has many names: PLANdemic, FEARdemic and so on. All are frightened to die. If only Christians assume the attitude of St. Paul to be prepared to die, as much as he was ready to life a fruitful life of sacrifice for God’s Glory.
As the mortality rate of covid 19 is always making the headlines, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, But nobody wants to die”, can make us think how faith-based is our fear of death, to the reality of heaven we shall inherit after our death. Time has come for us Christians to plunge into LIFE and LIVE it, instead of shielding ourselves from this FEARdemic. With SOPs in place, making use of God given intellect and a good supply of common sense, at our command, can we confidently say with St. Paul, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is a gain”.
“When you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place”. Luke 14:10
I have always a problem with God’s people in the mission station I am working with, about where they sit in the church. They are too faithful to Jesus’ words to be humble while occupying places. This is more true, during mass or any church service in the Parish Centre. The few people who come for the Sunday mass will be scattered all over the place. (This is before the SOPs of Covid 19, Physical Distancing. Now with Lockdown hardly anybody comes.) Among my Parishioners there seems to be a ‘phobia’ to sit in the first rows. Even after inviting them near the ALTAR, only few move closer. If by obedience to Christ’s words to be humble, they are back-pews sitters, should I be consoled? Real reason, a homework! My hunch, there is no room for humility but dislike to sit in front!
In spirituality, ‘humility with a hook’, ‘false humility’, ‘pretentious humility’, are some words to decipher what real humility is like. Humility, we were taught, is truth. A good simple definition indeed, which needs no deliberation at all! Humility is truth and truth is humility.
Any extreme is bad. In Jesus’ time, the scribes and Pharisees were good people who wanted to be right in front, to listen to the preaching of the Rabbi, perhaps, a wild guess! So Jesus had to give etiquette class on where to sit when invited. But now, people who come responding to God’s invitation for the eternal Banquet feel comfortable to be somewhere inside the church. Never near, even when invited, “Friend come closer”. Times have changed. But I hope love and reverence for God have not!
Dear God, thank you for the month of October. Thank you for the protection from covid 19 pandemic. As I take precaution to be safe with the SOPs, give me the courage to live my life, and be a means of joy and comfort to people affected by the FEARdemic. Help me to be truthful to myself. Help me to humbly accept myself to be at the service of my mission and to further the spread of your kingdom of love, joy, peace through my humble instrumentality. “For me to live is Christ, and to die is a gain”.
(By Fr. Kamei James SDB, Principal of Don Bosco School, Khoupum Valley)
30 Week: Friday, 30 October 2020
Readings: Phil 1:1-11; Lk 14:1-6
“I thank my God every time I remember you”!
“I hold you in my heart”!
“I long for all of you”!
What extraordinary expressions of intimate friendship in Paul’s letter! How could Paul use such language of intimacy in his letter? Who are his intimate friends? What made Paul, who was a fiery person before and after his conversion, so tender-hearted?
Let us have a quick glance at the background of this letter. The letter to the Philippians is probably the last of the four prison letters of Paul. He addresses the letter to the Christian community at Philippi, one of the Greek hill towns. Paul had visited this town during his second and third missionary journeys. The letter, written in Rome, was to be delivered by Epaphroditus whom he called, “my brother and co-worker and fellow soldier, your messenger and minister to my need” (Phil 2:25). He had come to visit Paul in Rome with financial help from the community in Philippi (Phil 4:18). But the delivery of the letter was delayed because Epaphroditus fell ill seriously and almost died (Phil 2:26-27).
Unlike some letters which responded to certain crisis in the church community, viz. Colossians and Galatians, the letter to the Philippians is written to show Paul’s affection and appreciation to the believers especially for generously extending financial help for his ministry (Phil 4:15-18; 2 Cor 8:11). No reprimands, no correction, no warnings, his affection permeates the entire letter. Paul feels very close to the community which has been doing well in faith, love and generosity.
