Friday, September 4, 2020

23rd Sunday, Year A (Gospel: Matthew: 18:15-20) Salvation in Christ

What do we mean by the words ‘salvation’ or ‘redemption’? These are religious terms that we use all the time, but I’m sure that most people would find it difficult to explain what exactly they mean. To try and make sense of them we need to go back to the beginning.

We believe that God created everything: the invisible world and the visible world. We also believe that God’s greatest creation was the human being. It says in the creation account of Genesis that the human being was the last thing that God created, which is a biblical way of saying that we are God’s most important creation; God’s masterpiece, because we resemble God. No animal could be found for Adam as a help-mate. So it says that God took a rib from Adam’s side and created woman. This is a way of saying that we are made of the same stuff and we are completely different from any of the animals.

How are we made in his image? Above all with our free will. We can choose to love and serve or not. We can choose to accept or reject God. We also mirror God in procreation. The love between a man and a woman can become another human being, which is the same as the Holy Trinity. The love between the Father and the Son is another being, the Holy Spirit.

We also understand that somewhere back at the beginning we lost our harmony with God. Something happened that we call Original Sin. There was some kind of rebellion, or rejection of God’s word. The Genesis account of creation says that Adam and Eve, who represent our first parents, rejected the word of God. God told them what they needed to do, but they gave in to temptation and they did not listen to God. Because of this, we lost paradise, the possibility of eternal life with God; we describe it as going to heaven when we die. Now here is the real problem: how could we win this back? How could any human being make anything up to God, since we owe everything to God in the first place? To make up for a human sin, a human being would have to make that offering. But the only offering that could ever be acceptable to God would have to be a divine offering, since only the divine would be worthy of God. So God the Son takes on human flesh and joins divine nature to human nature. Jesus comes among us to sacrifice himself and it will be the perfect offering because it is both divine, which is acceptable to God and human, making up for a human sin. That is the Incarnation. The name ‘Jesus’ means, ‘Who saves.’ So when we say we are ‘saved’ by the death and resurrection of Jesus, this is what we mean. It is now possible and only possible, for us to go to heaven because of the death and resurrection of Christ. What could possibly be more important than this? What could be more amazing than this?


Since all have sinned...

Now here is something that many Christians don’t get and this is really at the heart of our faith. Most of us believe that if we work hard enough at being good and doing the right things, we will be pleasing to God and we will become holy and so God will allow us to go to heaven. Right? The truth is that we cannot become holy enough by our own strength. We will always be sinners, but it is God who makes us holy, if we are open to it.

Secondly, no matter how hard we try we will never be ‘good enough’ to go to heaven by our own strength. It is simply impossible because of the way we continually sin. So what are we to do? Think of it this way: it is as if we can get 80% of the way to coming close to God. But no matter how hard we try we will never be able to make up that other 20%. So what do we do? We don’t have to do anything because God makes up the difference for us. That’s what the death and resurrection means. Jesus makes up for us what we cannot do for ourselves. What do we have to do? We just have to accept that on faith. Listen to this quotation from St. Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome.

Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith (Rom 3:23-25).

God has made all people prisoners of disobedience, so that He might show mercy to them all (Rom 11:32).

This may seem a bit simple, but this is where so many people struggle so much and get so disheartened by their own sins and weaknesses, addictions, inadequacies. We think that because we keep on struggling we will never be good enough. That is correct! We will never be good enough by our own strength, but that doesn’t matter, because Jesus has made us ‘good enough’ by his death and resurrection. All we have to do is accept that and how do we accept it? By faith.

All of us struggle. I always find St. Paul’s own testimony of his weakness so encouraging. Listen to what he says:

I do not understand my own behavior; I do not act as I mean to, but I do things that I hate.  ...the good thing I want to do, I never do; the evil thing which I do not want—that is what I do. (Cf. Rom 7:14-24)

Remember that this was St. Paul to whom Jesus appeared several times. Jesus worked many miracles through him and converted half the Roman world through him and yet this is what he writes about his own struggles. Here he is again:

Wherefore, so that I should not get above myself, I was given a thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Satan to batter me and prevent me from getting above myself. About this, I have three times pleaded with the Lord that it might leave me; but he has answered me, ‘My grace is enough for you; for power is at full stretch in weakness... What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is infected by death? Thank God through Jesus the Messiah (2 Cor 12:7, 24). 

