Grace to you!
What would have happened if heaven were based on biological family relationships? What will happen if sharing in the life of Christ is based on biological affiliation?
I suppose it would mean that only the Jews would be saved. It would mean that those born in the Middle East would be included and others excluded. It would also mean that all who trace their family tree to Jesus or Mary or the apostles are assured of heaven.
We would end up with tribal religion. It would be so exclusive that the greater percentage of the world would have no chance. You may not even have a chance.
Other consequences would be the triumph of racism, ethnicism and tribalism. It would also mean a blanket approval of clannism and cronyism. People would promote those who look like them or belong to their club, and shut the door to those that are different. It would mean the worst type of segregation. It would mean an endorsement of injustice of the worst kind. I wonder how such a religious faith would be. Unfortunately, some who claim to profess Christ today tend to think this way and act this way.
Good news is that the Lord Jesus Christ has not offered us such a faith. Rather, he shows the radical nature of the Christian faith by teaching us that the most important thing is not biological family, cultural or regional affiliation with him, but spiritual birth into him. “Doing the will of his Father.”
We read from the Gospel of Matthew 12:46-50 his response to a man who let him know his family members were outside waiting for him. “Stretching out his hand toward his disciples,” Jesus said, “Here are my mother and my brethren! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Mt 12:49-50).
In another place, when a woman extolled Mother Mary, the mother of the Lord, for being the womb that bore Jesus. Jesus replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Lk 11:28).
In either case, the Lord was not disrespecting his mother and family. Rather, he was showing that the grace of being affiliated to him is dependent on the quality of one doing God’s will. We are brothers and sisters of the Lord when we do his will, which is also the will of the Father.
When we are baptized, we are baptized into the Lord. We are born again to begin a new life, the life of the Spirit of Christ. We are graced to become doers of the Lord’s will. That is what makes us members of the family of God in word and in deed. It is a spiritual rebirth open for all.
Hence, one of the signs of this rebirth is being like Christ. Loving the way Jesus loves. Seeing each other as family. It doesn’t matter where anyone comes from, because in Christ, we are all brethren. We are family. People who act in this manner are truly the family of God.
I pray that God will give us the grace to look beyond biological affiliations and see one another as brethren.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Tuesday Week 16 Ordinary Time: Ex 14:21-15:1;18-20; Mt 12:46-50]
Grace to you!
In today’s reflection, I share some inspiring words on how you, as an individual, are blessed to be Christ to others.
Sarah, not her real name, opened her door one morning after a knock at the door. She stood face to face with a young man who was not of her race. At first, she was afraid. But the man’s gentle smile and calming voice was reassuring. Handing her a basket full of food, he told her it was all from their church. We thought you may need it, he said.
No sooner had she thanked the man and went in to put the food down than the man vanished into thin air. She looked through the window to see from the direction the man came but couldn’t find a trace. The food came at the right time because she had no food for her and her three children for that day. She stills believes it was an angel.
Imagine yourself at that very moment when you’re in the worst situation of your life. Imagine the time when you needed a savior. Imagine when it seems the world around you has crumbled. Or the time your family is struggling, your marriage is crumbling, your friends have abandoned you, your health is deteriorating, and you are struggling to make ends meet. Imagine that time.
Every person has their moments. Everyone has a time when they’re seriously under the weather.
Years back, following the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonian King (587 or 586 BCE), Judah in particular was crushed. They hit bottom. The Babylonian captivity had done a grave wound to the psyche of the people. They needed a savior and restoration.
Amidst that hopeless situation, God always finds a way to send a savior. Many years later, the Lord inspired Nehemiah, an official (he was first the cupbearer) of King Artaxerxes of Persia, alongside Ezra the priest, to be God’s special instrument to rebuild Judah and restore the community. The memoirs of Ezra and Nehemiah as recorded in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell the story of God’s saving grace. Nehemiah chapter 8, describes the tears of joy, I suppose, the people had when they finally united in the temple to read the Torah and celebrate their restoration.
God finds one, or two, or a few who would be anointed to bring the saving grace to others. Wouldn’t it be an honor to be one of those?
When the Lord, the Savior, shows up in Galilea and in Nazareth as the writer of the Gospel of Luke describes it (Lk 4:14-19), he embodies the Old Testament prophesy of Isaiah (61:1-2) that speaks directly to the mission of the Savior. The Lord is anointed specifically for the mission: to bring the good news to the poor, liberty to captives, sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed, and to proclaim the year acceptable to the Lord. Jesus, the Christ, fulfills this mission and is in fact this Good News of God to you and to me and to all.
You may say, but he came over two thousand years ago and has returned to the Father. What about now? Well, the Lord lives on. He lives on and continues to carry on the same mission. He carried it through that man who brought food and hope to the starving woman and her babies.
The Lord lives on in his body, the Church. For those born anew in this body through baptism, and those who keep the organs of spiritual vitality alive in their soul through faith and life of grace, the Lord continues to live on. The Lord lives on in you as one born anew in the Water and the Spirit.
