The Gospel of today might come to us as a difficult, if we don’t put it in the right context. It is a difficult teaching, especially if not read in the right way. We have to understand that Jesus doesn’t say that relationships or family are not important. He doesn’t say that we should not love those that are close to us. He does not abolish the fourth commandment or any other commandment. He only says we should give Him our everything.
Today Jesus remind us what the consequences are if we follow Jesus and his true Gospel. Not a cultural adapted Gospel or nationalistic Gospel but the True Gospel of Jesus Christ. When are following Jesus truly then that comes with a price. Jesus tells us that “those that love father or mother, son or daughter more than Him are not worthy of Him”. By saying that he is not telling that we should not love them. Contrary to how many people read that verse, the Gospel does not tone down the importance of God’s commandments. It rather fulfills these things. We know for sure that Jesus was not saying that children should ignore the wishes of their parents and justify it with the Gospel. Jesus was making very clear that if we are going to live the Gospel it will collide with the world. It will conflict with the ways of the world and cause tension with others.
Scholars are generally in agreement of the meaning when Jesus uses the phrase “he who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” They agree that sacrificing their lives for the sake of the Gospel will give them the eternal reward. Jesus tells his disciples, and us, that he asks nothing less than total commitment. He repeats it in other parts of the Gospel.
We cannot be His disciple if we put other things before Him. Be it family, children, country, flag, celebrities, politicians or anything else. That goes against the first commandment. Christ’s call to discipleship, and to a life of complete submission to Him still rings just as true and just as real as it did when he said the words of the Gospel two millennia ago. In America we hear a lot about people claiming having a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” But is that really true? We absolutely believe that our God is real. But do we really sacrifice everything for God. Or is it some kind of Nationalistic or Cultural Christianity where we believe that God is with us and against everybody else? There are a lot of people who believe that. But there are also people show their Christianity through their way of life. “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Jesus’ message of total commitment to Him is not exactly one we hear often in our modern culture. Far too many people are totally committed to their own advancement, their own enrichment, their own nation with their own false Gods. Many Christians think it is enough to go to Church, to quote Bible verses and to pray…. but it is not.
If we think that is what it means to live the Gospel, we have missed the point. In order to receive the sanctifying Grace of Christ, we need to be committed to Jesus Christ all the way. The ultimate reward for this kind of complete embrace of Jesus Christ and His message is that we will spend eternity in Heaven. Living a committed Gospel life may be a daily struggle for many of us. It might be difficult, but we have to remember that Christ is with us all the way. He is committed to us always, so is too much asked that we are committed to Him? The Gospel is not for the faint-hearted. Or like Mother Angelica said: “Holiness is not for wimps and the cross is not negotiable”. It is true because we need to be strong. Jesus told us that difficulties come our way when we choose the Gospel. Every Theology that tells you differently is a false theology. He also said, “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Jesus wants us to give him everything because we love Him. And if we do it is not a burden but a joy. Let us give ourselves to Jesus Christ and his Gospel so we might have life in abundance. Amen.
Today we have to cut into a difficult but necessary subject: Slavery! There are various forms of slavery and discrimination among different groups of people. But we have to determine if the Bible has the same perspective on slavery as we have. Both the first reading and the Gospel talk about Slavery. It is import for us to determine whether the Bible approves of Slavery? The short answer is NO! And neither should we! We should do everything in our power to overcome it. But we have to fair. There seem to be verses in the Bible that talk about slaves and slavery. For instance today we hear about Sarah who sends Hagar “the slave woman” away. So we have to ask that one question on one point: “what does the Bible mean with slavery and also does the Bible actually condone slavery?”.
The New Testament improves when it comes to Slavery but it still seems to fall far short of that which twenty-first century human rights would expect. But we cannot just pluck the Biblical narrative written in that time and culture and add it into our time and age. That would be exegetical wrong. We need to step back and ask ourselves what are the theological, political, and cultural contexts in which the Old Testament narrative unfolds. In both the Old and New Testaments, the words used to denote slaves did not necessarily carry the same connotations that we associate with slavery today. Only by understanding the biblical texts and the cultures that produced them can we understand what is being referred to in the Bible. Early Christians had to work out their treatment of one another under Roman law. And that law was not like “the land of the free” where you could call out things, let even alone change it. The Christian community was a counter-cultural movement in which social distinctions were overcome by treating each other decently. Jesus is Lord, and masters and slaves were expected to treat each other as beloved brothers and sisters and equal members of the body of Christ.
