Jesus Saves Us; We Don’t Save Ourselves

Could I ask a question: Do you consider yourself to be a big sinner, an average sinner, or a little sinner?  It’s up to you how you define it.  What we’re going for is a gut response.  I consider myself a big sinner because I’ve hurt God a lot during my life and I’ve hurt numerous people.  Does anyone else feel that way?

The good news is that Jesus loves us, and big sinners typically have a spiritual advantage because they have a greater sense of their need for Him.  One problem for those of us who consider ourselves to be not-so-bad sinners is that we don’t feel our need for Jesus, and this goes against what the Bible and Jesus teach.  I want to help, but don’t know how.  How do we convince ourselves that we need a saviour when we think we’re innocent and are entitled to heaven?  I’m open to suggestions!

Here’s the message for today: Jesus saves us, and that means we don’t save ourselves.  We’re following up on the Sept. 24, 2023 homily, in which we said: When we die and stand before God, suppose He were to ask, ‘Why should I let you into heaven?’ what would we say?  Part of the right answer is: Don’t talk about yourself.  Don’t tell God how good we are, because we’re not that good.  I’ve fallen into this trap, because I used to think that my response to God would be, ‘Please let me in because I love You.’  But my love isn’t enough.  So, our answer should always talk about Christ—He’s the One Who saves us.

St. Peter says in the Second Reading: “Christ suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.  He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit” (1 Pt 3:18-19).

Let’s explain these words with one story  and one image that we’ve used before.  There once was a family of four: a father, mother, and two sons.  They loved each other, and the best part of their day was having dinner together.  However, when the younger son was 12, he started ignoring his parents, and the most hurtful thing was that he started showing up late for dinner.  His parents asked why.  He gave excuses.  His father warned him that his mother had worked hard to cook for him, and if he kept showing up late, he wouldn’t eat dinner.  ‘You can’t keep on disrespecting your mother like this.’  He gave him a second warning, and a third, but the boy didn’t listen.  The parents were hurt.  One day, he showed up late again.  The mother served everyone but gave the younger son an empty plate.  The father said, ‘This is justice.’  No one talked during the meal.  The younger son started feeling badly for what he had done and also started feeling hungry.  But then the older exchanged his younger brother’s empty plate for his plate of food, and said, ‘This is mercy.’  The younger brother ate, but his older brother went to bed that night hungry.

Christ suffered for sins… the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.’  God the Father loves us, but we don’t love Him the way He deserves: We are ‘unrighteous.’  We are arrogant, entitled, and, when life gets tough, we lie to get out of hard situations.  But Christ is completely ‘righteous’: When people betray and murder Him, He continues to love the Father and us.  And He chooses to take on our punishment.  By His obedience, He makes up for our disobedience.  By His love, He compensates for our lack of love, and our sins are cancelled—this brings us back to the Father.

And, if we don’t think our sins are that bad, remember the image of the painting.  If you destroy my painting, it’s not a big deal, because it’s not that great to begin with, but, even a little damage on a masterpiece is a huge offence.

So, even a little sin against the perfect God is always very wrong.

‘He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.’  By Jesus’ Resurrection to new life, He offers all people who believe in and love Him that same life.  And we receive this life through Baptism.

“In former times these did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which… eight persons, were saved through water.  Baptism, which this prefigurednow saves you — not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pt 3:20-21).  The Old Testament recounts how humanity descended into such evil that God wanted to start again.  People were murdering each other and rejecting Him, and so He sent the flood to punish them, whereas the eight people who trusted in Him, board the ark, and are ‘saved through water.’  Water wipes away the sin of the world and gives new life, and, because of this, it ‘prefigures’ ‘Baptism.’  This is the clearest teaching of the Bible about Baptism saving us.  Furthermore, Baptism doesn’t come from you, but someone else, Jesus.

All of the Sacraments witness to the reality that we can’t save ourselves.  For example, can a priest forgive his own sins?  No.  So, if we were on a plane and going down, I could get on the PA system and absolve all of your sins except… my own.  Hopefully, we’d have another priest on board, ideally not Fr. Anthony Ho, because I don’t want to tell my classmate my sins.

In the same way, you can’t baptize yourself, because, just as none of us gave ourselves physical life, so none of us gives ourselves spiritual life.

When we receive Communion, notice that it’s always wrong to take Communion as if we’re grasping Jesus from the priest, because Communion must be received, not taken.

During COVID, there was a NET youth ministry team who had to quarantine for 14 days in Vancouver and really wanted to go to Mass and receive Communion.  They called me and I told their leader, ‘Because this is an exceptional circumstance, I’ll mandate you alone to give Communion to your teammates, but you cannot give Communion to yourself.  They will receive but you will not.’  Why?  Because this is what Jesus did: He gave up His life so that others could live.

Having said all that, we still have to cooperate with God, have faith and repent.  But the point is everything begins with Him, and then we respond.  Here are three action items:

1) We have a little gift.  This is a wallet-sized card that says, ‘In case of emergency, I am a Catholic.  Please call a priest ASAP.’  The first time I saw this, I thought it was a joke!  But then I realized the theology about which we’re talking  here.  If we’re unconscious and close to death, the Sacrament of Anointing takes away all sins, even mortal sins.  That’s an eternal gift.  We’re talking about heaven or hell here.  If you’d like to have this card, our Hospitality Team will be distributing them on your way out.

2) As we begin the holy, penitential season of Lent, we remember St. James’ words, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (4:8).  He was writing this to Christians who were already baptized!  We’ve received the pledge of salvation through Baptism, and, if we’ve lost it, we can receive it again through Confession.  But then we need to love God in return and atone for our sins by prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  These help us to remember our need for Jesus.

3) We’re starting Alpha on March 7, 2024.  There are people who know they’ve done a lot of harm, and they’re open to Jesus’ love for them.  So this is a great place for them to explore faith and there’s no pressure.  Talk to people about faith and God’s love for them, and invite them to Alpha.

We end now with a testimony of a big sinner, who knows that Jesus saves us, not ourselves.  And think, do you know anyone like him whom you could invite?


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