The Lord who lives on in you as a person and in his Church as the family of God, gifts each one for that beautiful mission of being Christ to others. Baptized into this one body of Christ, we drink of one spirit (1 Cor 12:13) and are to live as Christ to others.
This is one of the most fascinating things about being born anew in the Lord. The Lord makes you and me his special messengers to carry on the mission of liberty, freedom and hope for the poor and to many. He gifts us with incredible gifts, as 1 Corinthians 12:12-30 describes. We are sent and equipped from above to become another Christ wherever we find themselves. Your gifts and mine are part of the same body and are worth sharing and worth celebrating. No room for pitting one against another.
What is it the Lord has given you? What favors have you received? What charisms do you find in this body? Use those to be Christ to others. Remember, you are given that inspiration, that idea, that message, that vision, that grace of healing, that material wealth, that intelligence, that discernment, etc., so as to make your family, your community, your workplace, wherever you find yourself, and with whom you relate, a pleasant, joyful and fulfilling experience.
Be the Christ people would see and give glory to the heavenly Father. Praying for the grace to do so. Amen
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Neh 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10; Cor 12:12-30 or 12:12-14, 27; Lk 1:1-4:4:14-21]
Grace to you!
Today’s reflection may be a little technical given the nature of the message. Bear with me.
From the Gospel of Luke 3:15-22, we read the beautiful story of the baptism of the Lord Jesus. The historical event is also documented, with some variations, in two of the three other New Testament Gospels (see Mt 3:13-17 and Mk 1:9-11). The Gospel of John 1:31-34 references John’s personal testimony that many bible scholars suggest point to the encounter he had with Jesus during the baptism. John attested: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29). You may want to read the biblical accounts of the event. As you read, be open to receive the grace from the Word of God, whose life story you encounter.
As believers, we celebrate every aspect of the Lord’s life and ministry. This is, in part, because for us, the Lord Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. He is the kingdom of God. Life in him is salvation. In him we find grace, righteousness and eternal life. He is the Good News.
All the plans of God for us, as Saint Paul writes, are fulfilled in Christ. “That is why we utter the Amen through him, to the glory of God.” (2 Cor 1:20). The Lord’s birth (Incarnation), which we celebrated during Christmas, is for us grace and joy.
Celebrating any aspect of the Lord’s life isn’t an empty ritual. In doing so, one receives grace and mercy and holiness. One is immersed in the grace-outpouring of that aspect of the Lord’s life.
The Lord’s baptism is the public attestation of the righteousness which Christ embodies and which he has come to institute. Unlike some who argue that it was in the baptism that God the Father adopted Jesus as God, and at his death, the God nature departed from him, the baptism at the River Jordan and the voice that spoke confirming the mission of the Messiah (Lk 3:22), were, as the Lord says to John the Baptizer, “For us[emphasis added] to fulfill all righteousness” (Mt 3:15).
The “us” could be seen as the Lord and John. But more importantly, it could be said to refer to the plan of the Blessed Trinity. It’s the plan of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit from the beginning that the Christ (The Son) has to assume human nature (Incarnation), go through the human reality in the culture in which the Christ is born. He has to be a true identifier with your nature and mine, your brokenness and mine, in order for us to receive grace and life in abundance (Jn 10:10).
At that moment of baptism, the Lord, though without sin, was embodying the sin of all of human race in himself. He had to be baptized in the way humans are, showing us an example to follow. He who has no sin embodies the sins of all of us and goes through the baptism of repentance for the whole of human race, so he can take upon himself the struggles of the human race and nail them at the cross, the second baptism (Lk 12:50), where his blood is poured as the expiation (1 Jn 2:2), purification for our sins. Henceforth, the believer could be baptized not at the River Jordan, but in him, Jesus the Christ, whose death is a “new baptism.” Saint Paul tells us: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rm 6:4). Isn’t this what the Church does when we celebrate Baptism?
Christians are now baptized in him who nailed our sins on the word of the cross and “by whose wounds we are healed” (1 Pet 2:24; Is 53:5). We are baptized in Christ and receive not only the cleansing of the original sin that separates us from original holiness. We are baptized so we become new life, new persons, those born anew in the Christ.
I say this whenever I’m conducting baptism. The best first gift anyone could receive on earth after their natural birth is the gift of baptism. That is the gift of being born again in Christ and being, not simply the image of God which we are, but also in the likeness of Christ. We receive that sanctifying grace, that new life, that righteousness which Christ is. With this, the journey of faith comes alive for that person.
As we celebrate the life of Christ in the historical event of his baptism at the River Jordan, I pray we renew our own baptism in him who died and rose, so we may have life, and have it in abundance. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Baptism of the Lord Jesus: Is 42:1-4, 6-7; or Is 40:1-5, 9-11; Acts 10:34-38; or Ti 2:11-14, 3:4-7; Lk 3:15-16, 21-22]
Fr. Maurice Emelu, Ph.D.
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.