O God who hast prepared for them that love Thee
such good things as pass man’s understanding…
(Collect: Trinity VI)
Trinity-tide is all about growing in the knowledge and love of God; it is the green season, and in it, we focus on God’s spiritual harvesting of fertile virtue in our souls. The green vestments and Altar hangings of the season encourage us to pursue the fecundity of spiritual love and hope. We are being readied for things whose goodness, truth, and beauty exceed our wildest imagination. Yet the promised vision hinges upon our loving God above all things. The Divine Lover will reward our love for Him if we intend above all to be taken into His embrace. Our spiritual passion must be focused upon obtaining the Divine promises. Pour into our hearts such love toward Thee, that we, loving Thee above all things, may obtain Thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire. Not only will the vision of God exceed the limitations of human thought, but the love of God will burst the bounds of all human affection.
But loving God doesn’t come easily or quickly. The virtue is not easily attained. Last week we remembered the life and witness of Saints Peter and Paul and how they surrendered themselves to the radical otherness of God in Jesus. And so with a deeper fear of the Lord, their faith and confidence in Jesus were stirred as they forsook all and followed Him. (St. Luke v. 11) As such, they were being caught up in Christ’s net. Slowly but surely they began to die to themselves as they began to love Him, who loved them with the love of the Father. To be loved inspires unanticipated responsive affection. As the Apostles were touched by the love of God from the heart of Jesus, they would then begin to cultivate and perfect reciprocal love.
If we are going to learn how to love God above all things, we had better begin with obedience, the fear of the Lord, and faith in God’s promises. Christ says to us today that except [our] righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, [we] shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. (St. Matthew v. 20) The righteousness or justice of the ancient Jews –of the Scribes and Pharisees – is the law of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Jesus makes it clear that the observance of this law reveals a kind of love that is limited, measured, and contrived to yield earthly gain. It is intent upon manipulating and controlling people so that they behave in a certain way. It judges men and then rewards or punishes the effects or results of their choices. It might even assume that human justice is ultimate and final. But, as Romano Guardini reminds us, so long as we cling to this human justice, we will never be guiltless of injustice. As long as we are entangled in wrong and revenge, blow and counterblow, aggression and defense, we will be constantly drawn into fresh wrong. (The Lord, p. 81) Think about it. We are moved and defined by evil and what is wrong. In response to it, we think that we must use only those tools that evil understands. We are actually caught in wrong and evil. We think that we are doing good but we have forgotten that we ought to overcome evil with a much greater good, the good that comes from love. We think that we have won a victory for justice when in truth we have become the unwitting victims of an unending cycle of sin. Vengeance is mine. I will repay, saith the Lord. (Romans xii. 19)
Jesus goes on to find the origin and cause of our inadequate love in the soul. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: but I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.(Ibid, 21, 22) By reason of our fallen spiritual condition we naturally love those who love us and hate those who hate us. We love those less who do not love us enough or meet our expectations. We judge their inadequate love to be hate and we respond in kind or worse. And while there may be just cause for righteous anger in certain situations, Christ seems to imply that this is all the more reason to love with greater passion in the interests of helping an offending brother out of his sin and into righteousness. This is what God wants. Yet because of our own insecurities, we respond with, Raca or Thou Fool! The Biblical Scholars tells us that Raca means worthless or empty one. So, beginning from within the human heart and mind the man who is angry with his brother and not the cause (Idem) is in spiritual trouble. Jesus says that what happens is that the sinner and not his sin has become an object of retaliation and retribution. What has happened is that the offending party has been elevated to the status of a worthless and empty false god. If we hadn’t made him into a false god, we would hate the sin but love the sinner!
