Fourth Sunday After Easter: The Cross Involves A Separation
On the hill of Calvary, in the hour when Jesus was crucified, two thieves, condemned with Him, hung on either side with Jesus in the middle. For the hour of their suffering they were thus separated, if only physically, by the cross of Jesus. In the outcome they were eternally separated, one to perdition and the other to be with Him for ever. This is a picture of what the cross of Jesus always does.
The cross separates men who choose the light from men who choose the darkness.
There are many sincere Christians today who feel that any attempt to separate mankind always has its source in the Devil, and that every movement towards unity always originates from God. This, however, is only because they are not familiar with the Bible. The Bible talks about separation in its very first paragraph. In Genesis 1:3 we read about the creation of light, and in verse 4 we read that God saw that this light was good. Thereupon He separated the light from the darkness. Had He allowed the two to mingle they might have produced some form of twilight; but this could scarcely have served the life- giving purpose for which God had created light. Thus we see that God was the first person to make a separation. He is a God of distinctiveness, and right through the Bible we find this principle clearly laid down. Moreover from a "separation of principle" it soon comes to involve a separation of people. God forbade Israel to mix in intermarriages with the other nations because they were themselves to be a light to the nations who sat in darkness. In the New Testament for the same reason the church is clearly told to be separate from the world (2 Corinthians 6:14). “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership, what fellowship, what participation has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?”
In fact, the very Greek word "ekklesia", which is translated "church" in the English versions, itself means a "a called- out company."
The church and the world thus have something in common with the two thieves who hung there at Calvary on either side of Jesus. Both men were originally wicked, but one was forgiven and justified because he repented.
The other continued in his sin and died unforgiven. So their eternal destinies were different, just as are those of the Church and the World. For the spirit of the world is wholly contrary to the Spirit of God, loving the darkness and turning away from the light. It chooses its own destiny - and finds it.
This separation to God can at times mean a separation from the religious world also.
When what passes as the Church, lives according to the spirit of this world, and not according to the Spirit of God, and is guided by modernist thinking instead of by the Word of God, and the Early Fathers of the Church, a choice may be forced upon us.
When asked the question, “How do we differentiate between infallible teachings of the ordinary Magisterium and the opinions of Church Fathers?”, Fr. Hugh Barbour, a convert from the Episcopal Church, answered in this way, “The traditional opinion of the later scholastics is that when the Fathers are unanimous in an interpretation of Sacred Scripture or a particular doctrine, then they are infallible. This is called the 'unanimous consent' of the Fathers. It is important to remember that the teachings of the Magisterium are evaluated as to their relative certainty by their universality and by the way in which they are legally promulgated.”
“The Magisterium, as it exists now, is supposed to be more technically precise. The Fathers teach practically always in the context of a real homily delivered liturgically or a commentary meant to be read aloud before an audience, with little emphasis on the legal weight of their words. In a certain sense, the Fathers have an authority that is so great that, ordinarily, statements of the Magisterium depend on the witness of the Fathers for their exposition and justification.
It would be wrong to value the ordinary Magisterium simply over the Fathers.
The ordinary Magisterium is like current legislation; the Fathers are the tradition and precedent behind the legislation.”
Now at the very hour when the Lord Jesus was being crucified outside the city of Jerusalem, the priests and religious leaders were worshiping God in the temple, inside the city. They had crucified the Son of God, but in their blindness were carrying on with their empty religious rituals, in the belief that God was pleased with them! Much of Jesus' teaching flew in the face of legalists like the Pharisees. His words were not, at all, contradictory to the Word of God but religious leaders were not enthusiastic about His message. In John 16:2, Jesus prepares His followers, when He says, “They will put you out of the synagogues: yea, the hour cometh, that whosoever killeth you, will think that he doth a service to God.”
Jesus encourages the disciples to maintain faith in the face of persecution. In the most immediate sense, those who followed Christ were subject to excommunication or even death. In a broader sense, the full gospel is offensive to the arrogant, fallen human mind.
There are many professing churches and denominations today that, like the church in Laodicea, have placed themselves in the same position as those Jews. They are carrying on their activities, thinking that all is well with them, while in truth all the while the Lord Himself is outside their church gate, calling out to them and saying, “Behold, I stand at the gate, and knock. If any man shall hear my voice, and open to me the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:14,20).
Separation from the world is in fact a leading theme of the New Testament.
And before He went to the cross Jesus told His disciples that they did not belong to the world. Jesus was Himself one apart - "not of this world." And He affirmed that His disciples were just as truly other-worldly. And because they did not belong to it, He told them, that they would find this world a difficult place to live in.
(John 15:19, John 17:16) If you had been of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
In our epistle readings for today, James tells us in chapter 1:27 that it is the disciple's responsibility to keep himself unspotted from the world. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
The Church is Christ's bride, loved, won and sanctified, set apart, by Him.
This explains Paul's "godly jealousy" over the Corinthian believers. He desired, he said, to present them as a pure virgin to Christ, and he feared lest the Devil corrupt them (2 Corinthians 11:2-3). This explains as well the extremely strong words, "Ye adulterers and adulteresses," addressed by James in 4:4 to believers who showed themselves friendly with the spirit of the world.
In conclusion let me present to you a thought: “To be a saint means to be separated. But it means more than that. The saint also is to be involved in a vital process of sanctification. We are to be purified daily in the growing pursuit of holiness. If we are justified, we must also be sanctified.”
And lastly, let me offer the words of Saint Ignatius: “Hate what the world seeks and seeks what the world avoids”