So just how similar was Israelite slavery to our conception of the institution that bears the same name? Not much. Consider first that Israelite slavery was voluntary. Exodus 21:16 tells us that "Whoever steals a slave and sells the slave, and anyone found in possession of the slave, shall be put to death.” To begin with, it should not be forgotten that the Old Testament has ethical, ceremonial, and social codes for that time and place. Therefore, their application to the present day should not always be considered in literal terms. The social elements of those narratives need not apply to us, and the ceremonial ones are largely fulfilled in the completed work of Christ. We see the first statement on human rights: the alien was to be treated as a citizen. More even, the alien should be loved as one of their own (Leviticus 19:33-34). Even when Hebrew law and custom shared in the common heritage of the ancient world, there is a unique care in God’s Name for those people who by status were not considered people.
The regulation of slavery should therefore be seen as a practical step to deal with the realities of the day resulting from human fall. The situations that lead to alienation among individuals, races, and nations are the result of a fundamental broken relationship between humankind and God. Scripture does reveal that slavery is not ideal, both in Old Testament laws forbidding the enslavement of fellow Israelites. The Bible teaches that the feeling of superiority in general is sin (Philippians 2:1-8)! The abolition of slavery is thus not only permissible by biblical standards, but demanded by biblical principles. Practices like slavery should be abolished because all humans beings are made in the image of God. Paul summons it all up in his letter to the Galatians: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. On this principle, the Bible addresses the very economic discrimination and favouritism of which slavery is the worst expression. St. James writes: “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism”. He puts it more specifically: " for if you have done son, have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”
In both the first and second reading it seems that scripture points to another way! Namely that of overcoming these boundaries and strive for equality. It seems that the Bible take an approach that seems to encourage equality while on the same time not make a moral judgement itself. When Sara wants to send Hagar away for selfish reasons it grieves Abraham. But God tells him to let it be, because he will make a great nation out of Ismael as well. This shows that God doesn’t discriminate and it might even be his purpose that Sara sends Hagar her away, to set her free. “What the devils means for evil, God uses for good”. In the Gospel Jesus tells us that “a slave cannot be above his master, but can be like the teacher’. Again we see that same equality. God want us to treat people equally, even if the society has another take on that. We Christians have to raise our level of awareness and involvement when it comes to social issues. If we fail to do so, we pass these issues into the hands of non-Christians. Many times these non-Christians perform better on issues of social injustice then we as Christians do. And that is not right.
While they have no theological reason to do so, the real tragedy is that we who do have that basis fail to address these issues. We remain largely indifferent and weak. We talk about love and kindness as if that was the only characteristics of God! But God is also justice and righteousness. He wants to love but real love asks sometimes to be tough and confronting as well. May the Lord of Scripture open our eyes to see that God is interested in the redemption of the whole of creation and not just that of some. It is as Paul summons it all up in his letter to the Galatians, namely that there should be no division int he Body of Christ: "for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. In that spirit let us pray that the Holy Spirit enlightens us to transform social inequality to Biblical equality. Amen.
Jesus feels sorry when he sees all the people that need help. He first asks his disciples to pray and then sends them out. Praying is always the first things that we should do
Even if we are listening to Gods call to send us. The Gospel tells us that after he asks them to pray he sends them out. "Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. And these are the names of the twelve apostles..." If you look carefully at that verse in the Gospel you notice a change. It goes so fast that you might have missed it. In the first sentence it says "disciples." Then it suddenly changes to "apostles." What's the difference? It are just interchangeable names for the twelve right? Let's compare it with ourselves. When we are in the last stage of being a student. We all made or make the same kind of transition. One minute you are a student, still in training to learn to do the job. Then comes the moment of graduation. They are no longer students but graduates, ready to go out into the world to practice what they've been learning for so many years. The word disciples means a person who believes in the ideas and principles of someone else and tries to live the way that person does or did. Basically a student that is being taught by that person or someone else to follow the principles as laid out. The Greek word apostle refers to somebody that is being send out on a mission. So there is a difference. A Disciple is someone being taught, while a apostle is someone that is going to practice what he learned. It is a important distinction. In a way we are all first disciples of Christ and then, some more then others, become apostles and go into the world on a mission for Christ.
