Saturday, August 8, 2009

Ephesians 2:4-8

" . . . even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ (by grace you have been saved), raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast." (Ephesians 2:5-8).

Last time we looked at the recipients of God's mercy and at the reason for His mercy -- that being His grace toward us. We also defined grace, essentially, as God doing for man what man could not do for himself. And so in this text St. Paul tells us we are saved by grace "through faith, and this is not from you; it is a gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast."

Let's look at what we are saved from, and what we are save to.

First, we are saved from God's wrath against sin.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say (paragraph 1034): Jesus often speaks of "Gehenna" of "the unquenchable fire" reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted . . . Jesus solemnly proclaims that he "will send his angels, and they will gather . . . all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire,"and that he will pronounce the condemnation: "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!" (See also here, here, here, and here ).

Referencing the Catechism, Fr. Corapi writes, in his essay The Last Things: Judgment, Heaven, Hell, Purgatory:

This statement of our faith is clear and is not to be nuanced into oblivion. Every soul ultimately ends in heaven or hell. How we live here and now determines how we shall live forever. . . . If we die without repenting, hell is the result. We do not like to think of this, much less speak of it, but it is necessary to do so. Mercy is for now; judgment is for later. We must accept God's mercy now through repentance and the sacrament of reconciliation while there is still time.

Mel Gibson's, "The Passion of the Christ" portrays Jesus' beating and crucifixion the way it likely occurred. Isaiah's prophecy suggests that the Messiah would be nearly unrecognizable from the beating He would receive (52:13-15). And knowing the anger of the mob gathered to demand Jesus' death, and how Romans soldiers in Palestine disliked the Jews, it is reasonable to believe the soldiers were as merciless as Gibson portrays them.

But why did the Father permit His Son to be so brutalized? Scripture tells us that those sacred wounds demonstrate with divine clarity how God feels about sin. St. Paul tells us Christ became sin for us, so we who are in Christ might become the righteousness of God.

God is a God of love. But His justice will not permit unrepented sin to go unchallenged or unpunished. In her Dialogue, St. Catherine of Siena (one of the Doctors of the Church) received these words from God: For my divine justice demanded suffering in atonement for sin . . .Yet I really wanted to restore you, incapable as you were of making atonement for yourself. And because you were so utterly handicapped, I sent the Word, my Son; I clothed him with the same nature as yours . . . so that he could suffer . . . and by suffering in his body . . . would placate my anger.

The Father permitted His Son to suffer and die to pay the penalty our sins demanded. And, by His death, Jesus delivered us -- saved us -- from the demand of God's justice, and opened the way for His mercy.

That is the best definition of grace I know of.

So, God's wrath and judgment are what we are save from. Now let's look at what we are saved to:

We are saved to an eternal life of peace, joy and fulfillment in God's presence. For example, see here, and here. And the Lord Jesus promised He is preparing a place for us in our new home.

Heaven is not an insignificant destination. The older I get, the more I see, the more I lose to death and disease, the more I long to embrace my promised home where there will never again be war. Or heartache. Or death. Or loss. Or separation. We will be in the actual presence of our Triune God and our loved ones forever.

And, speaking of loved ones, I cannot imagine -- and probably neither can you -- I cannot imagine how heaven will truly be heaven for me if those I love are not there because they chose in this life to reject God's mercy. I shudder every day -- every day -- when I think of that possibility. But I have also learned to trust that God's love for them is higher than mine, that His passion for them is greater than mine . . . and that He is not willing for any to perish outside of His embrace. And so I wait for the miracle of His grace in their lives.

St. Paul tells us in today's text that God did not extend to us His salvation on the basis of who we are, how often we attend Mass, or feed the sick, or help the helpless. If those things could save us, then Jesus died in vain (see here) and we could boast before God that we deserve His salvation.

But the reality is completely different. We are saved because of what God Himself did in the form of a Man. Through the second Person of the Trinity, God satisfied His justice against sin, while at the same time extended His mercy toward the sinner.

No wonder St. Paul cried out, "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!"
Questions for Reflection:
1. St. Clement (died 99 AD) wrote: This world and that to come are two enemies. We cannot therefore be friends to both; but we must resolve which we would forsake and which we would enjoy. How does this statement compare with that of St. James here? And what might you do to move yourself in the right direction?
2. St. Francis of Assisi said, "Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words." God gives us the privilege of working with Him for the salvation of our family and friends. Does your lifestyle preach the good news of salvation? Do your lips tell others of God's love?

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