Why does Paul love them so deeply? Paul’s love for the beneficiaries of his ministry can be better understood when we perceive in him a threefold love: 1) love for the message; 2) love for the giver of the message and 3) love for the receiver of the message. This triple love becomes the driving force of his ministry.
Paul’s loving commitment to the message is seen in his powerful expression “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (1 Cor 9:16). “For me to live is Christ and die is gain” (Phil 1:21) “…my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Phil 1:23) display his ardent love for Christ, the giver of the message. And for his love for the receives of the message there are no better expressions than these: “I thank my God every time I remember you” (1:3) “I hold you in my heart” (1:7) “I long for all of you” (1:8).
It is the combination of this threefold love that makes the messenger effective and fruitful. All three are interconnected. These loves transforms the messenger himself into the message. Instead, those who love only the beneficiaries of proclamation do not evangelize! Their ministry becomes self-centered building up personal kingdoms, not the Kingdom of God.
It is crystal clear from the letter that Paul’s love for the Philippians is not a mere human love or appreciation for the material favours received. His affection for them is Christo-centric. Let’s look at some expressions:
He addresses the Philippians as “holy ones in Christ Jesus” or saints (v.1);
He refers to them as ‘partners of the Gospel’ of Christ (v.5);
His expectation is Christ-centered: that they may persevere and be pure and blameless for day of Christ Jesus (v.6, 10);
He loves them in Christ: “how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus” (v.8);
The final expectation of his ministry is “the glory and praise of God” (v.11), not self-glory.
Jesus in the Gospel today demonstrates to the scholars of the law and the Pharisees that his law of love surpasses all human made laws. He asks them “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath or not?” Jesus did not hesitate to take the man, heal him and sent him away. And he poses them another question: “Who among you, if your son or ox falls into a cistern, would not immediately pull him out on the sabbath day?”
They could not answer his question! No human being can stand up to the personification of Divine love, Jesus Christ!
Human law would not permit it but the law of God’s love would.
The three fold love which Paul manifests in his letters is derived from divine love. Caritas Christi urget nos, “love of Christ urges us on” (2 Cor 5:14) !
(By Dr. Fr. TC George SDB, former Mission Delegates of Salesian Provinces in South Asia)
30 Week: Thursday, 29 October 2020
Bl. Michael Rua
Reading 1: Eph 6:10-20 and Gospel: Lk 13:31-35
St. Paul tells the Ephesians to draw their strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. With the armor of God, they can resist the tactics of the devil. The struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the evil spirits. In this way, they can hold their ground. They need to be girded in truth, have righteousness as their breastplate, ready to spread the Gospel of peace, with faith as their shield to ward off the flaming arrows of the Evil one. They need to take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit, that is the word of God. They need to pray at every opportunity and be watchful with all perseverance and supplication to courageously speak out the mystery of the Gospel.
Some Pharisees alerted Jesus that Herod wanted to kill him. Jesus boldly told them to tell Herod that he would continue to cast out demons and perform healing, but on the third day, he will rise. He will die in Jerusalem, the place where many prophets were killed. He lamented that Jerusalem did not hearken to his call to change. He warned them that they will not see him until the time comes when they say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Both the readings challenge us to a life of faith. Faith in God is a response to a type of life that can be very risky, uncertain, even painful and sometimes unnecessarily worrisome. To have such a faith, a willing disposition to prayer is inevitable. One must surrender himself/herself totally to God. It is God alone who can finally be our refuge. Faith can do things which our human minds can never achieve with perfection. It is good to ask ourselves a question, “How many times in a day, do I really see myself relying on faith?” Jesus lived a life of faith. He performed miracles and exorcised the demons. Yet, he knew that nothing of those momentary appreciations he received from the people will ever be of use to him, because he will be after all killed by them. So, the only thing that sustained him in his onward movement was that he will receive glory from his father through his resurrection, which again had no earthly connections. So, what do we learn from Jesus? Faith is the only reply for all our problems. Without faith, we cannot understand our relationships, our apostolate, our achievements and our failures. St. Paul beautifully describes faith as the shield that can ward off the evil one. Actually, we are building up a solid spiritual foundation the more we allow faith to operate in our lives. Contrarily, the more empirical we are in our approach to life, the more longing we experience, with a very floating foundation. The words of tantum ergo, the hymn to the blessed sacrament, by St. Thomas Aquinas, ring in our hearts – “Senses cannot grasp this marvel, faith must serve to compensate.” Yes, not only the Blessed Sacrament, many things in life, our senses cannot grasp the beauty. We need faith to understand the things that happen to us. Let us be persons of faith.
