Spiritual readings for Sunday 11th of March
05 三月 2018 國際總會消息
Week of 5th March 2018 (reference: readings for Sunday 11th March)
4th Sunday of Lent – Year B - Reading: 2 Cr 36,14-16.19-23; Psalm 136 (137); Eph 2, 4-10; Jn 3, 14-21
The readings for this week are very complex and difficult to understand. Sometimes the messages are a bit confusing like, for example, when Saint Paul says in the Letter to the Ephesians: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God." It is not by works, so that no one can boast. Will it be then that Luther and, therefore, our Protestant brothers were right? Are our works worthless for our salvation? If this is true, what is the use of the Vincentian visits? What is the use of creating the Vincentian special works - homes, schools, orphanages - if they are not useful for our sanctification?
The Gospel gives us some light to this discussion, when it says "whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that his works are manifested, because they are made in God". Therefore, our works are important and essential for our salvation, provided that they are made in the name of truth, or are "made in God". The useless works are those made for our glory or profit. In practical terms, when we make a Vincentian visit, this will be a "work made in God" and "the practice of truth", if we perform it with the feeling of encountering God in the assisted person. And this is the great mystic of the Vincentian visit.
The first reading (from the Book of Chronicles) presents three important historical events: the destruction of Jerusalem, the burning of the temple and the exile (deportation) of God's People to Babylon. The chronicler associates them with the infidelity of God’s People. As we saw in previous reflections, the Jews believed in the theology of reward, i.e., when the People live being faithful to the Covenant and to the Commandments, God offers them life and happiness; when the people are unfaithful to their commitments, they will have death and misfortune. It is a vision in which God is only a trader concerned with making the accounting of the debits and credits of man, incapable of love and mercy.
The Gospel for this Sunday will come precisely to demonstrate the limits of this perspective and to present a God that, although detesting sin, loves men beyond all measure and is always ready to offer them life and salvation. We are shown how God sends his prophets so that the People understand and believe in Him, in the way that Jesus speaks to us in the Parable of the labourers (Lk 20: 9-19, Mk 12: 1-12 or Mt 21: 33-46).
The same happened with Jesus himself: God sends his Son to the world and the people kill him on the cross. Are we aware then that God does not follow this theology, the theology of reward (He does not measure us by our sins), and that, therefore, we must know what we want, be those who crucify Him or those who help Him to carry the cross?
Returning to the theme of salvation through grace or through works of which St. Paul speaks to the Ephesians, it is important to underline that the message is addressed to the Christians of Ephesus in the sense of denying the theology of reward. Therefore, God saves man because of His grace, manifested in the death and resurrection of Christ. The salvation is not a conquest of man, or the result of man’s works or merits, but a pure gift from God: there is no room for any feeling of pride or any attitude of self-glorification (as the Ephesians thought). From the offer of salvation that God makes to man, a new man is born who practices good works.
Therefore, good works are not the requirement to receive salvation, but the result of the action of this grace which God, in his love and goodness, sheds gratuitously on man. In the end, as stated before, the useless works are those that we do for our glory or self-profit. The ones performed in the name of God already incorporate our faith in the free grace of salvation brought by God. That is why it is the faith that brings salvation and not the works themselves.
The Gospel settles the issue, stating: "Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.".
How good it would be to be a Vincentian and to know that what we carry out are not only works, let alone that the works we do are not for our own benefit or to "fill us with glory". All the Vincentian work, since its beginning, in Saint Vincent and confirmed by Ozanam, is the product of our faith that it is God who acts "at the expense of our arms and with the sweat of our brow", as said St. Vincent.