Monday, June 28, 2010

The Lord Is Our Righteousness (Jeremiah 33:16)

Fr Augustine Vallooran, V.C

We are living in the era of Democracy. In every democratic set-up, there is a ruling party that makes all the decisions for governance. And there is opposition party, whose role is to play critique, pinpointing the errors in every decision of the ruling party. The duty and task of the ruling party is to justify every decision and present it as the best decision possible for the country. Their failure to justify themselves even on a single issue will risk them loss of credibility and even of power. It is this constant wrangling between the ruling party and its opposition that dominate the headlines in the newspapers. Our way of thinking is therefore influenced strongly by this trend of politics. We make choices in life. And there are always those whose opinions differ and whose interests oppose ours. Fault finders surround us and we have adopted a defensive posture in life.

"I Heard The Sound Of Thee…And I Was Afraid" (Genesis 3:10)
Of all those who are watching us trying to pinpoint our mistakes the one who haunts us the most is God. We are aware that God knows everything. He can see our secret intentions and inmost thoughts – and so we are most afraid of Him! At least in our imagination, we are in a constant tussle with God. Hence, when I make a mistake, the first thing I do is to justify my mistake. I frame arguments to justify myself, my decision and my action before God. I arm myself with a new reasoning to argue even with God and His Word. We have therefore formed an attitude to sin, which is of justification. We adopt reasoning from a book or magazine, from the thought of some psychologist or philosopher. It is so simple to admit - "I have made a mistake" – but we are never able to do that. This is because we have concluded God is the opposition party. This is both the worst misunderstanding and the costliest mistake we have made. We need to drop our prejudices and open our eyes to recognize where God really stands ‘even when I make a mistake.’

"Who Shall Bring Any Charge Against God’s Elect? It is God Who Justifies" (Romans 8:33)
There is a very revealing passage in the Gospel of St. John describing the encounter Jesus has with a woman caught in the very act of adultery (John Chapter 8). This incident clarifies for us the position God takes when we commit a sin. The stunning truth it unveils for us is that God is on our side – even though He must stand alone. He chooses to take up the side of the sinner. God’s one concern is to justify and save the lost. It is not His desire to condemn, cause guilt or shame.

Early one morning as Jesus was teaching in the portico of the Temple of Jerusalem, this miserable sinner is dragged and presented before Him. The woman was caught in a most shameful moment and the crowd gathered to demand justice. They were led by their religious leaders: the Pharisees and Scribes whose one concern it seemed was to cleanse their community and enable all to live a moral, safe and honourable life.

Law of Moses and Jesus Christ

Armed with the Law of Moses, they placed the case before Jesus, "Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say about her? (John 8:4-5) Every right thinking person in that congregation, the tradition of religion, the law of morality, all these condemned her. 
All fingers were pointed against her. The woman stood isolated, ashamed and guilty. 
She despised herself just as everyone else did, for what she did for a living. The woman assumed as everyone else did that Jesus too would take the side of the righteous leaders and conform to the wisdom of the Pharisees and Scribes. 
Jesus was as they addressed Him rightly "Rabbi" or Teacher of the Law. The Pharisees and Scribes expected Him to live up to His role, "Teacher! You are a Rabbi, a master of the Law. You must teach, think and act according to the Law. and the Law requires us to quench the evil in our midst. A woman like this must be stoned to death."

Response of Jesus - Forgiveness and Life

However, we see that the response of Jesus was not forthcoming. The Scriptures present us an interesting picture. "Jesus bent down and wrote with His finger on the ground." (John 8:6) Jesus is portrayed as being preoccupied all the time of their presentation of the case. Religion was clear in its verdict. His preoccupation, however, was about how to save her. Everyone was familiar with the commands of righteousness. Therefore Jesus waits on Divine wisdom to justify this woman. The law must be respected for it did have wisdom. Yet the heart of God is mercy and the law must make room for this. Jesus gave His judgment - for it was judgment that they sought Him for.

He stood up and said to them, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her. (John 8:7)" 

It is true that she has sinned and deserves punishment. But only him who is without sin and more worthy than her can judge, condemn and punish." Here was a wisdom that was beyond human manipulation. Neither was anyone prepared for such a thought nor could they contend against it. The power of the Word is such that it even went further to convict the very accusers! 
For it is recorded that "when they heard it, they went away, one by one." They had to drop their stones and their self righteous attitudes. Jesus sought out this wisdom to save a woman, sinful and miserable. Compassion was the law He could not depart from - compassion so great that it broke the most impenetrable barriers and saved the hopeless sinner!