Jesus teaches us that the real threat to loving [God] above all things is internal and spiritual insecurity and fear. Anger or wrath is easier than the creative love that might help a brother or sister. Sloth also impedes the desire to help. Envy and Pride, no doubt, play their respective roles. When one hates another man, he ceases to hope for that man’s conversion and salvation. He judges his enemy –if he even is an enemy because he has never felt the healing power of God’s mercy in his own soul. He is probably afraid to be touched by God’s love. He forgets that his soul is always in need of God’s power of healing and transformation. He finds God’s love too daunting to accept because it is too dreadful to consider.
However, if God’s merciful curative love begins to touch and change the human soul, as it did with the Apostles, there is hope that it will discover God’s promises. Yet it must be pursued conscientiously with all due diligence. All potential threats to its growth in the soul must be abandoned with haste. Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother …Agree with thine adversary quickly…lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. (Ibid, 24,25) What imperils the fertility and harvest of God’s love in the human soul is other people and our judgment of them. The angry pursuit of earthly justice elevates human injury to the level of Divine importance. We may wreak vengeance on an earthly enemy, but what are we left with? A crop of self-satisfaction that quenches the spiritual discovery of those good things as pass man’s understanding…and the promises that exceed all that we can desire. What is lost is the needful and merciful love of God which longs to lift the accuser and accused above their division and difference and into God’s healing love. Anger makes [a man] smaller, while forgiveness enables him to grow beyond what he was. (Cherie Carter-Scott)
Jesus teaches us that if we long for such good things as pass man’s understanding, God’s promise to heal our souls will come true as His compassionate love corrects and cures us. Thus, anything and everything that impedes the progress of our loving God above all things must be put in its proper place. We must confess, with Dr. Jenks, that we have foolishly and wickedly forsaken the fountain of living waters, to hew to ourselves broken cisterns, that can hold no water; shutting our hearts against the love of our chiefest good…preferring trifles and vanities of this present time; and the satisfaction of our own foolish and hurtful lusts, above God and His love, which is better than life itself. (Jenks, Prayers…168)
So, Jesus tells us that if God’s love is to become our chief delight, we must agree with our adversary quickly. (Idem) This is the testing ground for our love. On it God sees whether we truly are aiming to love Him above all things. Agreeing with our adversary quickly means that we ought to endure his attack by disarming. First, we ought to listen quietly and calmly to those who have something against us. It encourages us to see our enemy as a potential brother in the Lord and to pray for rather than judge him with a harsh word or violent affection. Geoffrey Chaucer tells us that the remedy for gire and rash rage in order to discern our enemy’s sickness and pray for his cure. Patience endures the enemy’s assault out of hope for his salvation.
Both gentleness and patience are virtues that come out of the heart of Christ who loves God above all things. Christ enlarges His heart to welcome us into His loving. His gentleness and patience enabled His love to go to the Cross for us. But His love does not cease to flow back to God and out to all men in His death. His love is that Divine gentleness and patience that rises up into Resurrection and Ascension and then descends once again into Pentecostal fire. It loves God above all things and loves God in and for all things. It seeks what is above in order to penetrate and convert what is below. Because it is always returning to its source, it can bring good out of evil, right out of wrong, and love out of hate. This is the love that exceeds and passes man’s understanding. This is the love that desires to enlarge our affection that we can touch all men with the hope of Christ’s healing.
St. Paul tells us this morning that this kind of love will be found if we remember that we have been baptized into Christ’s death. (Romans vi. 3) Being baptized into Christ’s death means that the body of our sin is being destroyed. (Ibid, 5) The merciful operation by which the love of Christ is bringing sin to death in our hearts must always make us conscious of our own imperfection. There is always something better to be attained in Christ. Agree with thine adversary quickly, Jesus insists. Otherwise, we shall never find it.
I said unto the fools, deal not so madly…and…
Set not up your horn on high, and speak not with a stiff neck. For promotion
cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor yet from the south.
And why? God is the Judge; he putteth down one, and setteth up another.
