Preparers Of The Way
“Preparers Of The Way”
Archbishop Loren Thomas Hines
(3rd Anniversary of the Catholic Congregation of St. John, Preparer of the Way)
Tenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
August 20, 2017
Readings: Isaiah 56:1-7, Psalm 67
Romans 11:13-15, 29-32
Today we honor God with thanksgiving. I remember when God spoke to me about the name for our registration – Catholic Congregation of St. John, Preparer of the Way. At that time I wasn’t clear about the meaning of this, but over the months that followed, I realized that in many ways, the Church has failed to prepare the people for the coming of Christ. We want you to be filled with joy that God loves you, but we have fallen short in challenging you to prepare for the coming of Christ. We think that because He hasn’t come back in two thousand years, He won’t come back soon. Scripture tells us that He will come back when we least expect it.
John the Baptist was a very peculiar person. He left all the good things of life and went to the wilderness, clothed himself with camel’s hair and ate locusts – not the insect but of the fruit of a tree – and wild honey. He led a very simple life and didn’t involve himself in the challenges of business, education or politics. He left all that so he could prepare the people for the coming of Christ. One might think that no one would follow this man but Scripture tells us that multitudes left the city to find him because he had a message that challenged them. John the Baptist gave them an understanding of their faith which they didn’t get from the synagogue or temple. He had an anointing that broke through their darkness and lack of understanding and caused even the Pharisees and Sadducees to go to him and see what was going on. The temple was close to empty in those days because the people were in the wilderness to listen to John. The Pharisees and Sadducees had the nice garments and the temple was beautifully decorated but the anointing of the Holy Spirit was missing. They were putting the people in bondage and slavery, instead of setting them free. As I was meditating on these things, I realized that this is how the Church is today; this is where we are. We go to Church on Sundays out of a sense of obligation and receive the Eucharist because we believe that it will give us the blessing for the week, and then we go out and spend our time and effort building our own kingdom. I realize that God wants the Church to prepare the people for something that is closer than we think. We are challenged to prepare. He told the Pharisees and Sadducees who were coming for baptism, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance….repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand! He axe is already at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” These words speak to us because many of us spend time taking care of “me” rather than taking care of building the kingdom of God.
We read today from Isaiah 56 but let me go back to the preceding chapter to see the setting for Isaiah 56. “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” We’re so bound by money and bound by the fear of the lack of it. We believe that we have to work very hard to survive. But God says He will take care of us. “Why spend money for what is not bread? We spend so much for things that are not essential. How much are we willing to pay for a cellphone? “Listen carefully to Me and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance….Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near….For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, declares the Lord.” This is a statement of condemnation because most of the time, our own ways and thoughts are not compatible with Christ’s. We do what we want to do, never mind the consequences. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there without watering the earth….so will My word which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty without accomplishing what I desire and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” This is the challenge that Isaiah spoke to the people because at that time Israel had turned against God. They thought that if they brought their contribution to the temple and paid attention to what the priest said, they could do their own thing and they’d be fine.
Isaiah 56 tells us that even those who are not a part of Israel, those who seem to be a cast out, with no hope and life in themselves, if they come to God and follow Him, He will give them new life and salvation. “Also the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to Him and love the name of the Lord….even those I will bring to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer….for My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.” God wants all people and not just a few to be brought into His family.
In Romans 11:25-26, Paul tells us something that I have not heard many ministers talk about. “For I do not want you to be uninformed of this mystery – so that you will not be wise in your own estimation – that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved.” When the Jews rejected Christ, He told His disciples to go to the Gentiles and bring them in. But there’s a limitation to that ministry to the Gentiles because when that time comes, the Lord will come back and bring Israel back into His household. Looking at the situation of the Christian Church today, I’m wondering if that time has come because some of the churches are failing. They are teaching things that are not biblical. Many no longer go to church. I’m not saying that it’s this way but I pose these questions to myself: Could it be that the time of the Gentiles are coming to an end? Is this why the Catholic Congregation of St. John was meant to prepare the way? This is the challenge that comes to us and we need to wake up and rise up and forget the things that get in the way of our work for the kingdom.
Luke 21:24b “Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” In 1967, Israel took over Jerusalem; the Gentiles were removed. A struggle for that land goes on; I won’t deny that. This Scripture verse tells us that when the Gentiles stop trampling down Jerusalem, the times of the Gentiles will have been fulfilled. This tells me that we may be closer to that time than we think. We’re caught up with so many things – the need to acquire the latest gadgets, the need to stay on top – but are we preparing for the return of Christ? Are we concerned for others? Is there a desire to see others becoming a part of the Kingdom? This year 2017 in the Jewish calendar is a Year of Jubilee. This means that everything is returned to their original owners. If you owe me money or property in the Year of Jubilee, you have to give me back my property so I can take care of my family. 2017 is the Year of Jubilee. God has set principles but we don’t live by them. How many of us have obligations and don’t return them to their owners who may need them back so they can survive? We are challenged to prepare, be alert and aware, and not be caught up in the deceptive system of the world. We think we’re doing okay but there’s no evidence that we are. As John the Baptist said to the Pharisees and Sadducees, live out what you say you are. Bring forth fruit of your salvation. What’s the fruit – the evidence – that you’re a Christian and saved; that God has blessed you?
