BEING WITNESSES TO JESUS
September 12, 2013
Today’s readings: Col 3:12-17; Ps 150:1-6; Lk 6:27-38
We are supposed to witness to Jesus. How do we do that? Right off, we are reminded of who we are, because who we are defines how we are to act. We are “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved” (Col 3:12b). God loves us, God chose us, God gave His very life for us, God wants us to be holy as He is holy, God intends for us to be with Him eternally in heaven.
As such, we need to respond to such mercy and grace. How?
First, “put on then …. heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Col 3:12a,c). This so different from the world of apathy, indifference, pride, abrasiveness, impatience, intolerance, hate. These worldly postures are in those who think basically of themselves, who want what they want, who insist on their personal rights even if they violate the rights of others. In our relationship with others, we are to exercise godly virtues.
Second, we always look to “bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another” (Col 3:13a). This is one key to peace and unity in the body. There will always be disagreements and hurts we inflict on each other, but these do not have to result in strife or division. For those who feel aggrieved, forbear and forgive. For those who have done wrong, acknowledge and ask for forgiveness. Both are very difficult. But it is the only way of the One whom we witness to. Jesus forgave us while we were sinners, even as we were the ones who sent him to the cross. But forgiveness is not optional. If we do not forgive, then the heavenly Father will not forgive us. So “as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.” (Col 3:13b).
Third, we must always be internally peaceful, at peace in our relationship with others, and working for peace in our parishes, in society and in the world. “And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called into one body.” (Col 3:15a). Peace in our hearts leads to peace in the community, which leads to the body being able to become instruments of Christ’s peace for the world.
Fourth, always have gratitude in your heart. “And be thankful.” (Col 3:15b). We thank God for everything He has done for us. We thank Him for our very lives, and health, and daily provisions, and the opportunity to serve. We will always have problems and difficulties in life, but the blessings, if only we are mindful of them, outweigh the woes. In fact, even suffering and pain are salvific, and intended for our ongoing growth to holiness. If we do not lose sight of the reality that we as God’s people are tremendously blessed, thus keeping us grateful at all times, then we can survive and thrive in any situation in life. We can never be brought down.
Fifth, we need to continue to grow in knowledge of God and His ways. The best way is by reading, meditating on and studying the Bible. Jesus taught us a lot of things, which are recorded in the Bible. We can get it straight from him. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col 3:16a). This is what gives us wisdom. Then we will know how to support, encourage and inspire one another, “as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another” (Col 3:16b). One who is the cause of strife and disunity in a community is one who does not know scripture and what it teaches.
Finally, we keep ourselves centered on Christ. “And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col 3:17). Can you imagine the holiness and witness that result from having a life centered on Jesus, a life where everything we say and do is in the name of Jesus? Can we ever commit sin, malign or judge our brethren, not work at peace and unity in the body, if we act as another Christ?
OK, all the above is the “easy” part. Right-thinking Christians will not argue about the correctness of and need for the above postures. But there is more. “And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.” (Col 3:14). Notice something very significant. Love is about perfection. We easily say and agree that we are to love. After all, to love is the core of the two greatest commandments, which in turn sum up the whole prophets and the law. But how many of those who try to be loving are actually seeking perfection? Very few. But Jesus emphatically tells us to be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect. It is a command, not an option.
What is one key aspect and challenge of Christian perfection? It is loving your enemy. Jesus tells us, “But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Lk 6:27-28). When was the last time you did that? Never? I understand, for it cuts against the human grain. But that is precisely it. We are supposed to be transformed in Christ. We are supposed to die to our old selves. Many of us have started on the process of transformation, but we often do not allow God to go all the way with us. Now you might say, who can actually show such love to enemies? Well, Jesus did. And we are supposed to become like him, right?
We naturally love those dear to us and those who love us in turn. We can see that it will take effort to love others in our parish or work place, but we can see ourselves doing so. But to love one’s enemy is the ultimate. It is against all human instinct. But it is precisely what makes true Christians different. “For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? (Lk 6:32a). Such love does not distinguish our being true Christians, because “even sinners love those who love them.” (Lk 6:32b).
How is such love manifested in practical ways? Do not retaliate when insulted (Lk 6:29a). Consider your goods as belonging to God and thus available to those in need (Lk 6:29b-30). Do not judge and condemn (Lk 6:37a-b). Forgive (Lk 6:37c), however grave the injury done to you.
Now since we are still far from perfection, and since we often are quite selfish, what can also help is to be aware of a spiritual principle. What you give or do, or don’t give or do, determines to a large extent what you receive or don’t receive. Do not judge so “you will not be judged.” (Lk 6:37a). Do not condemn so “you will not be condemned.” (Lk 6:37a). Forgive so “you will be forgiven.” (Lk 6:37c). “Give and gifts will be given to you” (Lk 6:38a). If you want to be bountifully blessed, with gifts in “a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing” (Lk 6:38b), then give generously. “For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” (Lk 6:38c). It in a way is being selfish, and we will ultimately have to overcome such a posture. But for the moment, our still-worldly minds and imperfect hearts can readily accept the principle: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Lk 6:31).
But the challenge to love one’s enemy remains, even in doing good with a selfish motive. “If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same.” (Lk 6:33). What then manifests perfection? It is this, that you “love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back” (Lk 6:35a). This is the height of merciful love, of selfless generosity, of godly humility, of authentic goodwill to all, of absolute self-emptying.
Finally, Paul says teach and admonish one another, “singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” (Col 3:16c). Aside from always trying to be centered on Christ, aside from abounding in thanksgiving for all the good God does for us, we are to sing, to rejoice, to celebrate. No, not karaoke with beer. No, not bouncy secular songs. But psalms, hymns, spiritual songs. We are to worship with joy and gratitude.
Praise God in his holy sanctuary;
give praise in the mighty dome of heaven.
Give praise for his mighty deeds,
praise him for his great majesty.
Give praise with blasts upon the horn,
praise him with harp and lyre.
Give praise with tambourines and dance,
praise him with strings and pipes.
Give praise with crashing cymbals,
praise him with sounding cymbals.
Let everything that has breath
give praise to the Lord!
All the above then is the way to Christian perfection. It is all about love and mercy. It is all about being restored in the image and likeness of God, as we were created. “Be merciful, just as also your Father is merciful.” (Lk 6:36).
Is it all giving and self-emptying? Yes. But we are not unmindful of where it is all leading to. We are making our way to heaven, with the path being that of holiness and perfection. We will have our ultimate reward, and “your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” (Lk 6:35). Like Father, like son. Holy and merciful as God is holy and merciful. Perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect.
God bless you all.
“For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.” (Phil 1:21)