Paul struggled with sin and his own weaknesses, so did Peter, so did Mother Theresa and everyone else in history, but the key to it is to realise that God makes us good enough through the death and resurrection of Jesus. That is what salvation is.

So should we do anything?

And so, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only when I was with you but even more now that I am absent, continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12).

We do our best to live holy lives, to follow the path that Jesus sets out for us, because this is the path that helps us to find the greatest fulfilment. It is not an easy path, but it is the most important one because it leads to God. God knows that the only way we will reach full happiness is in him. God points us in the right direction and calls us to follow this path, but it is up to us whether we do or not. Our struggles help us to grow in virtue, to become the best version of ourselves that we can be and we are called to this. The more we grow the more we resemble God and that is what God wants for us.

You will notice that people who are very holy are usually very much at home in their own skin. Is this because they have it all together and no longer sin? No. It is because they have come to realize that they must rely totally on God for everything and that everything is done for them in Jesus. This allows them to be at peace and they know that. It is Jesus who makes all things possible. He makes eternal life with God possible and they know that. So they rely totally on God and they submit everything to God’s mercy. The closer we get to God, the more it grieves us to offend him, not out of fear of punishment, but because we are hurting someone we love. Padre Pio has this beautiful saying: ‘My past O Lord to thy mercy; my present O Lord to thy love; my future O Lord to thy providence.’

In the early Church the main thing that the Apostles preached was very simple. It was known as the Kerygma, which means to cry or announce: ‘Christ died for our sins so that we would be acceptable to God and that Jesus Christ is Lord’. We are created out of love and we are created for love; to be in the love of God for all eternity. All the writings in the Bible (the Scriptures) point to this.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.

This is why the Apostles and so many others went crazy with this message and were happy to sacrifice the rest of their lives to pass it on. This is why the martyrs died for what they believed in, because there is nothing greater than this message. This is what our whole life is about.

What about all those who are not Christian or never come to hear of Christ? Can they go to heaven too? Of course they can if they live the right way. No matter what religion they are part of, when they die they will know straight away what Jesus has done for us by dying for us and then they must choose. Primarily they choose for or against God by the way they live their life.

So is there any advantage to being a Christian?
Of course there is. It is an enormous privilege because it means that we already know what God has done for us through Jesus and we have the gift of that knowledge to help us all through our life. This is why Jesus told the apostles to go and preach this message to everyone, because everyone should know about this. This is what makes sense of our life and gives us more hope than anything else.

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

and gave him the name that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:9-11)


Where does the Holy Spirit come in?

The Holy Spirit is the one who gives us this conviction. When we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit we become convinced of this in the deepest way and that gives us a new energy for our life. Then we realize that everything is worth living for Jesus and suffering for Jesus because there is nothing more important in the world than knowing and loving the Lord.

Because of Christ I have come to see all the advantages I had as disadvantages. Not only that, but I believe nothing can happen that will outweigh the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For him I have accepted the loss of everything and I look on everything as so much rubbish if only I can have Christ and be given a place in him (Phil 3:7-8).


Think of the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus came to John the Baptist to be baptized. John immediately recognized who Jesus was and even though John tried to refuse, Jesus convinced him that it was necessary. When Jesus was baptized it says that there was a vision of heaven opened and the Spirit coming down on him in the form of a dove. The Spirit was empowering Jesus for the mission he was about to start. It says that the Spirit then drove/led him into the wilderness for a time of testing. He went through a time of fasting and prayer to prepare him for the work ahead. I think we can forget that Jesus was tempted just as we are, but he did not sin.


We are given the gift of the Spirit for the same reason, to empower us to live the Christian life, to follow the path of Jesus. So we are baptized and confirmed to give us the strength we need. The beautiful thing is that God gives us everything we need to help us in every way possible. God continually guides us through the Scriptures and through his priests He gives us the Eucharist. However, we also have to be open to it, as nothing is forced on us.




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