(By S. Peter)
30 Week: Wednesday 28 October 2020
Readings: Ephesians 2:19-22 and Luke 6:12-16
Feast Day of Sts. Simon and Jude
What if God picked you?
- You are carefully considered. He has a careful consideration of who you are. Before choosing the twelve, Jesus prayed the whole night. Why do you think he did it? Perhaps, he did foresee that some who become part of his mission potentially work for self-interests and jeopardise the plan of God. Judas Iscariot, the traitor moved by his selfish interests gradually found himself in the opposing camp of God and his designs. However, he was still the part of God’s plan as God brings good out of evil. Think of the scandals within the Church and the huge loss of credibility. Yes, as St. Paul suggests in the first reading – “You are part of a building, that has the apostles and Prophets for its foundations, and Christ Jesus himself for its main cornerstone.” From a historical point of view, the Church has been composed of saints and sinners.
- You are a Missionary: Jesus chooses the twelve and calls them ‘apostles’. In Greek “apóstolos” literally means “one who is send off”. Why did Jesus appoint the twelve? “To be with him and to be sent out to preach” (Mk 3:14). Our Lord himself told us, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters”(Matthew 12:30). A missionary who follows the personality cult is not with the Lord but with himself. By personality cult, I mean ‘a missionary who pulls the crowd, a village by a wrong standard of gaining a name, or immortalizing his work end up not in gathering but in scattering venture.’ For such persons, there is an over concern over developmental activities rather than the Proclamation of the Good news.
- You are destined to be either a saint or at least in the company of saints. Today we keep the feast day of saints Simon and Jude. Both Simon and Jude were ordinary men, chosen by Jesus himself to teach others about God’s love. Their lives help us to understand that the most average people can become saints when they decide to follow Jesus. Simon was known as a ‘zealot’. He was a strongly committed man. His zeal and commitment made him a saint. Judas, also known as ‘Jude Thaddeus’. He is a patron saint of hopeless cases and desperate situations. Both the saints fanned into flame the natural qualities that God endowed them with.
Let us convince ourselves that there does not arise a ‘what if’ question in God’s choice of every individual on earth. Everyone is loved into existence to share that love with others. You and I are missionaries sent forth with a peculiar individual mission to fulfil. That peculiar mission can be identified from your own life if you look at your life from a divine perspective. When you immerse yourself in God and identify God in fellow humans, you have not lived for your name but for the glory of Jesus’ name. The Holy Mother church will recognize your sanctity. That’s how saints are raised.
(Fr. Aneesh Chacko SDB, Delhi)
30 Week: Tuesday, 27 October 2020
Readings: Eph 5:21-33 and Lk. 13:18–21
We have all heard the saying, “slow and steady wins the race”. It seems to me that Jesus is saying exactly the same to us today through the gospel reading. We live in a fast-moving world, though the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed us a little. Speed is something that is appreciated. We also constantly look for the big, mighty, spectacular events to take place. We are constantly thinking and planning for the mega event, the mega structures, etc.
I imagine that when Jesus sent his disciples ahead of him to tell people that the Kingdom of God is at hand, they might have been questioned by their listeners. They would have certainly been asked what the Kingdom of God meant, when it will arrive, etc. We often look around and all that we see is the same situations and people day in and day out. We might be asking similar questions to ourselves today. What has the world become? What influence do I have over the world? Am I making any difference to anybody? When these questions arise in our heart we need to turn to the parables of today’s gospel. Jesus clearly indicates that things are not always what they appear to be.