As we stand before this event of salvation, our attitude to God must change. You and I are aware that there is sin in us. Even St. Paul spoke of this power of sin that was working a death within him. This apostle who was so zealously committed to the Lord had even bemoaned, "I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:23-24)  

David who was after the very heart of God cried out similarly, "I know my transgressions, and my sin is before me (Psalm 51:3)

"Behold I Stand At The Door And Knock" (Revelations 3:20)

When we are stirred to examine how we have strayed and are called to return in repentance, we respond quite differently. We look at God a super cop who knows all my sins and who waits to condemn me. We call God our judge. We know well that before a just judge, we stand no chance for we are ourselves aware of our sinfulness. God is not merely a just judge. We have a God longing to reveal to us His compassion, love and mercy – especially when He sees us lost in or sin. When I am aware of the sin in me, God applies His Divine wisdom to justify and save me. This thought should inspire great love in our hearts and great confidence to come before Him. We seek no confidence in our righteousness or even in our ability to justify. Our confidence is in the mercy and compassion of our God. We have no reason for fear or shame when we stand before our God – however terrible the sin we committed may be – because we a God whose one concern is to win us justification and forgiveness. 

When we seek judgment from Him, we receive the very blessing He offered the sinful woman, "Go in peace; I do not condemn you."(John 8:11)

Jesus said, "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Luke 5:32) Jesus came solely for the sinner. He has come in search of us. He is aware of our sins and how helpless we are in our sinfulness. He knows we need Him – for Jesus alone can take away our sin.
Hence when through the Word the Lord reveals to us our sinfulness, it is not to condemn us or burden us with shame or guilt. He reveals our sins to us that He may lead us to repentance and set us free. This revelation of our sins is the only way that God is able to enter our hearts and take our sins away. If however I stubbornly hold on to my sin, I will be lost. The Lord knows this! Therefore, He stands at the door of our hearts seeking to lead us to a moment of intimate sharing at the Sacrament of Confession. Here I exchange the burden of my sins for the joy of salvation. It is here we are made new creations as we are led to a change of heart. The Lord has promised this – "I will sprinkle clean upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:25-26) As the Good Shepherd, The Lord leads us by the hand to His own heart. As we confess our sins and accept forgiveness and pardon from Him, the riches of His mercy overwhelm us. This new vision of the Lord will transform us as well.

"Every One Who Calls Upon The Name Of The Lord Will Be Saved" (Romans 10:13)
While Jesus convicted the accusers, the woman caught in adultery stood waiting for her judgment. Yet judgment was what she did not receive! As we read in the passage, Jesus would send he away without the slightest warning or penalty – "Neither do I condemn you; go and do not sin again. (John 8:11)

We might wonder how prudent Jesus was in doing so! Perhaps we are more prudent than God Himself. Jesus is sending this woman back to the same society from where she was dragged into His presence. The Pharisees and Scribes were right in identifying this woman as a risk factor to society. If she were left to operate freely, she would lead more men to sin; more lives would get corrupt; more marriages would be broken. More families would be shattered and society would become more and more licentious and immoral. Was not Jesus being naïve and unrealistic when He tells her, "Go, and do not sin again." One wonders if Jesus considered the larger picture when He took this bold step of sending the woman back to her community. How could He expect her not to indulge in that sin which was the way of life for her all these years?

A closer look at the bible passage will reveal one little sentence that came out of her mouth providing Jesus a very firm assurance of her transformation. As she stood shivering in shame and fear even after all her accusers had left, Jesus asked her. "Woman, has no one condemned you? She replied, "No one, Lord." These few words, the only ones that came out of her during that entire episode, hold the key to a great truth for us. Great significance is held in the one word she used to address Jesus – Lord! The Pharisees and Scribes addressed Jesus as Teacher. For them, Jesus was a mere teacher of the Law. He was an authority on the subject of the Law. However, this woman, by calling Him ‘Lord’ made herself subject to His authority. When she looked at His face, she experienced mercy and compassion. Hence, she dared to commit her life to Him – accepting Jesus as the Lord and Saviour of her life. Jesus knew that anyone who accepts His Lordship can no longer continue in the old life but would have to become a new person. By addressing Jesus as ‘Lord’, the woman gave the greatest assurance of her transformation. She was declaring, "Jesus, You are my Saviour and Lord. You saved me from death and my life belongs to You. I accept Your dominion over my life. From this moment, I live as You tell me to." This woman made a very personal commitment to Jesus – one borne out of love and not compulsion that will endure the test of time. A commitment borne out of the experience of compassion and not rationalization will hold out against the toughest challenges and the most persuasive arguments.

