|SUNDAY HOMILIES FOR YEAR B|
|By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp|
|Homily for 7th Sunday of Easter - on the Gospel|
Holiness and Service
|Acts 1:15-17, 20-26||1 John 4:11-16||John 17:11-19|
The Salvation Army, compared to other churches, emphasizes the selfless nature of true religion without forgetting the importance of personal holiness. Its founder, General Booth, once said, "Without any boast, without any vanity, I can assure you that when I gave myself to God I did so more to save others than to save myself." That may sound strange to many of us who take it for granted that the primary, if not the only, purpose of being a Christian is to save one's soul. If that is so, then what we read in today's gospel will also sound strange to us. Jesus declares: "For their sake I sanctify myself" (John 17:19). We shall take a closer look at this profound statement.
"For their sake:" The man Jesus was totally committed to the welfare of others. When he stated the purpose of his life he said, “I came that they [i.e. others] may have life, and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Jesus had miraculous powers but he used those powers more to help others than to help himself. When people were hungry in a deserted place he multiplied bread to feed them, but when he was hungry in the desert he would not turn stones into bread to feed himself. Once he was tired and needed some rest. He took off in a boat to a place of retreat but on arriving there he found that the people had arrived before him looking for him. Seeing how these people looked like sheep without a shepherd, he immediately shelved his planned rest and began to minister to them. Concern for others was the hallmark of his life and ministry.
The understanding that the gospel demands that Christians be actively concerned for the material and spiritual well-being of the less fortunate of the world has given rise to what is called the social gospel. People who are involved in efforts to eradicate poverty and disease in their cities and in other parts of the world reflect the spirit of compassion and selfless interest in others that we see in Jesus. The first half of the statement: "For their sake I sanctify myself," underlines the fact that concern for others is at the very heart of the Christian gospel.
"I sanctify myself:" The second part of the statement, on the other hand, underlines the fact that personal sanctification is an essential element in the whole business of being a Christian. It counterbalances the first. Jesus was always there for other people, yet he did not forget to sanctify himself. People who are so involved in helping others that they forget their own inner life with God see only one side of the coin. How can one be doing the work of the Lord and forget the Lord of the work? People who are actively involved in efforts to help other people must also cultivate an interior relationship with the Lord for their personal sanctification lest they get lost in activism. The social gospel, rightly understood, therefore, presumes the personal gospel of intimacy with the Lord.
Now, when we look around us what do we see? We see so many Christians who are so involved with their own personal salvation and holiness that they forget to show practical concern for the less privileged. Such Christians subscribe to the personal gospel while neglecting the social gospel. They are looking only at one side of the coin. We also know people who are involved in efforts for social justice and peace, who consider it a waste of time to pray or go to church. These subscribe to the social gospel and ignored the personal gospel.
Which of the two is better, social gospel or personal gospel? Taken in isolation none of them is better. It is not a question of either-or but of both one and the other. For us, regular church going Christians the danger lies more in focussing too much on our own personal salvation and holiness to the neglect of active concern for others. To us, therefore, these words of Henry van Dyke are addressed:
May keep the path, he will not reach his goal;
While he who walks in love may wander far,
But God will bring him where the blessed are.
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