And that mission is more then going to church on Sunday, to say that you have Jesus in your heart or you are able to quote scripture verses. NO! It is to put into action what you have heard and experienced from your teacher. It is to go on that mission and love your neighbor all the way. It is to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and cast out demons. And we can see that both in a literal our symbolically way. The world needs these works of mercy above all We have to show that we are followers of Jesus. We need to be Jesus Apostle’s every day again. Things didn’t changed that much. In our world it is still the case that we are first a student and then comes the moment of graduation. We are no longer students but graduates. We go into the world and practice what we have learned in all these years. And what learned is not staying in the books and make it too theoretical…no we have to practice it as the situation requires. But of course with that what we learned in the back of our minds. We are no longer disciples but ready to for the professional world. We are, in effect, "apostles," people being "sent out" into the world to do what we have been taught to do. That is what an "apostle" does. This passage from Matthew shows us the moment of “graduation”. When Jesus decided that they were ready to be sent out to share in his mission. Jesus saw he could not do it alone so he sends his disciples out. He also ask them to pray that God may send more “workers into his harvest”. Jesus needs more workers to spread the message. He needs you and he needs me and we should go wherever he sends us. Unlike graduates in our world they did not had a completed amount of courses or credit hours. Discipleship isn't that easy. It was more a matter of Jesus deciding that they were ready. And he knew that the world needed them. Jesus had been travelling around for a while and noticed that they were "harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd". As he looks at them, he sees the need. Much more then he can reach on his own. And so the time has come to add helpers to his mission. So he "sends out laborers into the Lord's harvest..."
So Jesus called to him his closest followers, and passes on the power to name and overcome evil, the power to heal and reconcile, power granted to him by the holy and living God. And then he sent them out as apostles with some guidelines. Were they perfect in everything they did? Most likely not. The New Testament tells us over and over again of the ways they missed the dropped the ball and missed the point. They missed the point of what Jesus was telling them. They slept when they should stay awake, deserted him, barely recognized him as the risen Christ and had no clue what to do when he ascended into heaven. One of them even sold him to the enemy authorities. But still…but still.... There is a church in the world today that witnesses to every nation about the Gospel of Christ. Are we perfect? Most certainly not. But still we go out and try to do our best to be faithful witnesses of Christ. Just like the Apostles, imperfect as they were, answered the call of Jesus to be sent out to proclaim the good news. Sometimes we're tempted to see the church as an end in itself. We're happy to gather within our buildings and our communities (again). Just to be in the presence of the Lord. We are content to gather and shut the world out. But that is not what Jesus asked us to do or to be. Being an apostle is a risk. It means we have to step outside the walls of the Church and go into a world of people. A world that is caught in suffering, fear and illusions. God knows that this world needs the Gospel of Christ more then ever. It takes courage to be an apostle. The disciples that gathered around Jesus weren't much different. They most likely didn’t want to go out there, outside the comfort of the close circle. No they needed to go out where they had to be "wise as serpents" and "innocent as doves." But Jesus saw the world, grieving and wounded, and knew they needed his message desperately, then and know. He sent out his first apostles to bear the power of God into the struggle with evil, to heal the sick, to bring the reconciliation of love. And he sends us still, to do the same. As apostles of Christ, we are called to that difficult mission. To bring healing, reconciliation, and love to the world, in the power of the Holy Spirit. We are called to different places and different cultures but we are called to go wherever there are people hurting and looking for salvation. Our world is still full of people who are "harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."
Like the first apostles, we won't be perfect. We will make mistakes, miss opportunities, miss the point and betray our Lord. But our God is a God of Mercy. And he keeps sending us back out into the world, to be his apostles. The first apostles are our forebears on the journey of faith. They turned the world upside down, in the power of the Spirit. And we should do the same. We are called to go out to the world we live in and don’t stay behind the closed doors of “the upper room”. We are called to go out a call out the evil and injustice we see. We need to disclose these practices and try to change them in the Spirit of the Gospel. We need to touch the sicknesses of the world -- fear, exclusion, racism, violence, hopelessness, despair, pain and heal it. Say to the world, "The Kingdom of God has come near." And don't worry or be afraid. God knows how to accomplish it. God’s Spirit will be moving through you. God’s purpose will be accomplished in the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the mission we are called to and so we go. Amen.
