THREE STEPS TO SALVATION: A HOMILY ON THE FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C
In order to be saved, one has to go through three steps. The three steps are shown in our three readings for the day. But certain elements make each reading different from another. Let us begin with the experience of Simon, then Paul, then Isaiah.
1. THE EXTRAVAGANT LOVER
At that time: While the people pressed upon Jesus to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret. And he saw two boats by the lake; but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had ceased speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a great shoal of fish; and as their nets were breaking, they beckoned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him: This Gospel according to Luke reminds us of the same narrative in the Gospel of Mark. In Mark we are told that Jesus came and called them and they got up and followed Him. Luke is telling us more. They had worked all night and were tired. This reminds me of all the activism in the world today. We work from pillar to post and we achieve nothing. Then when Jesus came, He did not even take permission before getting into the boat.
This is how God can sometimes intrude into our lives, completely uninvited. We call this the moment of grace. He forces Simon, even though Simon still reserved the right to reject Him. It was good for Simon to have worked all night without success. This will enable him to really appreciate what happens next. Jesus shows him a love that is overwhelming. It reminds me of the day of my ordination. As much as I was overjoyed, so also I was faced with my unworthiness. The only thing that was going on in my mind was, ‘after all I did, how can God love me this much?’ In a sense we can say God arrests you with love, a love that you know clearly you don’t deserve, in fact you are far from deserving. So our experience of God must begin with Love. Then this love will enable us to confess our sins. It is like calling someone who just finished primary school, and offering that person the position of CEO of a big company. The first thing that will come to the person’s mind is how unqualified he/she is. God has a thing for unqualified people. He is an extravagant lover.
2. SENSE OF SIN
I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast- unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believe: St. Paul gives us a list of people Jesus appeared to after His resurrection. Let us not talk about whether any of them was qualified to see the Lord or not. But Paul speaks of himself as one untimely born. This is because, he became an apostle very late. What was he doing before then? He was busy fighting the church and killing Christians. He gives us the reason why God chooses those who are unqualified. Because he does not consider himself qualified, he works harder than the rest at least to justify the person who chose him. All he could attribute it to, is grace. If I am writing and sharing this to you, it is not because I am the most righteous person in the world. It is only by the grace and mercy of God.
3. FORGIVENESS AN HEALING
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings. And one called another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sins forgiven.” And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said “Here am I! Send me.”: Isaiah here is having a temple experience. He begins by telling us the exact year when it happened. This may seem irrelevant, but it shows that this is an experience Isaiah considers very significant in his life. There are certain things that happen in our lives, and because of how important they are, we can remember their dates and we may even celebrate them annually. Isaiah had an encounter with the holiness of God. He was given a vision of seraphims who are praising the holiness of God in the words we use before the consecration ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of hosts’. The name seraphims mean fire and fire symbolizes love. We can say that seraphims are angels on fire with the love of God. We are told that the temple was full of smoke.This is very much in line with the Catholic liturgy. So we can say that at the first step, Isaiah came face to face with beings that were on fire with the Love of God and they sang about the holiness of God. This makes him realize how dirty he is and how lost he is in sin. So, at the second step he confesses his sins. If God was a human being, he would have said ‘confess your sins, then I will manifest my love and holiness to you’. With God, the order is different, he arrests you with his love. Only after that did God send the seraphim to purify Isaiah’s lips with burning coal. Have you ever wondered why at the mass, after the priest has incensed the altar, someone incenses him, then the people will stand and be incensed too? Imagine taking an actual burning coal and putting it in your mouth. You will not be able to prophesy after that. Remember there are burning coals in the censer. This is a symbolism of God sanctifying his people. This brings us to the third step, which is healing. However, Jesus has taken us to another level, where our lips are sanctified, not just by burning coal, but by His own Body and Blood. So we have Isaiah being faced with the greatness of God, then he confesses his sins, then he is healed. This is what I call the three steps of salvation. This is why a catholic who is guilty of a mortal sin must confess his sins before receiving the Eucharist. The Eucharist is a sacrament of healing as is shown in the silent prayer which the priest prays before communion. He says ‘May the receiving of your Body and Blood, Lord Jesus Christ, not bring me to judgment and condemnation, but through your loving mercy be for me protection of mind and body, and a healing remedy.’ This is the silent prayer you see the priest praying just before the Lamb of God. Then during the purification of the vessels, he, or the deacon, or whoever does the purification prays ‘What has passed our lips as food, O Lord, may we possess in purity of heart, that what has been given to us in time may be our healing for eternity. Do we really think of healing when we receive the Eucharist. St. Ignatius of Antioch said that ‘The Eucharist is the medicine of immortality.’
So, in my Journey towards salvation, I have to follow three simple steps. First, I have to experience the Love of God and realize that I am the Lover’s beloved. Then knowing that I don’t deserve such love, I have to confess my sins. Then God will grant me forgiveness and heal me of all the wounds caused by my sins as well as that of others. The sacraments of confession and the Eucharist are very important here. This is salvation.
I am Fr. Ifeanyichukwu Henry Nwokoro, CSsR. I am your fellow child of God and this is my way of sharing my daily reflections with you. Please feel free to leave a comment, suggestion or question. Let everything that lives and that breathes give praise to the Lord.
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