We who seek the spectacular and sudden changes may be disappointed, but the realization things are not always that way, is calming as well. God is always with us and acting in ways we cannot see or understand. He always sustains us. The parable of the yeast and mustard seed both indicate that they are very small, but it is enough to cause a transformation over time that is really significant. When we are tempted to look for quick solutions and quick transformation, we need to tell ourselves that lasting changes do not happen overnight. Lasting changes always happen at the end of a long and tedious and often painful process. We need humility and patience to experience that.
At the same time the parables are also a reminder for each one of us that, however small we are, we do have a power invested in us by God which is transforming. There is a power that is gifted to us by God that enables us to effect the Kingdom of God here and now. We need to learn humility and patience before our efforts can bear fruit. To be transforming agents in the world around us we need to let God work in us. The Kingdom will come, transformation will take place slowly and imperceptibly. God’s Kingdom has a humble beginning in the human heart before it becomes a captivating force. The transformation always begins as an inner dynamism. We are invited today to allow that dynamism to flourish in our hearts that it may find full expression in our lives. It is often humbling to look back and see how the Spirit of God has transformed us. It takes faith to see the large bush in the tiny seed. So also it takes faith to see the mighty kingdom in our little human actions. All things are possible through the powerful force behind every action: the Holy Spirit. May the Spirit continue to act in us and through us.
(By Fr. Sony PJ SDB, a Missionary in Africa)
30 Week: Monday 26 October 2020
Readings: Eph 4:32 and Lk. 13:10-17
The Jewish Sabbath required the people to worship and rest. Often they objected to the way Jesus observed it – not about his lack of worship, but his refusal to rest. It seems that there was more emphasis on resting than on worshipping! In fact, the word “Sabbath” comes from the Hebrew, meaning “to rest,” and throughout the centuries the Jewish people had adhered to a very orthodox interpretation. In his attempt to update the old laws, and especially to help people, Jesus often irritated those who favoured the traditional observance. Whether we are worshipping, resting or doing good deeds, we are fulfilling our “Sabbath observance” in a very exemplary manner. Jesus said we are not made for the Sabbath, but that the Sabbath was made for us.
When a person has a problem which weighs heavily on the mind, the body can also be adversely affected, especially if the problem remains for a long time. Mental worries, we know, will often publicly announce their presence in the form of bleeding ulcers. Prolonged sadness can cause acute depression and be clearly visible in downcast eyes and the diminution of strength and ambition. On the positive side, it is good to know that a person who has suffered mentally and physically for many years can have hope for a cure. In this Gospel, Jesus meets a woman who is heavily burdened with a problem. Luke, the physician, notes that it first had bent her mind and then her body. This had gone on for eighteen years, but now came the cure because she had faith to be healed. Jesus freed her mind and straightened her spine. Luke, the doctor, was impressed nearly as much as the lady herself.
In her social context she was crippled, dysfunctional, and worthless. She had accepted that debilitating status as her place in life. She is surrounded by men, the maintainers of “order” in which she was “as” she was. Jesus refuses to accept the way the woman is, bent over and locked up in the mentality and judgement of her time. He frees her before her oppressor’s very eyes, making her again the one she really is, a daughter of Abraham, a fact that was drowned and hindered in the society in which she lived. What Jesus shows us in this miracle is not that he is the Lord over sickness and over the Sabbath: He came to bring freedom and joy: freedom from the burden of the law that considered law more important than human beings. The law is for us, and we are not for the law; joy: at being made whole. She burst into a song for the glory of God, who gives joy to humanity.
Do I become an obstacle and hindrance for the freedom, well-being and joy of others? Do I try to enslave others in the name of laws and regulations? Do I make the rule take precedence over being humane?
(By Fr. T. C. Joseph SDB, former Principal of Bosco College of Teacher Education)
30 Week: Sunday 25 October 2020
Exodus 22:20-26; 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10; Matthew 22:34-40
LOVE IN 3D
At the entrance to the harbour at the Isle of Man there are two lights. One would think that two signals would confuse the pilot. No! The pilot must keep both in line for the ship to safely enter the channel.
