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Monday, March 19, 2012

Many Are Called, But Few Are Chosen - Some Thoughts.

Yesterday was the fourth Sunday of Lent, and the Epistle reading for the day in Mass (at least in the old Anglo-Catholic lectionary we use at our parish) was in Galatians 4:22-31.   Our priest gave a good homily on this passage, and it got me thinking about some things that I wanted to share here with you today. 

The passage in Galatians is a teaching the Apostle St. Paul gave to his readers about being "called" as opposed to being "chosen," and it centers around the story in Genesis dealing with the births of Isaac and Ishmael.   Ishmael, as the Apostle notes, was born of the flesh to a bondwoman, and thus was in bondage; Isaac though was born of the freewoman and a promise, and thus was the heir of freedom and life.   Reading this passage over the years, there are actually two dimensions to it, one being literal and tangible and the other conveying a spiritual truth through and allegorical interpretation of the verse, and both are correct.  The Bible, you must remember, is not a one-dimensional book, but is rather the written Word (LOGOS) of God Himself, and therefore it doesn't read like any other book.   It is multi-dimensional, for one thing, and one passage can rightly convey two different truths - no human author can do that.   And, this is one of those passages.  

The literal reading of this text is historical fact - there is an enmity between the two physical sons of Abraham and their descendants, the modern Arabs and Hebrews.  It is prophetic in that it aptly describes much of what we see in the Middle East today, and it establishes the divine right of the Hebrew nation to the geographical land of Israel.   The Arabs, the "sons of the bondwoman," are today under a greater bondage, that of the religion Islam.  And, this passage in Galatians says that he who is born of the flesh (Ishmael and the Arab nation) persecutes those born after the Spirit (Isaac and the nation of Israel), and even the text says that this persecution continues even now - have you read the newspaper lately?   To understand that further, we look at a passage in Genesis 16:12, which says that Ishmael shall be like a "wild ass," and that his hand will be against every man and every man's hand against him, as well as the fact that he shall dwell in the presence of his brethren (Israel).  God also says in the next chapter that the sons of Ishmael will have some blessings as well (oil maybe?).   in other words, Abraham and Sarah disobeyed God big-time when Sarah (the free woman) encouraged Abraham to "knock up" Hagar, the "bondwoman," and there has been strife since.   However, throughout most of history, until the seventh century AD, you never heard much about this until a demon-driven camel merchant in Arabia named Mohammed came into the picture, and then a religion called Islam was born that has driven the sons of Ishmael to behave like "wild men" and also has caused their hand to be against every man and every man's hand against them.  More could be said about that, but that is a whole other topic altogether for later.  The GOOD NEWS though is that Jesus Christ came, and through Him - a physical descendant of Isaac through his mother - many of us have become children of the Covenant, including a number of Ishmael's physical descendants - Arabs have been part of the Church since its earliest times, and through the Blood of Christ many of them have been incorporated into the Body of Christ, and thus made heirs to the promise.   Jesus breaks every curse and judgment for those who submit to Him and accept His gift of salvation, and that includes Arabs as well.   And, that leads us to the other truth in this passage.

There is a spiritual as well as a literal dimension to this passage as well, and it has to do with differentiating between two words, called and chosen.   The companion verse that backs this up is found in Matthew 22:14 - "many are called but few are chosen."  Over the years, this has been one of those verses that has created a lot of debate and issue due to misunderstanding of what it meant, and in order to understand it you have to have the passage in Galatians 4 mentioned above.   Our Calvinist friends have used this for centuries to support their doctrine of "limited atonement," or absolute predestinarianism, but this is not what the verse means at all.   If that were the case, there would be no need for the Great Commission in Matthew 28, because evangelism and missions would be futile - we are called to "make disciples of all nations," and also Jesus died as the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God, for the sins of the whole world, and not just for a select few.   Therefore, it must be understood what this means, and to do that we go to the parable of the feast in Matthew 22:1-14, in other words, the story preceding the passage.  You all remember it well I would imagine - a rich man throws a party and invites all his friends, who beg off for various reasons.  So, although ticked off, he can't waste a good meal, so he has all these people brought in off the street to participate, but one is found without a garment and is thrown out.  The bad dresser aside (a whole other subject for another teaching), the point is that many are indeed invited to come to the table of the Lord, but few actually do.  And, now this is where it gets a little more involved.

