4th. SUNDAY OF EASTER (C)
(Acts 13:14, 43-52; Revelation 7: 9, 14-17; John 10:27-30)
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, today our Easter joy continues by centering us on Jesus as our Saviour from sin and the Lord Who offers us and all believers Life eternal.
In the episode partially recorded in our first reading, Paul proclaimed Jesus to fellow Jews in the following words:
The one whom God raised up did not see corruption. You must know, my brothers, that through Him forgiveness of sins is being proclaimed to you, (and) in regard to everything from which you could not be justified under the law of Moses, in Him every believer is justified. (Acts 13:37-39)
Those Pisidian Jews rejected Paul’s Good News about Jesus’ ability to save believers in Him from sin and to offer them new and eternal life:
Both Paul and Barnabus spoke out boldly and said, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first, but since you reject it and condemn yourselves as unworthy of eternal life, we turn to the Gentiles.
Our second reading also spoke of the gift of life through forgiveness of sins:
These are the ones who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Jesus Himself began His Gospel proclamation along the path prepared for Him by John the Baptist, after whose arrest we are told (Mark 1: 14-15):
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God, “This is the time of fulfilment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.”
Jesus met great opposition to His teaching on eternal life, due, in part, to the fact that He claimed the ability to raise – by His offer of Life – not only some already in the tomb but also others still apparently living (as proud leaders of a stubborn people) who did not know they were already spiritually dead.
(If you are the Messiah tell us plainly.) I have told you and you do not believe Me. The works I do in My Father’s name – (and) I have shown you many (such) good works -- testify to Me but you do not believe. My sheep hear My voice; I know them and they follow Me. I give them eternal life. My Father, Who has given them to Me is greater than all. The Father and I are One. (John 10:24-30)
Amen, amen, I say to you, the hour is coming and is now here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in Himself, so also He gave to His Son the possession of life in Himself. (John 5:25-26)
I give them eternal life and they shall never perish.
Jesus expected of His hearers and questioners both a fundamental sincerity of purpose, aspiring to attain what God was actually promising (as distinct from their own imaginings or deeply hidden personal aspirations or desires), and also an understanding of good-will which would seek to correctly hear and faithfully interpret those promises:
The works that the Father gave Me to accomplish, these works that I perform, testify on My behalf that the Father has sent Me. (John 5:25s., 36.)
My teaching is not My own but is from the One who sent Me. Whoever chooses to do His will shall know whether My teaching is from God or whether I speak on My own. (John 7:17)
Jesus came to share His life and destroy our sin by the sacrifice of Himself and the GIFT of His most Holy Spirit.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we knew with absolute certitude that eternal life and blessedness would be given to us, individually! How truly wonderful!! And yet no one, no matter how holy, has such certitude. That is the Church’s teaching: no one is sure, absolutely sure, of avoiding sin let alone gaining heaven, outside a special, personal, revelation and promise from God. We think that we would do better, be better, with the peace, strength, and joy of such certitude. But God doesn’t think on those lines. He offers us a salvation won at the cost of His own beloved Son’s earthly suffering and death; therefore He wills that we both earn and learn how rightly to accept such a blessing from His most Holy Spirit, Who forms us in accordance with the teaching and example of His most beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. He does this because He wants us to live by His mercy, indeed, but as His truly adopted children able to hold up our heads as authentic members in Jesus of His heavenly family. He wants us to risk our human all for Him, by a humble willingness to repent of past sins and to hopefully commit ourselves in a leap of faith that responds to the Father’s leap of mercy and compassion when sending His Son for our salvation and to the Son’s obedient leap of faith in the One Who sent Him and of love for those to whom He was thus sent.
What are our modern attitudes to that Gospel duo of saving grace and eternal life, repent and rejoice in the Lord?
We hear so much today about the evangelization of sinners. There are some who speak in such a way as to imply or at least suggest that really there are no sinners, only people who are medically sick in one way or another (faulty genes, mental or emotional disorders, pressures of life, lack of necessary education or living resources etc.), together with a present-day insensitivity of medical science which, they confidently insinuate, is as yet regrettably unable to correctly identify other quite natural afflictions still mistakenly thought of as a basis for sinful actions.
Today I read in a Catholic paper: ‘The Church needs to understand families and individuals in all their complexity’. And then I think of Jesus speaking with the woman taken in adultery after being called upon for His opinion: ‘Woman, has anyone condemned you? Neither do I. Go, and sin no more.’ Jesus simply stated the reality of sin, condemned it, warned the woman against any further such sin, and then bade her go away and listen to God’s grace whispering to her in her heart. Did Jesus ever have a heart-to-heart talk with Judas Iscariot (in all his complexity), or did He again trust His Father’s love and acknowledge His Father’s wisdom and power to knock on the door of Judas’ heart for any possible opening?
Today there are far too many words of men crowding out the words of God! Jesus word ‘repent’’ is not normally one of them. Is that due to it being religiously incorrect today? Explanations are given which make ever broader, push ever further away, the boundaries traditionally known to have been set by God. Public punishments were, at times in the past, sadly and wrongfully meted out (children referred to as ‘bastards’, gays publicly ridiculed and criminally punished etc.), especially when the political power was regarded, and relied upon, as the civil arm of the Church. Today, however, getting rid of such past evils (we can speak of ‘sin and evils’ when apparently accusing or implicating the Church but not when speaking of types of modern behaviour or of modern social laws and structures!) puts us in most serious danger of ‘losing the baby with the bathwater’.
Jesus repeatedly and most explicitly spoke of the supreme need to recognize and repent of personal sin, none being good but God alone. Such personal sins result, of course, from personal and willed acts, often external actions which the Church has the right and the duty to label (for the guidance and protection of her people) as sinful actions, but which God alone can definitively and eternally judge as sinful acts by any individuals concerned.
When we turn to the Scriptures, we do not find any of the slate-washing of sin so popular with the modern opinions-givers:
The rest of the human race who were not killed by these plagues did not repent of the works of their hands, to give up the worship of demons and idols made from gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic potions, their fornication, or their thefts. (Revelation 9:20-21)
Where in popular human estimation and for the sake of pride or pleasure sin cannot be accepted as a reality, and when such a disturbing idea as ‘sinful’ is only to be mentioned with words of ridicule or countered by excuses, when emotions are allowed to justify human actions to such an extent that they by-pass or even deny the existence of any ruling human will and therefore of any real responsibility before an imagined God, then everything goes: there is no longer, for such people, any truth; only opinions, and ultimately only popular opinions are worth holding.
Dear People of God, hold fast to a saving awareness of the reality of sin, thanks to which we can aspire to a life which is promised and indeed already being made recognizable and irresistibly attractive and desirable for all called to believe in the goodness, beauty, and truth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Repent, learn to live, and find true delight in loving aright the one God and Father of us all.