It is the same with life. We need to keep the three dimensions of love—love of God, love of others, and love of self—in line; then we remain safe in the channel of life.
The Sunday readings challenge us to learn and practise these three dimensions of the “greatest commandment”.
In response to the scribe’s question—which commandment is the first of all?—Jesus gathers up the scripture of Israel in one statement.
In the first part, he quotes the creed of Judaism, the Shema, which every Jew knew by heart. The creed was part of every Jew and no pious Jew could disagree with this part of Jesus’ summary.
Alongside this creed, Jesus places a text from Leviticus 19:18. “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
For Jesus, it is a combination of these texts that makes for the summary and essence of the law. Religion is loving God and loving people as one loves oneself.
Most of our reflection, reading, and preaching focus on the first two dimensions: love of God and love of others. Rarely do we think about love of self. In fact, from an early age, the overriding message we pick up is “self-love” is bad/selfish and we ought to focus on others. But the Lord is clear: Love your neighbour as yourself.
How can I love myself? In the same way that I love others! I respect myself. I talk positively to and about myself. I look after myself and my needs—physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual. I am patient with myself.
How shall I love my God with my whole being? How shall I love my neighbour? How will I love myself?
May the Lord strengthen us to love in 3D: God, neighbour and self.
(By Fr. Vinod Mascarenhas SDB)
29 Week: Saturday 24 October 2020
Readings: Eph 4:7-16 and Lk 13:109
“…but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish”. Lk 13:3
The passage of today, containing two tragic violent incidents, “the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices…..eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them” is an interesting but quite an enigmatic passage for me. So let us reflect together and get some spiritual nourishment. God is just and merciful. Why did the innocent ‘Galileans’, ‘eighteen’ meet such tragedies? Did the Just God, punish because of their sins? Why? (Theodicy: Why do bad things happen to good people?)
It is quite natural for all people, Jesus’ time and today to draw a line to connect catastrophic events with God’s judgment. But the slippery slope of such conclusion is, ‘they have sinned, perhaps’. I am out, not me. It is always someone else’s sin and judgment, rarely do I include myself.
Jesus emphatic reply, “but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Lk 13:3) is meant to change our thinking and to excite a life of repentance. To our minds, horrible sin equalled horrible punishment. Job’s friends thought the same thought, when they saw the suffering of Job. “Job, you must have done some very serious sinning in your life for God to do all this to you”. It was the same type of thinking that brought Jesus’ disciples to ask the question one day, who sinned this man or his parents that he was born blind. (Jn 9:2) Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. (Jn 9:3)
In short, “but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” should not be drawn from tragedy to exceptional sinners but from tragedy to us. Here, Jesus’ conclusion has earth-shattering implications for us. “Do you suppose they were worse sinners than ALL the others?” Unless we repent we will ALL likewise perish.
But wait a minute. I dare to differ, “people in Jerusalem that day and not me is because they were worse sinners than I am. I’m right with God because He hasn’t dropped a tower on my head.” So, given our paradigm, I’m alive and well because my sin isn’t as bad as all those dead people. Jesus says, oh no, don’t draw a line from tragedy to them, draw it from tragedy to you/me.
Of course we know that there are cases where cause and effect can be established between risky behaviours and their consequences. Within the Bible itself there are passages that speak of sin leading to divine punishment (Exodus 15:26; 20:5; Psalm 107:17; Jeremiah 31:30). That’s fair enough. But that is not the issue in all cases. The idea that suffering in general is due to personal sinful deeds is the issue that needs to be addressed. There, as in the case of Job and in the teachings of Jesus, the idea does not hold up.
Jesus does not make a well-worked out analogy. He does not say: “Just as innocent people suffer randomly, as in the two cases mentioned, so you, though innocent, can expect to suffer too.” Rather, he takes the occasion of two local stories about human tragedy to speak about another tragedy that could happen, unless things change. The implication to be drawn from the parable is that God is patient, which gives Jesus’ hearers time for repentance, but there is a limit.