When this concept of "chosen" is used, it is more or less in a covenant sense - the choosing goes both ways.  The Lord "calls" all of us, and He "chooses" those who "choose" to accept the call.   In other words, the "Chosen" are those who also make the choice to be chosen.   That, of course, is also a Biblical concept, as it has evolved between to Old Testament and the New - Abraham, for instance, was "chosen" because he chose to follow God, and thus, his bloodline became the conduit through which the Savior, Jesus Christ, brought salvation to everyone else in the world later.  Israel had no choice - because Abraham chose, the whole nation of his descendants, via his grandson Jacob, became a Chosen People (and still are, I might add).  When Jesus came along a few centuries later, something new happened - God had provided a way, through the Chosen, to call us (through Christ) to be chosen as well.   Does that nullify the Jews and their covenant?  Not at all - as a matter of fact, God hasn't forgotten natural Israel, as one day it will be grafted back into the Covenant by the same Jesus who grafted us in; in other words, they will be born again into the Kingdom just as we are, but it will happen in a more dramatic way according to the teachings of Scripture and the Church.  That is why that old worship chorus from years ago, "I Have Decided To Follow Jesus," is appropriate when it comes to this message - we choose to be Chosen!  We in essence also become "blood descendants" as well, because we are made chosen by Jesus' Blood.  Therefore, am I as a Christian a blood descendant of Abraham?  Absolutely - Jesus shed His blood for me on the cross!  I personally consider myself doubly-blessed though, as I am also a physical descendant of Abraham as a descendant of Anusim myself.  One day indeed, the whole thing is going to come together in such a way that ultimately all of us will be blood-bought who choose to accept the call of Christ.   This is a message you don't hear much in today's "Purpose-Driven" nonsense, and apostates like Joel Osteen are also ashamed of the message of the Blood of Jesus because it is "offensive" to them.  But, it is the Blood that makes us the Chosen of God, and only through the Blood is salvation possible.  Anyone ashamed of the Blood or the Cross is ashamed of their faith, and will not inherit salvation in Christ, because He plainly said that those who deny Him will be denied by Him - so, you "Purpose-Driven" people who think the Blood is too offensive to get you the big numbers to make you look good, take notice!  We who are of a sacramental/liturgical mindset are reminded of the Blood every Sunday - we partake of the Body and Blood of Jesus every time we receive the Eucharist, and His Real Presence is in those elements.   I have come to cherish the Cross and the importance of the Blood more so as a Catholic Christian in recent years than I have done throughout most of my Christian pilgrimage, and it has made my faith more alive and I understand better what that is about now.   And, I know now that I was chosen from the moment I said "yes" to Jesus when He called me to salvation 26 years ago in that little Baptist church in Rowlesburg, WV, when I was born again through the Blood of Jesus shed for me and by His Holy Spirit.  Thanks be to God for that too.

So much more could be said about this today, and indeed, the called/chosen subject is something that we as Christians need to understand in order to fully grasp what Jesus did for us all those years ago.  But, hopefully this will be something that will enlighten and encourage all who read this, and may you understand the Blood and its importance in the way Jesus chose you.   And, if you don't know this yet, Jesus has called you to be part of His Chosen - He has died for the sins of the world, and it is a gift that He, as the Agnus Dei, offers to us all.  However, the significance of a gift is not so much in its giving but in its acceptance by the recipient.  And, this is a gift you do not want to pass on, trust me - the alternative is not pretty, as you will die in your sins and spend eternity in eternal hell and separation from a God who loved you so much to even die for your sins.   You are called, but it is up to you to decide to be chosen - make sure today you make the right choice, because it is eternal.  God bless you until next time.