FIFTH SUNDAY OF MATTHEW
For thousands of years, God had proudly courted His people. At times they walked with Him, as in the case of Abraham, the Father of the Hebrew Race. Then, there were others who performed marvelous acts of faith as did Nehemiah. Some even rebuilt the crumbling walls of Jerusalem, as did Jeremiah. Additionally, others inconsolably wept for the sins of wrong doers, while God personally pleaded for them to repent, urging them to return to Godly ways.
Many personalities however, remained flawed. One moment they were exemplary people of faith serving God and then, without forewarning, they unexpectedly shifted and began defying God. Jonah, for example, almost drowned before actually agreeing to collaborate with God. Ultimately, Jonah did consent to travel to Nineveh and begin a preaching ministry. Although he agreed to go, Jonah strongly protested God’s decision, claiming that God had gone overboard when He forgave the sins of the Ninevites. Samson did more in support of God when he committed suicide than anything else that he ever did during his entire life.
Among God’s people, there were also those who were undeniably evil. The wicked King Manesseh, the longest ruling king, brandished his singular delight of murdering prophets. Then, of course, we had King Ahab who shamelessly confiscated a poor man’s real estate. When Prophet Elijah confronted the evil King about his crime, Ahab spent the rest of his life plotting for Elijah’s demise.
Behind the headlines of individual Hebrew heroes and villains, there were generations of unnamed followers. In effect, only a few of the followers served God, and those who claimed to have some degree of faith commitment, in the end rebelled against God. Very few repented.
One thing however, remained constant:
ALL THE PEOPLE MENTIONED ABOVE WERE GOD’S PEOPLE. GOD ACCEPTED AND LOVED THEM REGARDLESS OF THEIR WEAKNESSES.
After a two thousand year relationship, God felt that His people were ready for “The Next Chapter” in His “book” of Salvation. God send His Son, Jesus Christ, to teach Humanity the concept of Genuine Love—the willingness to sacrifice one’s self for their neighbor.
While Paul greatly sympathized with his fellow countrymen, he felt that it was time for the Jews to expand their thinking. He introduced the “new order of things” to them. It wasn’t easy. Judaism, as a way of life, promotes
an autonomous, and even independent mindset.
Emphasis in the OT Faith is placed on the individual. Christianity, on the other hand, preaches that we are all interdependent. Christian emphasis is on community and the world, while, at the same time, centering ourselves on God. Jews, as expected, had considerable difficulty changing gears in order to accommodate this new doctrine. They seemed to be at a deadlock. Paul insisted that Jews had to reshuffle their narrow understanding of God and accept Jesus Christ, as He is the new corridor which leads mankind to God’s Kingdom.
The Ten Commandments were deliberately designed to propel people inwardly. It’s not completely unusual therefore to see that these regulatory ground rules had predisposed OT believers to become mercenary. While executing the Commandments, man was in constant contact with God. Through the years, man unfortunately developed a sense of “over familiarity” with the Divine. Some went so far as to relate to God as a good ole buddy.
The love that Christ teaches is not a Commandment. Christian love is an invitation, a personal mindset that we invited to consciously adopt. Christ encourages us to cultivate a loving relationship with God. He similarly beacons us to embrace one another. NT believers are taught from the beginning that their very existence, is a gift from God and not a random event. We are therefore asked to accept life as sacred, while pursuing divine life goals.
The Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee is most revealing. The Pharisee carries himself with arrogance. He displays a conceited air and relates to God as a casual “amigo”. Religion for him is a simple rigmarole of executing a religious duty roster. The Pharisee, and by extension most OT people, viewed God as an irrelevant by-standard. The Pharisee reasoned that he could easily fulfill any obligation to God without developing even a whisper of a relationship with Him. This mentality could explain why the last verse in Romans, Chapter 10, quotes God’s dismay with the OT people (Isaiah 65:2)
All day long I have held out my hands
to a disobedient and obstinate people.
Today’s comments are not anti-Semitic expressions. Instead, they teach us about past historical misjudgments which we are called to avoid, so that the same mistakes will not be repeated.
When the celebrant priest says in the Liturgy, “The Holy Gifts for the holy people of God”, our impassioned response in the Liturgy is “One is Holy, One is Lord, Jesus Christ…”
Singing this hymn is nothing short of a passionate and sincere confession of faith to Jesus Christ. Only with God’s mercy and love are we be able to touch others and enable them to confess their faith by impacting positive change in their life.
Now is the appropriate time for us to make an inventory of the past week. Have our thoughts and actions reflected our faith in Jesus Christ? Did we successfully inspire others to recommit to Christ?
Were we able to personally share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others and, through our examples of Christian living, influence our friends? Non-believers need to see faith in action in order to rise above the mundane which includes selfishness and “me” centeredness.
Christ requires complete assimilation in the faith, in order for us to be able to uplift others.
We have a lot of work to do. Let’s begin now.