The parable helps place God’s judgment and grace into a larger perspective. In the larger scheme of things, God’s grace is greater than God’s judgment. How could it be otherwise? Divine patience is simply another expression of God’s love and grace. But God’s grace is not to be understood as casual indulgence or indifference. (ideas and reflections borrowed)
As one pastor rightly points out, “Jesus’ point is that we are all such retched sinners that it is only in God’s mercy and grace that we are not all dead. The reason any, including you and me, can currently take a breath of fresh air is because God is longsuffering and is waiting for repentance. Jesus didn’t come to save losers, He came to save sinners. Paul says, ‘of whom I am chief’. We also must use biblical language when we speak of the remedy to sin. The only hope for sinners is to trust Christ and turn to Him in repentance and faith. Jesus clearly says, unless we repent, we will all likewise perish.
What is repentance? Repentance is a heartfelt sorrow for sin, a renouncing of it, and a sincere commitment to forsake it and walk in obedience to Christ. The true picture of God is a patient Father waiting and nurturing.
Why do bad things happen? We live in a sinful world. We live in a fallen world. We live in a perishing world. But there is a God who saves the perishing. Run to Jesus and be saved, repent today and live!
The apostle Paul put it this way: “Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:4-5). Those who do not take the opportunity offered to repent can lose out in the end. As the caretaker puts it to the landowner, if the fig tree does not bear fruit in another year, go ahead and cut it down.
Taking into consideration the larger biblical witness, the life of the disciple of Jesus is to consist of daily repentance and renewal. Each day is a day of grace, providing the opportunity to repent — and then to bear fruits of repentance (Luke 3:8).
Within the context of our reflection on the Gospel, those “fruits” are good deeds, by what Paul calls “the fruit of the Spirit,” which includes love, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, and more (Galatians 5:22-23). (ideas and reflections borrowed)
(By Fr. James Kamei SDB)
29 Week: Friday 23 October 2020
Readings: Eph 4:1-6; Lk 12:54-59
St John of Capestrano
“I …the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called”.
A prisoner asking his friends to lead a good life?!
All the instructions, recommendations and even admonitions which Paul gave to the various communities of believers can be found summarized in Eph 4:1: “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called”.
Paul exhorts those who believe to live a life worthy of their call by God. We can see similar exhortations in his writings to the Philippians and the Thessalonians:
– “… live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel… (Phil 1:27).
– “…urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory (1 Thes 2:12).
– “To this end we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfil by his power every good resolve and work of faith…” (2 Thes 1:11).
In order to understand HOW those who believe are called to live a life worthy of their calling, we need to comprehend what they are CALLED FROM and what they care CALED TO. Ephesians Chapter 2 provides us the clue and enlightens our deeper understanding.
‘What they are called from’ means the situation from which they have been called, or the condition “in which you once lived”. “Remember that at one time you were…”, as Paul says (v.11-12). Let us make a list of it.
1) You were “dead through the trespasses and sins” (v.1).
2) You were “following the course of this world” (v.2).
3) You were “following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient” (v.2). Here the reference is to the evil one.
4) You were “living in the passions of the flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses” (v.3).
5) You were “by nature children of wrath” (v.3).
6) “You were at that time without Christ” (v.12).
7) You were “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise” (v.12).
8) You were “having no hope and without God in the world” (v.12).
9) “You were far off” (v.13).
10) You were “strangers and aliens” (v.19).
And now, because of God’s doing, here is what they have been called TO:
What God accomplished for them is beautifully articulated in verses 4 & 5: “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved…” Let us enumerate the various aspects of their/our present status.
1) God raised us up with Christ and “made us alive together with Christ” (v.5,6).
2) Allowed us to be “seated with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (v.6)
3) Showed the “immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (v.7).
4) “by grace … saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God (v.8).
5) “…created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (v.10).
6) “You who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (v.13).
7) ‘Made us into one, breaking down the dividing wall of hostility’ (v.14).
