11th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2012
I repeat we are full of confidence, and would much rather be away from the body, and at home with the Lord. This being so, we make it our aim to please him whether we are with him or away from him.
In the First letter of St. Peter, the great Apostle gives this command to all generations of Christians: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope…” But what is this hope of Christians? St. Paul summarized this hope in these beautiful lines from Second Corinthians that we just listened to: to be at home with the Lord. That is Paul’s hope, and the hope of any man or woman who professes to be a Christian, our hope is to be at home with the Lord. What else could it possibly mean to be a Christian, than to have this hope of being one day at home with Christ? So intense is this desire of Paul, and so confident His hope, that he is willing to be separated for a time from the body to be with Christ, for while we are in the body, we are in exile from our true homeland. Paul wishes that the second coming would take place while he is in the body, but if that is not to be, then he accepts the temporary separation from the body, until the resurrection, so much does he desire to be at last at home with the Lord.
The Christian is like the children of Abraham wandering in the desert, with no true homeland in this world, awaiting the homeland God will give them. In the Letter to the Hebrews, we read these lines: But now they desire a better homeland, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Heb. 11:16) The spiritual offspring of Abraham who have no homeland in this world, are those reborn in Christ. Unlike the natural descendants of Abraham who eventually were given a homeland, the spiritual descendants remain till the end of time dispersed throughout the world, exiles from their true and better homeland which is heaven.
Of course the natural offspring also were to be given the better homeland, and there was a mortal danger involved in their attachment to an earthly homeland. You will recall how Samuel resisted their desire for a king, for the danger was that they would then become like all other nations, and would confuse their temporary home, the earthly promised land, with the homeland that God really had prepared for them. And this indeed turned out to be exactly the case. And so God had to graft a wild branch, the branch of the gentiles, onto the vine of Christ to make them jealous, and in this mysterious way one day He is to bring them to that promised land which is not the fruit of human of human labor, but the gift of God in Christ.
The danger for the spiritual descendants of Abraham is much the same as it was for his natural offspring, that we will confuse this temporary home and homeland for the better, heavenly homeland, where at last we will be at home with Christ. Paul is determined to keep his hope fixed on that heavenly homeland where Christ sits at the right hand of the Father. He does so by keeping his heart fixed on Christ, that is, by charity, which makes him love the Lord more than his own body, which includes then his citizenship in this world. Because Paul’s heart and hope are fixed on the heavenly homeland, because he so intensely desires to be at home with Christ, nothing in this world can shake his confidence: we walk by faith… we are full of confidence.
Those who fall into the trap of making this world their true homeland are full of confidence, only so long as nothing goes drastically wrong in their life in this world. We saw this in the decade of the 90″s with the booming economy in that decade and the over-confidence it generated among many people, until, things started going wrong. Then we had the 9/11 catastrophe and a few years later the bursting of the bubble created by the wild decade-long speculation in real estate. With the collapse of the good times, we found out once again how fragile prosperity is in this world.
But this reality check inevitably happens, in less dramatic ways, in each of our lives: the loss of one’s job, a sudden serious health problem, the death of a loved one. Sooner or later, these things make us see the uncertainty of this world in making us happy, and then, hopefully, we realize once again that man was not made for bread alone. Great confidence suddenly is changed into insecurity and fear of the future, fear for one’s life, fear of death, fear of suffering, fear of life itself.
It is all this that Paul says does not bother him in the least – he is full of confidence because his hope has never been rooted in this world, but in the greater homeland, and his desire is simple: to be at home with Christ. Paul’s life is not easy; he is persecuted by pagans and his fellow Israelites, and even rejected by some of his own Christian converts who ridicule and slander him. His life is constantly threatened, and yet he is full of confidence. He has but one judge, and thanks be to God is the very one who died for his sins, Christ the Lord. He is full of confidence because he leads his own life by one principle, “ to please him whether we are with him or away from him.” Even Paul’s visions have perhaps ceased, and now he feels his exile from Christ all the more; but he is full of confidence because he has this one aim in his life, to please him before whose tribunal he will render an account of his life and ministry. No other human judgement means anything to Paul.
What a wonderful thing to have this full confidence in Christ, and it should be our confidence as well as Paul’s. It will be our confidence if, first of all, we refuse to locate our true citizenship in this world, and consider ourselves exiles so long as we are away from the Lord. In this vision of faith, even death itself is gain, and not something to be feared, even though it is so contrary to our natural desire to live in the body.
And secondly, this confidence will be ours if we truly live our lives with that same single aim of St. Paul, to do everything so as to please him who has loved us unto death, in the hope that one day we shall be in our true home with Christ. If we so live our lives based on the love of Christ, consciously to please him, we need not even fear the final judgement, for He who has loved us is our judge. So long as we live in this world according to His will, to please him, are confidence is not presumption, but is genuine hope that trusts not in ourselves, but in Him who has died and risen for us.