(Ps. lxxv. 5-8)
We have said that Trinity tide is all about spiritual growth, fertility, and progress. In this season we are called into a state of sanctification and redemption that ensures our safe and eventual passing through things temporal that we finally lose not the things eternal. (Collect)And one of the chief obstacles that frustrates our mystical journey is judgment, or judging. Jesus tells us this morning, Judge not and ye shall not be judged (St. Luke vi. 37).God is the Judge, as our Psalmist reminds us, and God’s Judgment is offered to believers as a severe mercy which makes them into vessels of His desire for all men’s salvation. Once we begin to measure ourselves by God’s Judgment, we begin to feel that the sufferings of this present time, the fruits of God’s severe mercy, are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us. (Romans viii. 18)
Yet if you are a healthy Christian, one who tries to live by the principles of Holy Scripture, you might be on the edge of your seat fortified with a series of Buts!But, you are thinking, we are living in a society that is not interested one bit in God’s judgment or God’s will for human life.But, you protest, would it be too much to ask for a bit of God’s judgment and even wrath to pierce and singe a few of our neighbors, smarting and startling them into some recognition of His Almighty desire and power?After all, this very nation that we inhabit is calling “good” “evil” and “evil” “good”, and to make matters worse, it imparts this diabolical confusion to our children. God’s judgment and will don’t seem to figure even remotely into the way people are thinking and acting these days. It seems as if people are getting away with so many sins! And, of course, you are right about all of this. An honest assessment of our present situation would have to conclude that the Western world is not interested at all in God’s judgment for wrongdoing since there is no such thing as wrongdoing. Judge not, you ask? How can we hope to do this, if we are bidden as Christians to abhor that which is evil, and cleave to that which is good? (Rom. xii. 9)
And I am here to tell you that your frustration is not entirely inappropriate. Our Saviour never asks us to forsake or ignore God’s Judgment of human life. He tells us to be perfect as our Heavenly Father in Heaven is perfect. (St. Matthew v. 48)He nowhere tells us that we should not judge between the principles of good and evil, right and wrong, or vice and virtue. This we must do if we hope to be saved. And He promises us that there will be Judgment for every man. But in order to best surrender to and live under the ruling and guiding light of God’s Judgment then, He insists that we had better stop judging other people now.
No doubt you have heard that old adage love the sinner and hate the sin. Well, this is our Saviour’s teaching, who knows [only too well] what is in [the heart] of man (St. John ii. 25)and the disastrous consequences that result when we confuse the two. John Calvin tells us, difficult or not, if we don’t distinguish between the two, we might very well be weaving our own ruination. Calvin observes that all men [tend] to flatter themselves, and every man passes a severe censure [or judgment] on others. There is hardly any person that is not tickled with the desire of inquiring into other people’s faults. (Harm. of Gospels, xvi.)Men do this habitually, without any thought of dividing and separating the sin from the sinner.
Yet this separating out of the sinner from his sin is precisely what Christ intends for us to do if we will be counted very members incorporate in His Mystical Body. Why? Because He has done this very thing in relation to us. Prior to this morning’s Gospel reading, St. Luke tells us that Jesus had been teaching His disciples the Beatitudes. He concludes with a warning, telling them that if they do not need the mercy, love, and forgiveness that He brings to the world from the Father, they should not expect to be saved. But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you… For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same.... But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.(St. Luke vi. 27-36)
Rather than rendering evil for evil, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, Jesus reminds His disciples that they need to focus on the mercy of God which will overcome all of their sins. And knowing full well that His own friends will soon become His enemies in His darkest hour, He impresses upon them the forgiveness that they will not grasp until He rises from the dead. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Romans v. 10)As the Apostles and disciples came to experience, a sinner today might become a saint tomorrow through the mercy of God’s forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that He might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. (Romans iii. 23-26)God has judged that we can be made right with Him through the forgiveness of sins expressed by His unjustly crucified Son. Our Heavenly Father’s mercy is so great that His justice allows that His Son should die unjustly, that in and through this death man might begin to live.
