|SUNDAY HOMILIES FOR YEAR B|
|By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp|
|Homily for 4th Sunday of Easter - on the Epistle|
More Than Emperors
|Acts 4:7-12||1 John 3:1-2||John 10:11-18|
Christianity has been accused of fostering a low self-esteem among Christians. Christians go to church where the first thing they do is accuse themselves of being sinners. We are encouraged daily to pray the Lord's Prayer where we admit that we are sinners and ask God to "forgive us our trespasses." Catholics pray the Rosary where they pray repeatedly to the Blessed Virgin Mary to "pray for us sinners." Devout Christians cannot go for a day without reminding themselves that they are sinners. And this, some people argue, encourages low self-esteem among Christians. There are indeed many Christians who confuse low self-esteem with humility. But the two are not the same thing. Acknowledging our sins makes us humble. But nothing can give us a higher self-esteem than the good news that, in God's unconditional love for us, we have been forgiven and accepted as God's own children. This is the sublime truth that John reflects upon in today's 2nd reading.
"See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are" (1 John 3:1a). When John was writing this, Christians were harshly being persecuted by the Roman emperor. Christians were accused of impiety because they would not offer incense at the altar of the deified Caesar. Rome had declared that its dead emperor was now a god and was to be worshipped as god by all subjects of the Roman empire. The reigning emperor, who was sure to be deified after his death, was, in the meantime called "son of god" (divi filius). Christians refused to acknowledge the dead emperor as god. Instead they proclaimed that the dead and risen Lord, Jesus Christ, was their God. They also refused to acknowledge the reigning emperor as "son of God." Instead they proclaimed that they themselves, worshippers of the true God through Jesus Christ, were the real sons and daughters of God. At the beginning of this passage, John reminds Christians of their exalted dignity as God's children. Unlike the emperor who claims to be a child of God, the Christian claim is true because (a) it is conferred on them by God himself, and (b) it is authentic. The emperor is called son of god but is not; Christians are called sons and daughters of God, and that is exactly what we are.
"The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him" (1 John 3:1b). If we are the true sons and daughters of God and Caesar is not, how come the whole world acknowledges Caesar as god's son and not us? John gives the answer. It is because the world does not know God. If they really knew the true God, they would realize that the dead Caesar is not a god and that the living Caesar, therefore, is not a son of god. But, thanks to God's love, we know the true God. We know that Jesus Christ is God and we are the real daughters and sons of God.
"Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is" (1 John 3:2). Everyone knew what the living Caesar, who claimed to be son of God, would become when he died. They believed he would become a god. But they were mistaken. Now, what about us, the true sons and daughters of God? What shall we become when we die? Are we also going to become gods? John says no. Actually what he says is, "I don't know." All he can say for sure is that we shall be like God, "for we will see him as he is." Whereas the emperor son of god hopes to become a god at the end of life, we Christian sons and daughters of God can only say that we will become like God. This is because pagan Rome believed in a multiplicity of gods whereas we believe in only one God. So we cannot become gods. The closest we can get to divinity is to become like God.
In this short but profound passage, John is telling his persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ, that they have an exalted position in God's plan, thanks to God's love. What the emperor claims to be, they already are. What the emperor hopes to becomes, they are more certain to attain. Therefore, they need not fear or succumb to the threats of the emperor. The least among
us is greater than the emperor. Who says Christianity gives people low self-esteem? Nothing can boost our self-esteem and confidence more than the doctrine of our adoption as true sons and daughters of God. This is true in spite of our sinfulness, for God's love is gratuitous.
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