You could sum up what I am about to say with four words: Jesus Christ is Lord. That is really all that matters. Jesus Christ is Lord.
Some time ago I was asked to visit a man in hospital. He was probably in his 70s. When he saw me he must have felt uncomfortable, as he began to tell me in so many words, how he didn’t really need me there, as he had a close relationship with God. He seemed to want to prove how tough he was. He then went on to talk about how he was on a first name basis with the Holy Trinity, describing how he related to the Father, Son and Spirit and the Virgin Mary, as if they were buddies at the bar. I can’t remember the exact words he used, but I remember finding myself being disgusted at the way he spoke, as it was so disrespectful. I don’t think he meant to be disrespectful, but it was.
The only way we should come before God, is on our knees with our face to the ground, in awe and reverence for who and what God is. Yes, Jesus is our brother, having taken on human flesh, but He is also the creator of the world, the one who will come to judge the living and dead, the one before whom everyone will bow down and tremble. It is so important that we don’t forget that. That is also why we begin every mass by acknowledging that we are sinners and asking for God’s mercy.
In the Prophet Isaiah, Isaiah is given a vision of heaven, where he sees God on his throne. His reaction? He is terrified. Immediately he recognizes his sinfulness before God’s holiness and he is afraid it will kill him.
‘Woe is me, for I am lost. For I am a man of unclean lips, who dwell among a people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.’ (Is 6:5)
Then it says that an angel came down and touched him on the lips with a hot coal, to purify him and reassure him he would not die.
The Prophet Ezekiel is also shown a vision of heaven:
‘I then saw what looked like a throne made of sapphire. And sitting on the throne was a figure in the shape of a human. From the waist up it was glowing like metal in a hot furnace and from the waist down it looked like the flames of a fire. I realized I was seeing the brightness of God’s glory, so I bowed my face to the ground.’ (Ezek 1:26-28)
In Revelations, St. John the Apostle had a similar vision of Jesus in his glory. He said his face was shining like the sun and a sword coming out of his mouth and his voice sounded like roaring waters (See Rev. 1:14-16). He says he was so frightened that he fainted, even though he had lived with Jesus for three years.
It is very easy for us to become casual about our faith, but it is so important that we don’t, that we remember who and what God is, who Jesus is. It is a wonderful thing that Jesus invites us to have a personal relationship with him and he speaks to us as a friend, but we still have to be careful of how we approach God. He is the Lord and master of all things, the King of Kings, the judge of the living and the dead.
Think about when you receive the Eucharist. We are receiving the Body of Christ, not a thing, not holy bread, but Jesus. How do you dress? How do you hold it when it is put in your hand? Do you flick it back into your mouth, or walk away with it? When was the last time you confessed your sins, as the Lord asks us to, so that we are not receiving his Body and Blood unworthily? St. Paul writes:
‘Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, will be guilty of sinning against the Body and Blood of the Lord. Each one must examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. Anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body, eats and drinks judgement on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick and some have fallen asleep’ (1 Cor 11: 27-30).
Does that mean we should be afraid? No. It is the Lord himself who wants us to receive him in the Eucharist. Pope Francis puts it beautifully. He says, ‘The Eucharist is food for sinners, not a reward for saints,’ but we must be careful how we go about it. We can never be casual, or we may bring condemnation on ourselves and that applies just as much to me. In fact, it is more serious for me, because the Lord comes into my hands as a priest in every mass. It is a great responsibility and one which often scares me, because I too will be accountable as his priest.
Often you hear people talking about God and religion as if it were something optional. You can take it or leave it, it’s up to you. God is not the optional extra. We are the optional extra. God exists, but we need not be here except that God created us and keeps us in existence. God also entrusted his world to our care, not to do what we like with it, but to look after it.
On the last three Sundays of the year, including today, we read Gospels that refer to God’s judgement of us. The parable of the ten virgins, five of whom were left outside, because they hadn’t bothered to prepare. There is also the parable of the talents, where the one who did nothing with what he was given, was condemned. He wasn’t condemned because he did something, but because he didn’t do anything. He was indifferent. Jesus mentioned so many times how there is no room for indifference. There is also today’s Gospel where we have the separation of sheep and goats.
‘When the Son of man comes in his glory and all the angels with him… and all the nations will be assembled before him. And He will separate them one from another as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.’
One group was condemned. Why? because they didn’t do anything. They didn’t specifically carry out wrong actions, but they didn’t do anything. They had been entrusted with the world and the people around them and they ignored everything and did only what they wanted, ignoring God and ignoring God’s creation. The Lord is reminding us that it is his world, his creation and we have been entrusted with his creation to take care of it. It’s not just about us. It is about him. That is also why it is so sad when we get to the stage where we feel we can go completely against God’s Commandments and say that it is none of his business. We can do what we want. The Lord gave us specific Commandments to follow and we will be accountable.
If you think of something like the border situation, where there are so many people coming across illegally. Understandably it is upsetting and every country has a right to control its borders, but the very first thing is to take care of the human being in front of you. If they are starving, or suffering, we have an obligation to help them. The second thing is to deal with the legal side of things. If you find yourself saying, ‘Why should we help them? They are illegal.’ Remember this Gospel passage. To ignore the basic needs of any human being is to ignore the Lord. He didn’t say, ‘I was illegal and so it was ok not to help me.’ He said, ‘I was in need, but you failed to help me.’ It is easy to get caught up in the political, or legal side of it, forgetting the needs of each person.
A few years ago we had a man here by the name of Rami Qumsieh, selling religious artifacts to support the Christians in the Holy Land. He will be here again in February. Afterwards someone emailed me to say that we shouldn’t have to support them as the Church has lots of money. Think of this Gospel. If someone is in need, we have an obligation to try and help them, regardless of their background or legal status. We also have to be wise in trying to help people, as giving people money on the street is not always helping them, but we try and judge it as best we can.
For us to be faithful means we must make conscious decisions to follow God’s law, continually looking to see if we are living it. That’s why we keep reading the Scriptures, to remind ourselves what God is saying to us. Often what God teaches us make us uncomfortable, because He challenges us when we are going off track. The irony is that it is those very laws that will lead us to the greatest freedom and happiness, but we are free to follow them or not. We will be different and it will cost us, because we will meet resistance just as Jesus said we would. But what could be greater than following the very path that God points out to us, the only one that leads to happiness.
Much of our world has rejected the ways of God. In Ireland in 2018, there was a referendum to change the constitution, to allow abortion. It was passed and the night it was passed there was singing and dancing in the streets of Dublin, quite literally. There was a big gathering and a celebration with singing and dancing. Our culture has chosen the way of death, where we decide what we do with life and death. That is the tree of good and evil in the Garden of Evil. God said to Adam and Eve you must not touch the fruit from the tree of good and evil. In other words, don’t play God. Don’t be the ones to decide what is ultimately good and evil. Only God can do that.
If we say that we believe Jesus Christ is Lord, then we must also live as He tells us to live. ‘It is not those who say “Lord, Lord,” who will enter the kingdom of God, but those who do the will of my Father in heaven’ (Matt 7:21).
In the end all people of all nations, creeds and backgrounds, will recognize Jesus Christ as Lord and that it is only through him that heaven is made possible for us. Then we will also realize how blessed we were in this life to know and believe this same truth.
‘…At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess, in heaven on earth and under the earth, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the father’ (Phil 2:10-11).