Is there injustice in the world? Absolutely. But where is it found most profoundly? In the unjust death of the Holy One of God who suffered at the hands of man’s injustice. Sin is always an act of injustice since through it sinners disobey God’s law. Yet the same man expects justice to be mercy from an all forgiving God. We don’t tend to want either God or other men to be unmerciful, unkind, and unforgiving to us. And yet how quick we are to play God in judging others. How swift we are to say I cannot forgive that man his trespass against me. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.
Today Jesus reminds us that if we judge and do not forgive, we shall be judged and not forgiven. God judges and forgives. We shall be rewarded in so far as God’s merciful justice is alive in our hearts. And so the more we begin to subdue and conquer this vice of judging others with determined effort, the more likely the forgiveness of our sins through Jesus Christ will become a reality in our lives. What we need to search out and find is not the mote that is in [our] brother’s eye, but the beam that is in [our] own eye. (St. Luke vi. 41)We do tend to be adept at discovering other people’s particular sins mostly because we have had such long acquaintance with them as at least temptations in ourselves. The sins of others that most distract, dismay, and disconcert us are those that most tempt us. So we must spend much time pondering our own vices, sins, and failures. Having identified them, we must confess them and embrace the forgiveness of sins, Jesus Christ, in our hearts and souls. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 St. John i. 9)
In closing, we must remember that the forgiveness of sins is just the beginning of the new life that we ought to find in Christ. The forgiveness of sins is ours to embrace as what will bring our sins to death. If they are truly dead, then the forgiveness of sins longs to become the ground of the new life of virtue that makes us good. Our focus must be on this process of dying to sin and coming alive to righteousness. And it is for this reason that we do ourselves great harm when we judge others. To be sure, we must judge specific sins as wrong. But we ought to try to identify and sympathize with our fellow sinners. If they are not suffering in their sins, then we ought to pray for their conversion. If they are converted but are struggling to die to certain sins that so easily beset them, then we ought to offer our patient and prayerful help. We ought never to condemn or sentence them. Rather we ought to find ways to welcome them into a struggle with sin that is part of every Christian’s spiritual suffering. St. Paul tells us this morning that we ought to remember that the whole creation groaneth and travailleth in pain together until now. (Romans viii 22) He means that we are not yet what we ought to be. We are all in this together. We are not yet whatwe ought to be or wherewe ought to be. St. Paul says that must we undergo our present sufferings for the sake of future glory. If we suffer inour daily struggle against sin, we shall be better suited to help others in the same. One thing is certain: We cannot help others out of their sins if we have not discovered what a struggle it has been to die to our own!
To be a Disciple is to be a devoted love-slave of the Lord Jesus. Many of us who call ourselves Christians are not devoted to Jesus Christ. (Oswald Chambers)
I have opened this morning’s sermon with these words of Oswald Chambers because I believe that the dangers of false Discipleship are everywhere present in this morning’s Gospel lesson. In it, we read that Then drew near unto [Jesus] all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. (St. Luke xv. 1,2) What we have, it would seem, are the publicans and sinners huddled around Jesus eager to hear His words and the Pharisees and Scribes standing off at a distance murmuring and judging Him. So we have those who are interested in and even need what Jesus has to offer, and then the self-righteous Jews judging both Jesus and the company He is keeping. Nestled in between the two groups are, as always, the Apostles. Now Jesus knows exactly what the religious and pious Jewish Elders are thinking and saying, and so He offers two parables. The truth of these parables is not specifically addressed to the publicans and sinners but to the Scribes and Pharisees and even to the Apostles. But of course, what Jesus teaches is always meant for all, that whosoever hears His words might become a true Disciple.
