|SUNDAY HOMILIES FOR YEAR B|
|By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp|
|Homily for 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time - on the Epistle|
Predestination and Free Will
|Amos 7:12-15||Ephesians 1:3-14||Mark 6:7-13|
Did you hear the one about a group of theologians who were having a debate on predestination and free will? The group soon broke into two opposing camps, since they could not find a middle ground. There was one man in the group, though, who could not make up his mind on which camp to belong. Finally, he decided to go with the predestination camp. “Who sent you here?” asked the predestination theologians. “Noone sent me,” he replied. “I came of my own free will.” “Free will?” they exclaimed. “You can’t join us! You belong with the other camp!” So he went over to the free will camp. There the free will theologians asked him, “Why did you decide to join us?” The man replied, “Well, I didn’t really decide, I was sent here.” “Sent here!” they shouted. “You can’t join us unless you have decided by your own free will. You belong to the other camp.”
There are people who read today’s 2nd reading from the Letter to the Ephesians and see nothing but predestination. Of course, the passage talks about God who “chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world,” and who “destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:4-5). But we must read this not in isolation but in harmony with other biblical teachings regarding human freedom and responsibility for our eternal lot. The problem is not whether the Bible talks about predestination or not but how we understanding this teaching.
In the history of Christian thinking, the teachings on predestination can be classified under two broad types. The first type holds that God creates two types of people, those He has predestined to be saved (the elect) and those whom He has predestined to be damned (the reprobate). According to this understanding, those who are destined to be saved will be saved, and those who are destined to be damned will be damned, no matter what they do or do not do. This version of predestination is known as deterministic predestination.
The problem with deterministic predestination is that it portrays God as arbitrary in the dispensation of saving grace. It contradicts what we read in Acts 10:34-35, “God has no favourites, anybody of any nationality who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” Moreover, it denies the validity of human effort. If God has already decided our eternal lot and there is nothing we can do about it, why then should we strive to do God’s will? Why then would Paul tell us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling?” (Philippians 2:12).
Fortunately, there is a second way of understanding predestination which makes room for human freedom and effort. In this version, predestination simply means that God has created everyone who comes into this world for a purpose. God does not bring us into the work and leave it up to us to determine our purpose. We are brought into the world for a purpose and given the gifts of body and mind necessary for achieving that purpose. "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations" (Jeremiah 1:5). In this understanding, God creates everybody for a good purpose. God created and destined everybody for salvation. God creates only those He has chosen. God did not create anyone for damnation.
God, however, will not force His blessings on us. He loves us too much to do that to us. So God gave us all the power to say yes or no to Him. This is the mystery of human freedom. We can walk in the path God has destined for us. In His will is our peace. But we can also walk away from God and suffer the consequences of loss of God in our lives. And so we make effort to get back on God’s track for us if we have gone astray, or to continue on the track if we are on it. All our effort is nothing but cooperating with God’s grace freely given.
Today’s reading tells us why God chose us and created us. “He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love” (Ephesians 1:4). This is also the reason why God created every other person. Becoming a believer does not change the purpose of our creation, it helps us realise it. As today we celebrate with Paul the amazing grace that we enjoy in Christ, let us pray and work that all humankind may come to know Christ and realise the purpose of their creation just as we have done.
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