8) Abolished the law in order to “create in himself one new humanity” (v.15).
9) ‘Reconciling us to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death the hostility’ (v.16).
10) Christ gave us “access in one Spirit to the Father” (v.18).
11) No longer strangers and aliens, but “citizens with the saints” (v.19).
12) Made us “members of the household of God” (v.19).
13) “Built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone” (v.20).
14) In Christ, “being built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God” (v.22).
This new status to which they have been called to is not their own achievement as Paul reiterates, “this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (v.8). Each of these gifts is worth pondering upon.
What Paul writes to the gentile-Christians of Ephesus is applicable to every disciple of Jesus who is called to lead a life worthy of the calling to which s/he has been called.Each is called to live a new standard of life, that is, the ‘Jesus standard of life’, because of the new identity and elevated dignity gifted by God. For example, making an effort to settle the case and reconcile, before you may be dragged before the judge (Lk 12:58), as we heard in the Gospel today, is living the Jesus standard.
In summary, while we were dead due to our transgressions and disobedience, God raised us up and made us alive with Christ, seated us with him in the heavenly places, made us citizens with the saints in the heavenly kingdom and allowed us to be members of the family of God!
This has been the Father’s doings all through the history of salvation. What God accomplished through Christ is the glorification of the humanity of man. Thus the words of the Psalmist are fulfilled here.
“Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honour” (Ps 8:5).
Therefore, leading a life worthy of our calling would mean:
First of all, living in gratitude to God for the great gift of bringing us up from ‘what we were once’ to ‘what we are now’. We enjoy our present redeemed state because “God who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us” (Eph 2:4), accomplished it by paying a price: “You have been bought with a price…” (1 Cor 6). He paid the highest price, the blood (Eph 2:13) and the cross (Eph 2:16). He redeemed us through the blood from the pierced heart of His Son, and by the crucified hand of Christ! Every Christian is should to look back to the corrupt condition from which s/he has been brought up by God according to the “eternal purpose” that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord (Eph 3:11). “If the Lord had not been on our side” (Ps 124:2) where we would have been? Paul asks the Ephesians to ‘remember’ (Eph 2:11,12). Looking back and remembering the wonders God did for us (1Chro 16:12) and appreciating them will stir up our hearts to offer him a constant sacrifice of thanksgiving (Ps 116:17).
This is the reason why Paul begins his Letter to the Ephesians with a hymn of thankfulness and praise: “Give praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing” (Eph 1:3-14). The Israelites kept the memory of the wonderful deeds of God. “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way…” (Deut 8:2). We see their gratitude immortalized in the Psalms.
Secondly, preserving the new dignity as ‘fellow citizens of saints’ and ‘members of the household of God’. This demands us to live a godly life (2Tim 3:12) with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love (Eph 4:2).
Thirdly, avoiding the danger of backsliding or going back to the former ways, which would imply “crucifying again the Son of God” (Heb 6:4-6). Instead, “You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:22-24). “… if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). Paul gives us the rules for new life in Eph 4: 17-32.
Lastly, the Letter to the Ephesians is one of the “Prison Epistles” (Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon) of Paul. He makes reference to himself as the “Prisoner in the Lord”. He wrote it while he stayed under arrest in Rome. Now, Paul the apostle of the gentiles is one who undoubtedly led a life worthy of the calling to which he was called. He is not a prisoner for crime or debt, or a prisoner in war, but a captive in the service of the Lord the Redeemer. Paul’s being a prisoner in the Lord is the cost of living his call. By referring to himself proudly as a prisoner, Paul alludes to the suffering which his listeners/readers may have to undergo while living what they are called to live. “I pray that you may not lose heart…” (Eph 3:13). The Master himself had spoken about the cost of discipleship ample times. He also said, “ but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail” (Lk 22:32).
Leading a life worthy of the calling will fulfil the “one” dream of Paul: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:4-6). This is the “eternal purpose” of the Father in Jesus Christ.
(Fr. TC George SDB, Former South Asian Delegate of Missionary Animation)