So Jesus asks, What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. (Ibid, 4-6) Zoologists tell us that sheep are selfish animals which congregate towards a safe center. (Flock and Awe….) Every once in a while one errs and strays from the way of the shepherd, and so the shepherd must set out to find it. There is no indication that the ninety and nine or whatever number of those who physically lost detect that one of their members is missing. Provided they are safely fenced in by the sheepfold, they are content and satisfied. The one who does miss the lost sheep is the shepherd, who then rejoices when he finds it. Jesus suggests that the Pharisees and Scribes are more like the ninety and nine safe and contented sheep than like the shepherd. The untold dangers associated with seeking out the lost sheep are paralleled with the Pharisees’ fear of ritual pollution through contact with publicans and sinners -spiritually lost Jews. For, as Archbishop Trench remarks, they had neither love to hope for the recovery of such men, nor yet antidotes to preserve and protect themselves while making the attempt. (N.O.P’s. p.286) The publicans and sinners are clearly more like the lost sheep in need of the shepherd’s courageous and loving care. The shepherd values the lost sheep so much that he leaves the ninety and nine. Why? Because one lost sheep is like a repentant sinner who needs to be rescued and saved. Jesus says, I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance. (St. Luke, Ibid, 7) Clearly then, the truth found in Jesus’ parable rebukes the self-righteous, selfish contentedness of the Pharisees, who are neither true shepherds nor potential disciples but self-interested sheep. A true Disciple of Christ will not be like self-interested sheep, but like the lost sheep or like the publicans and sinners, whose straying and wandering cry out for a shepherd.
Jesus continues with another parable. Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. (Ibid, 8,9) The light symbolizes Christ and the woman images Mother Church. By the light of Christ, the woman sweeps the house – the Church, and seeks diligently until she finds the lost coin – sin-sick souls whom she has negligently lost. Again, as with the first parable, the woman rejoices when she finds what she has lost, and so there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth. (Ibid, 10) The true Disciple of Christ will learn that he is like the lost coin. As such, he is like the publican or sinner who knows his sin but has felt neglected and thus lost by the Pharisees and Scribes – or the religious authorities in any age, who have judged him to be of little worth or value, but who is now being found by Christ who comes to sanctify and redeem his life. As a lost coin, the true Disciple finds his worth and value in the One who persistently seeks him out, mercifully rescues and then delivers him from his life of sin.
Of course for the Pharisees and Scribes, the truth contained in Jesus’ parables fell on deaf ears, and not because they were wholly devoid and destitute of holiness and goodness. In so far as they followed the Law, they were obedient unto God. But the problem for them, and the threatening danger for the Apostles and Disciples of Christ, is their indifference to the cost of discipleship – for Christ tells them that they ought to be like the Good Shepherd who searched for the lost sheep or the woman who swept the house in search of the coin she had misplaced. Jesus tried to point out that the Scribes and Pharisees were not paying the price or cost of discipleship. For they refused to move beyond the confines of their law and tradition, out of the comfort and security of the treasure they thought they possessed, in order to risk it all for the riches to be found in the conversion of one sinner. But the Scribes and Pharisees could not be good shepherds, precisely because they had never confessed that they were like lost sheep or the lost coin, or like the publicans and sinners.
For the cost of discipleship is identification with the publicans and sinners. What Jesus seems to be suggesting is that before anyone can become a shepherd, he must first have become a sheep. And before becoming a sheep, he must have become a lost sheep. This doesn’t mean that a man should try to get lost. A man cannot try to get lost, for then he is not lost but just hiding and concealing himself. What Jesus means is that a man must realize that in relation to God he is very much like a lost sheep or coin because by reason of his sin he is spiritually lost and so needs to be found by Christ.
Jesus says, Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven. (St. Matthew v. 20) Now, clearly, what the Pharisees and Scribes exhibited, and what every true Apostle and Disciple of Christ should avoid, is pride in one's own perfection. Pride breeds division, exclusivity, hatred, and variance. Pride measures its own goodness against others men’s sins. It has no need of redemption or salvation because it considers its goodness to be far greater than the sins of others. But the publicans and sinners flocked to Jesus because they knew that they had no goodness to claim. Until Jesus’ coming, they had found no mercy, no tender compassion, and no friend who cared enough for their spiritual wellbeing to find and rescue them. But in Jesus they find one who loves them, hopes for them, sews the seeds of conversion in their hearts, stirs them to repentance, and promises them the joy of His Kingdom. Jesus sees in them the makings of true disciples; in them he finds those who learn that they are lost and now desire to be found. You can’t be found until you know that you are lost sinner. The world has too few saints because there aren’t more sinners.