Forgetting What Lies Behind, I Press On Toward The Goal In Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14)
This is the commitment we are invited to make in the presence of Jesus. Whatever happened to us in the past, we leave it in the hands of God. Only the Lord knows how to dispose of our past. He Himself does not look into it.

It is recorded that Jesus after his death and resurrection appeared to Simon Peter and calling him by name asked him, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more tan these?" (John 21:15) Though Peter replies in the affirmative, Jesus was him the same question another two times. Peter was grieved but Jesus would not relent and waited till He got His answer again. It is important to remember that this is the first meeting of Jesus with peter after His death – which is also after Peter’s denial of Jesus. In the house of the High Priest, Simon Peter shamelessly denied Jesus thrice and even swore to this! (Mark 14:66-72) Now when Jesus meets Peter again, He mentions nothing about the denials. Jesus was familiar enough with peter to have clarified with him, "Simon, how could you deny me so? Did I not warn you that this could happen?" But this is not in the nature of our God. Prophet Jeremiah reveals that when God forgives us our sins, He forgets them as well, "I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." (Jeremiah 31:34) It is beyond the ability of our great God to remember the sins we forgiveness for – so final is the forgiveness of our God! This is the new covenant God established in the Blood of Jesus by the sacrifice at Calvary.

This promise is for us to claim today! When we repent and offer our sins in the Sacrament of Confession, the new covenant becomes effective in our lives. God casts our sins beyond His memory and hence they cease to exist. Our God is not a God who dwells in our past but a God who offers us a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Instead, the question Jesus asked Peter repeatedly was to lead Peter into the Divine way of thinking to forget the past and to move ahead. What Jesus needed him to understand was the one relevant reality of faith. Hence, Jesus asked him – 

"Now tell me what you are living for? Who are you ready to die for? Do you love me more than everything else? Am I so dear and so precious in your eyes that you would be ready to give up everything else for My sake?" Peter had to search his heart for this truth and there he would find the strength for his commitment.

When we come before the Lord, He is not concerned about our sins for there is only ONE question the Lord wants to know of us, "Do you love me more than these?" Jesus is essentially asking, "Am I the most important in your life? Am I dearest to your heart and the highest in your estimation? Who are you living for? Who are you ready to die for?" These are the questions we need to answer Jesus today. And if I can answer "Yes" to this saying, "My Jesus, you are my Saviour and my Lord. I love you more than everything else" then our life would take a new turn this day. We will not live as we lived before. The change in us will be spontaneous and definite. Before, in every decision, my one concern would be, "Does this please Jesus?" I would only proceed with it if it pleases Jesus alone. Even if my decision for Jesus requires me to walk alone, I find my strength in the Lord’s presence. I am not concerned of whoever is against me for I am no longer under the compulsion to please anyone. My one goal is to please my God. I can challenge the whole world and its thinking when I stand with Jesus because He is my Lord. He exercises His dominion over me when my decisions are in favour of Him.

For Simon Peter, the experience by the Sea of Tiberius where he accepted the Lordship of Jesus, was so memorable that his sermon was on this. After being anointed with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, Simon Peter gathered the people on the streets of Jerusalem and declared to them, "God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified." (Acts 2:36) All those who heard him were cut to the heart, On that very day, three thousand people repented their sinfulness, converted to Jesus and were baptized!

The first Christians were those who were baptized accepting Jesus as the Lord and Saviour of their lives. Today, we need to come back to make this very personal decision. It is a commitment of my life to Jesus where Jesus becomes the Lord of my thinking, my actions, my decisions, my pleasures, my profession, my money and my heart. There is nothing in my life however small or great that is excluded from the absolute dominion of the Lord. As Simon Peter exhorted, "Have reverence for Christ in your hearts and honour Him as Lord." (1 Peter 3:15)