Paul said in Romans 11 that he’s magnifying his ministry as much as he can because he wants his people to come to jealousy, to see that God who they think is their God is helping and blessing others, that they may understand that God loves all mankind and not just a few. He wanted the Jews to be jealous of this. They rejected Christ so Christ went to the world. He worked with the Gentiles but now is the time that God will return to the Jews and restore them. It’s God’s will for both to receive salvation. If the Gentiles were forgiven because the Jews rebelled, and if the Jews also seek salvation, will not the world be what God intended it to be? “For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?
Today’s Gospel is a beautiful picture of God’s love and compassion. We see Jesus leaving Jerusalem to go to the district of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman came out and cried out to Jesus saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed”. She came from a place where they worshipped idols and this meant the enemy had a door to enter into their being. The disciples wanted Jesus to send her away. Jesus said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”. The Lord was effectively telling her, “You’re not a Jew so you can’t have this blessing”. But she persisted, saying, “Lord, help me!” Jesus answered and said, “It’s not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs”. These are harsh words. Jesus is identifying Israel as the children of God and calling the Gentiles dogs. In that day this was a major offense. Today if we were called a dog or a pig, we would fight back. But listen to her response: “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from the masters’ table”. Effectively, she said that she agreed with how Jesus referred to her. She didn’t argue, defend herself or demonstrate hurt. What she wanted was more important than her feelings. Notice her humility: “Even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from the masters’ table”. She had respect for the people of God and for the work of God even though she was being shoved aside. She didn’t react even if she was called a dog. The need of her daughter for deliverance was more important. As a result, Jesus said to her, O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish”. And her daughter was healed at once.
Let me back up a moment. Here was a crowd following Jesus. There were those who were trying to find fault with Him, anything about Him that they could report to the High Priest. Jesus spoke in such a manner that He was acknowledging that the Jews were the chosen people of God; but He was also using the situation to show to them and challenge them that there were those outside of the Jewish nation who had more faith than they and these were the ones who would get the blessings. He wasn’t putting the Canaanite woman down but was using the situation to challenge the Jews to wake up and be what they were supposed to be. The challenge to us: are we demonstrating what God has done for us? Are we living it out so we can touch the lives of others? Or are we allowing our prejudices against each other hold us back, judging them to be not part of the kingdom of God? We’re called to be witnesses to the greatness of God.
I want to use an example challenge us today. I have a farm and it’s a lot of hard work I do there. I get bruises, scratches, aching joints and sore muscles, but the middlemen won’t pay much for my produce, especially for the small pineapples. So I take them home and make pineapple jam out of them. The preparation and cooking is tedious and painful work; I get burns and blisters in the process. When people see the final product, all they see is it’s good to eat; they don’t see the burns and the hard work that went into it. They taste it and say it’s good but they don’t tell others about it so it just sits on the shelf. I use this as an example because you understand this clearly. We have been blessed in our Christianity. Jesus did all the work, went through all the battles and pain. He was crucified for us, sweat drops of blood, the skin ripped off His back, had a crown of thorns put on His head and stripped naked and nailed to the cross. He did all these for us, but are we telling others what He did for them? What about those who don’t know this? Have we given them the message of God’s love and salvation? They also deserve to know that God loves them; that Christ died for them. We have to wake up and move to tell people how great God is. We don’t have much time left to do this. This is the Year of Jubilee. Could it be the last? Could it be the time when Christ will come back to take back what belongs to Him? Jubilee means restoration. The earth and all people belong to God. Is it time for Him to take us back into His fold as His sheep?
It’s time for us to open our hands, hearts and minds to touch the lives of others who may not know how great God is. It’s not enough to come to church. We think we come to church to meet God, but God is with us every moment of everyday. You come to church to thank God for all that He has done for you all week; to bless Him, not to receive a blessing. Our lives as Christians are not lived out in the church but in the world around us, in the midst of the darkness, the crime and corruption. We are to be the light that gives hope to them. We are to prepare the way for the return of Christ. It’s time for us to move because Scripture says we won’t know the time but we’ll know the season. As I look around me, it seems that the season is upon us. There’s corruption even in the Church. I just read an article by Pope Benedict where he said that the Church is in corruption and on the verge of collapse. We think that the Church is stable but it’s failing, maybe because we have not put God first in our lives. We’re so busy making money when God said we don’t need money. He said, “Come, eat, drink milk and honey. I will bless you.” He will not fail us.
As the Catholic Congregation of St. John, we need to get the job done of preparing the way. Instead of being concerned about how much money we make, we ask how many lives have we brought into the Kingdom of God? How many words of hope have we given others, smiles to those who are hurt, a pat on the back for those who are discouraged? Today we celebrate God’s favor upon us. Let’s not keep it to ourselves. Christ paid the price; put that out in the world and share the good news. I encourage you, let us be what we claim to be – preparers of the way – not keeping the blessings for ourselves but bringing them to others.