Today we celebrate the solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three persons, One God. The father is not the Son or the Holy Spirit, The Son is not the Father or the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is not the Father or the Son. Three individual persons and still the same God. It is hard to grasp that is why we call it a Divine Mystery. We should not try to grasp it with our minds but with our hearts. We are called into unity with the Most Holy Trinity through Jesus Christ. "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you do nothing”. Just as Jesus does his works through his unity with the Trinity, so we can share in that Divine Unity through Christ himself.
The first reading tells us how the Spirit of God created everything in the beginning. He controls the chaos and brings order into existence. Nothing is too big for our God to bring in control, even not the chaos in our world. God created a perfect world but mankind ruined it. Nevertheless God never abandons us and goes with us through history. “I am who I am”. God is the essence of life itself and he could not abandon us even he would want to. He might let us for a moment because we step back from him, but if we return to Him he will always return to us. Without Him we simply cannot exist. The Holy Trinity is a relational God. They are not just two males and a dove. NO! They are a perfect unity in communion with each other. The Holy Trinity does not practice social distancing or the 6 feet rule towards each other and neither to us. They are knit together and with us from the beginning. As they are in relation with each other so they want to be in relation with us. The trinity is all about relations and communion. As they are in communion with each other so should we be in communion with the trinity…and with each other. There is only one human race and we are supposed to be all brothers and sisters….equal to each other. No one is more important then the other.
This communion within God’s own self gives us a glimpse into the very heart of God – and, knowing that a deeper communion describes very well the universe in which we live, speaks to the longings in our own hearts as we are separated from others. We find that the first Christians were less concerned about doctrinal formulation than in following the way of Jesus. They patterned their daily lives in prayer and fasting, in service to others, and gathering for worship. Into that community, they baptized new followers using that same Trinitarian formula. In time, they came to think through what it meant to speak of a God who is both one and three. The analogies used to describe what we mean fall short. Saint Patrick’s three petals forming a single shamrock. John Wesley’s example of three candles in a room, yet one light by which to read. We could speak of other analogies for the Trinity, like Father, Mother and child yet one family. Another analogy lies in our human existence. As we are created in the image and likeness of God, we can speak of human beings as a kind of trinity: Body (the Son), mind (the Father) and soul (the Holy Spirit). The Spirit of God resides in us and so we should seek unity with the Triune God. At the end the Trinity remains a mystery, a mystery of Love. Just like love among humans or even humans and pets. We know so much about those we love most of the time, but at other moments we don’t. We can know a lot about God but he still is in many ways incomprehensible for us. A mystery that is deeper than our minds can grasp.
Humans have a deep need of other people. We cannot just stay alone and come together to procreate like some animals. We learned this during this pandemic. We need communion with others, even if we feel not for it very much. Being separated by the coronavirus has not broken that sense of communion. We found other ways to stay connect how imperfect they may seem. Our news ways of connection comes from that deep longing which is the heart of the Holy Trinity. Loving other people more helps us to see them as God sees them. Loving people helps us to draw us closer to God. That is the communion we were called to. We are not called to cause division…that is the territority of Gods enemy. He wants to divide and to destroy. God wants to unite and to heal. The love we are created to show gives us the opportunity to unite and reach out to those that need us. Not to earn the favor of God but because we want to. Connection with others makes us more connected to God. Early Christians put the practices of faith ahead of trying to figure everything out and put it in dogma’s and doctrines.
That is what through the ages went wrong with Christianity. We need to go back to the basic, hold on to the practices of Early Christians. We can also prioritize our practices of faith, instead of being too dogmatic and legalistic. Nothing what we do relies on us alone but on the grace of God. He will work through the imperfect words and actions from us and others to connect us deeper to each other and to God. Let us ask the Most Holy Trinity to guide us on our way to Oneness with each other and with the ONE TRUE GOD! Amen.