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(Part 43)


September 15, 2013

Today’s readings:
Exodus 32:7-11,13-14
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-32

God’s people today, just as they were during Moses time, are often rebellious. They are unfaithful to their covenant, they malign their own brethren, they cause dissensions in community, they reject the wisdom of their elders. As God said of the Israelites, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are” (Ex 32:9a).

Now God has appointed you as servant leaders. So when those under your care rebel, God calls for you and sends you. “Go down at once because of your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, have acted corruptly.” (Ex 32:7). Notice something. They are your people. You take care of the problem.

God is actually giving you and them a chance. If it was just God, He needs to get His work done, to move on. “Let me alone, then, that my anger may burn against them to consume them. Then I will make of you a great nation.” (Ex 32:10). The God of justice punishes a rebellious people, because they stand in the way of His work and plan. But His plan continues, and so He would need to raise a new people. And if they do God’s plan, then they will work wonders. Get rid of the old and have the new. Very tempting, isn’t it? But no, you are supposed to stand up for those under your care, to even endure their rebellion, to strive to bring them back to fidelity. So “Moses implored the Lord, his God, saying, ‘Why, O Lord, should your anger burn against your people” (Ex 32:11a). You are to make your case on their behalf before God (Ex 32:12-13). That is part of your job description.

One impetus for us servant leaders to do the above is when we realize and remember how we too were once rebellious (I don’t know about you, but I was). As Paul himself testified, “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and an arrogant man, but I have been mercifully treated because I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief.” (1 Tm 1:13). So what were you before? God was patient with you, perhaps your spouse or best friend bore you in his/her heart, so now here you are. You are even a leader!

Further, we must never forget what Jesus came into the world for. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (1 Tm 1:15b). That is what we all are. Perhaps you are less so now, and those you are caring for, in their ignorance, are more so. But that is precisely why you are their servant leader. It is to serve them, to bring them to holiness, to help bring them to heaven. Paul’s task is your task. “But for that reason I was mercifully treated, so that in me, as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in him for everlasting life.” (1 Tm 1:16).

There are a lot of sinners in the world, many of them even in the Church and in Christian community. Sin is rebellion against and rejection of the Father, just as what was done by the prodigal son. But when the son returned (he did not even repent; he was just hungry), the father was ecstatic. He said “this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.” (Lk 15:24a). In the parable of the lost coin, Jesus says, “there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Lk 15:10). God says, “let us celebrate with a feast” (Lk 15:23b). “Then the celebration began.” (Lk 15:24b).

But here is the sad reality. In the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus said, “I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.” (Lk 15:7). Now let me tell you, if only there were 99 righteous people and only 1 sinner out of 100 in the Church, then that would be cause for rejoicing in heaven and on earth. But the reality is the reverse! Only 1% of Christians are holy enough to no longer be in need of repentance (though we all need to still repent), while 99% are in serious sin, or inactive in their faith, or nominal, or Sunday Christians, or not living out the two great commandments, or not striving for holiness, or not evangelizing. These are all displeasing to the Lord, some of them so displeasing that His anger would burn against them.

Servant leaders, this is your task, to help bring people to live Christ. Your flock will include lost sheep, lost coins, prodigal sons, or even self-righteous older sons. You will need to try to bring them back, often at great personal cost to yourself (ingratitude, dissent, maligning, rebellion). But look to the joy of being able to bring a lost soul back. “And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy” (Lk 15:5). The burden has been foisted on your shoulders. But when you succeed, know that God and His angels rejoice with you.

You have quite a task, don’t you? Look not just on the burden, but on the great privilege. Don’t give up when things are not going well, but endure and persevere. Let go of the long face, and let me see that wide grin.

Be always grateful. “I am grateful to him who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered me trustworthy in appointing me to the ministry.” (1 Tm 1:12). Again, you have been given a great privilege, and given a great task. Be grateful. Be worthy of God’s trust.

What else can we all say? “To the king of ages, incorruptible, invisible, the only God, honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Tm 1:17).

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