Hence, be imitators of God, as beloved
children, and walk in love, as Christ loved
us and gave himself up for us as a sacrificial
offering whose fragrance is pleasing to God.Ephesians 5:1-2 (New Catholic Bible)
I don’t think there are many of us out there who’ve not heard that infamous warning, “Be careful what you pray for.” As a colleague of many years recently bemoaned, “You know! I prayed for patience for ages and nothing, and then all of a sudden everyday became a day filled with opportunities to practice ‘patience!’” The fragment from Elijah’s narrative elucidates how just how much God takes our words quite literally, and then goes one step further, as we say to ‘put the cherry on top’. God has a reputation for answering our prayer but not in the way that we would expect Him to.
We encounter Elijah just as he reaches the end of his tether. He did just as God had asked him to do and his prophetic undertaking had made Queen Jezebel —wife of Ahab, King of Israel— hate him more than ever and sought to have him killed. Rather than fall into her hands, Elijah fled, first to Beer-sheba in Judah, where he left his servant. Then a day’s journey off into the desert. He came to a broom tree and sat down under it, here he asked God to let him die. He said, “It is enough, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers”. Well, little did Elijah suspect that God would do exactly that — not by killing him—, but by strengthening and restoring him. God took Elijah’s life and transformed it through the ministration of angels and God’s own touch. II think it’s difficult to imagine how disquieted Elijah must have felt when, instead of being allowed to die in his sleep, that angel woke him up and fed him. Falling asleep again to be woken by God a second time. And god, honouring the request made in Elijah’s prayer, sent Elijah into an entirely new chapter of his life.
So as I’ve said before please do ‘be careful what you pray for!’
In John’s Gospel, he gives us a definitive example of people’s misinterpretation of Jesus and the message He brings. When Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven,” (John 6:51) he is asking His people to recall their religious memory —religious memory does not conserve the past but reconstructs it, through texts, traditions, and the present—, proclaiming that he was God’s sign of love and providence for them. What captivates me most is that they understood Him well enough and that they didn’t label him a madman who claimed to be a slice of bread. What they did have a problem with though, is that He claimed to have been sent by God. They were quite resolutely certain that no one they knew, and especially someone of humble origins such as Jesus, would ever be sent to them by God.
Of course, their position assumed a threefold denial. Their refusal to believe that God would send someone of no importance such as Jesus, son of Joseph, a carpenter from Nazareth as His messenger. Whilst at the same time categorically denying that God would ever concern Himself with them or be reckless enough to reveal something utterly new. (Its quite easy to believe in revelations from the past. But the idea that God would bother to speak to any of us today, that’s an entirely different story; the default setting for us in this day and age is to always take things with a pinch of salt, and therefore mostly compartmentalise what we hear as a joke, lie or myth.)
But the we have Jesus’ ideas being confirmed and supported by the apostle Paul’s message. As Paul addresses his people he reminds them: “… do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God …” Jesus’ answer to those who doubted was to remind them that to recognise and appreciate God’s handiwork among them, would actually require both an openness and perceptiveness on their part. Jesus offered them a choice —a choice which each and every one of us is also being offered—, and therefore a choice had to be made: One could either hold to their own theological positions or they could allow themselves to be drawn by God into something more, something greater than they could ever have imagined. In Paul’s plain language, they had to choose between whether or not they wanted to live as the sons of daughters of God, as His beloved children, who would be inspired and who in turn would inspire others.
Unfortunately for them, the people Jesus had spoken to at Capernaum on that day —on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee— choose to content themselves by murmuring, complaining and completely denying any responsibility on their part. They reject the invitation made by Jesus to enter into something new, they justified themselves by resisting the gift offered in His message. They rejected and attacked Him because of his class and social circumstance and began top sow doubt about Him and HIs message. They were ready to do absolutely anything at all to simply write him off once and for all, rather than stretching their scared minds to the challenge of believing that the God who had loved, protected, guided and sustained their ancestors, would now reach out to them as well with exactly the same offer. I can almost picture Paul’s despair, pleading with them and saying, “Let no foul word ever pass your lips. Say only what is useful for edification, so that your words may benefit your listeners. Remove all forms of bitterness and wrath and anger and shouting and slander, as well as all malice from your lives.Rather, be kind to one another and compassionate, and forgive one another as God has forgiven you in Christ!” Jesus asked them and Paul pleaded with them to simply lead their lives based upon Love
John the Evangelist did not write a history book, he wrote a Gospel, it was designed to enable evangelisation; it’s also a call to conversion for his community and for those yet to come. He wanted us to find ourselves in the narrative and to respond to it accordingly. The Letter to the Ephesians, whether from the hand of Paul or one of his disciples, is a circular letter addressed to every church and Christian around the world, and not just to a single community. Without knowing us, both the Evangelist Saint John the Beloved and the Apostle Saint Paul were writing to us personally.
So what exactly are they inviting us to?
- They are asking us to pluck up courage and recognize just how well we think our complaints and criticism’s will serve us as a defence against God’s invitations.
- more importantly, both John and Paul are reminding us that the God of Israel, the God of Jesus has never ever stopped speaking to us or revealing Himself to us.
The God who sustained the people in the desert and who spoke through Jesus is still longing to draw us closer to Him. Jesus is inviting us to be nourished by his life and Word, and we should do as Paul asks for our own sakes, we need to become imitators of Jesus Christ. We have to emulate the Jesus who gave himself to God by giving himself to others, by becoming flesh for the life of the world.
Ok so through today’s gospel narrative we can honestly concede that murmuring, complaining and moaning about everything and anything is a far easier task than to pray and believe in Him. Those who choose the ‘murmuring way’ also run the risk of loosing the opportunity of an encounter with the living God. He who answers prayer’s in a uniquely new-way, life-giving, mind and soul metamorphosing process.
Paul was determined to live in accordance with God’s revealed will just as Jesus had done in His earthly ministry. He pursued Christlikeness as a goal. Should we not also do the same? What harm would it do us to at least try to emulate the life of Christ, the Apostles and the saints. Would it not begin to make the world a better place for all?
The whole character of Jesus’ life of obedience to God’s commandments shows us how —as disciples of Jesus— we must live in this world. His call is the same today as it was yesterday when He first walked upon the earth: “Follow me.” So, we are to pattern our love for one another after His love for us (John 13:34). We must develop the same mentality of a servitor because we note “the Son of Man did not come to be served but rather to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). We must endure unjust suffering with patience with the knowledge that this is a required part of our mission to imitate Christ. What is it they say? “No pain no gain!”
I would like to leave you this Sunday with one last thought to ponder “There is no single practical truth in the Word of God on which the Spirit is more emphatic than the example which Christ has set for his followers to imitate. The church needed a perfect pattern, a flawless model. It wanted a living embodiment of those precepts of the gospel so strictly enjoined upon every believer, and God has graciously set before us our true model.”
I pray that the blessing of almighty God the Father,
God the Son and God the Holy Spirit descend upon each
and every one of you brothers and sisters,
and remain with you for all time.