"I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, that I may gain Christ" (Philippians 3:8)
The testimony of a certain girl who made a retreat here in Divine Retreat Centre revealed to me the power of revering Christ as Lord in our hearts. Even in her student days, she was brought to the trial of witnessing to this commitment. While she was doing her final year of post graduation, she fell in love with a classmate. He was the sportsman of the college – handsome, popular and adored by the girls. This young man loved this particular girl very much and he promised to marry her. Their plan was that after graduation, they would speak to their parents and start their life together. She was dreaming beautiful dreams of a life with him. At this point, he approached her one day with a suggestion to go out together. She was ecstatic and immediately started getting ready for this. However, his plans were different. He had booked a room in a hill resort on a weekend the next month. His idea was for them both to spend those nights and days together high up there in the hills cut off from the rest of the world. . She was alarmed at his suggestion and protested, "We are not married yet. We cannot do something so sinful." He tried to reason with her saying, "We love each other, don’t we? And marriage is only a ceremony." But she tried to convince him by explaining, "Marriage may be a social gathering or ceremony for others but for us, marriage is a Sacrament. It will be that all important moment when the Holy Spirit descends into us and consecrates us to each other in the power of God’s Love. The Holy Spirit will enter the relationship, confirm and sanctify it, and offer it to God. It is then that we share our bodies and our life with each other." The young man still insisted, I don’t understand all this humbug. I know I love you and I know you love me. Marriage means nothing to me. Let us go and enjoy this moment we have." She stood firm in her decision and rejected the entire her suggestion. Angrily, he then warned her, "If you don’t come, that’s fine with me. I have reserved the room. I have decided to go and I will go. I will take some other girl with me. There are so many waiting for this." She pleaded with him, Please do not do this. It is going against our Lord." He shouted back, "I don’t care for Jesus. I cared for you." She was confused. She had spoken to him very boldly but inside of her, she was troubled. She lost her peace and was all the time thinking whether he would do what he threatened. She will then lose him forever. That was an unbearable and unimaginable suggestion – a life without him.

She was so agitated that she came here to Divine Retreat Centre and met me. She shared her anguish with me. Admiring her conviction and commitment to the Lord, I confirmed her in her decision, "Your understanding of marriage is perfect. You cannot live together before the blessing of the Sacrament of Marriage. You have made a decision in favour of your Lord. Be happy about it for you have succeeded in the hour of great trial. All you need now is to stand by your decision. 

I proceeded to ask her, "Can you say truly, "Jesus, I love you more than everything else?" 
Who is more precious to you, Jesus, or this young man? Are you ready to give up this boy for the sake of Jesus? If this boy abandons you, are you sure that Jesus will take care of you? Are you sure Jesus is the assurance of your future?" She broke down and confessed, "Father, I really don’t know. I am so upset." I assured her my prayers and asked her to attend the retreat.

"Seek First His Kingdom…And All These Things Shall Be Yours As Well" (Matthew 6:33)
As she waited in prayer, she was anointed in the Holy Spirit. In the power of the Holy Spirit, she accepted Jesus wholeheartedly as the Lord and Saviour of her life. When she returned home, she called up the young man and boldly declared her decision, "Whatever you may think and decide, I know what I must be doing. I have accepted Jesus as the Lord and Saviour of my life. Jesus is the most important for me - more than you are. It is true that I love you but I must tell you that I love you in Jesus. I treasure you as the gift Jesus has given me. I cannot love the gift more than the Giver. I will never betray my Jesus for your sake." Angrily, he slammed down the phone. However, something she never expected happened a a week later. He came to meet her and apologizing, he said, "I am sorry I was angry. I had nursed a destructive thought. I tried to force on you a sinful decision but you stood up for Jesus. I am proud of you. I know I can never get a girl of better caliber. You are a girl of character – a Christian character. I appreciate you and love you all the more for this. There is no question of going to the hill resort now for you have changed my life." He then asked her, "My dear friend, you must show me what is the norm to judge between good and bad. I was caught up in the current – everybody else does it and so I thought I had the license to for it. How do we live? How do we decide: Her answer to him was simple for this was her experience – "Jesus is the reason to live. Jesus is the norm to judge what is right and what is wrong."

In our lives, there as and there will come hours of such great trials. Our decisions are crucial. Yet, this could become the glorious hours where we realize the faithful love and power of the Lord.

To make the right decision, we need to wait on the Lord. We need in the light of the Holy Spirit to find out what is the reason for me to live and love. I must be a person who has a reason to love and a reason not to love – a reason to live and a reason to die. St. Paul declared, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." (Philippians 1:21) 

Am I carried away by the current - living my life as the media, the personalities and culture dictates? 
As Christians, we are a chosen generation – a people with a difference – and that difference is Jesus Christ! 
Today, we accept Him as the Lord and Saviour of our hearts. We accept him as the dearest and most precious treasure of our lives. Then we shall realize the life is a blessing!

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