So the true Disciple of Christ will be a man who once was lost, but now is [being] found. With St. Peter in this morning’s Epistle, he will be subject to his fellow men, and clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. (1 St. Peter v. 5) The true Disciple of Christ will humble [himself]…under the mighty hand of God, that God may exalt [him] in due time. (Ibid, 6) True humility reveals man’s utter dependence upon God’s caring love and healing power that come through Jesus Christ alone. The truly humble man identifies with all men because as he shares the same dreadful disease of sin, he knows himself to be in equal need of redemption. St. Peter says, Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith, seeing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. (Ibid, 8,9) The true Disciple of Christ will see himself as a publican in need of being rescued like a lost sheep from this world of confusion, madness, and sin. The true Disciple of Christ will see himself as a sinner to be found like the lost coin, revalued and redeemed by the Lord’s accounting.
My friends, let us study closely the cost of discipleship that Christ teaches in his parables. We will not grow spiritually if we look upon the world as full of publicans and sinners who, unlike us, are beyond the pale of salvation. We will grow spiritually if, with the publicans and sinners of old, we draw near to Jesus. We will flower if we remember that God resisteth the proud, and giveth Grace to the humble. (1 Peter v. 5) We will grow if we know that we were as sheep going astray, but have now returned unto the Shepherd and [Bishop] of [our] souls. (1 St. Peter ii. 25) We will grow because then we, like the woman in today’s Gospel, will search the world diligently for the lost coins of great value, Christ’s hidden treasures, our future brothers and sisters, who will join us as equals in one drama of repentance and redemption. Let us remember that there will be joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth…than over ninety and nine just persons who have no need of repentance. (St. Luke xv. 10,7) And, as St. Bernard of Clairvaux reminds us, the tears of all penitents is the wine of the angels.
Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the Kingdom of God.
St. Luke xiv. 15
The liturgical season of Trinity is all about virtuous and godly living. In this season we are called to translate and convert our vision of Christ the Way, the Truth, and the Life into habits of holiness and righteousness. In this season we are called to apply what we know to our hearts. From our hearts, we must will the good that Christ, through the Holy Spirit, teaches us. And the good that we are focusing on in this beginning of Trinity-tide is charity. On both last Sunday and this we have been called to contemplate God’s charity towards us, our reception and perfecting of it in our hearts, and then from its surplus, our impartation of it to all others. Last Sunday’s parable warned us of what happens in the hereafter when we do not share God’s love here. Dives began to love only in Hell. The absence of love for our brothers is an absence of God’s love in the human heart. This Sunday’s parable warns us of what happens when we trifle with the love of God. Perhaps we do not always reject the love of God like Dives, but then maybe we fritter away and squander our love on lesser things.
Every claim of God’s love on our souls requires that we submit to His rule and governance. God’s love is far greater than any other kind of love we might experience in creation. His love is boundless, limitless, colossal, monumental, and stupendous. Jesus likens it not only to something in itself but something that is intended for others. God’s love is unselfish and wholly benevolent. Jesus compares it to the bread that we shall eat in His Kingdom. But He uses common images and situations to convey the meaning that He intends to impart. So we read that A certain man made a great supper, and bade many….The certain man is God. His supper is great because both its quality and quantity surpasses our wildest imaginings. The supper is comprised of spiritual nourishment and fulfillment that will be the reward of those who sit down to eat in the Kingdom of Heaven. God’s love is wide and so He invites many. Many is a large number and probably intended to include as many as will accept His gracious invitation. The parable is given to us in the past tense since Jesus intends that we realize that the invitation has been made already. We have been invited to this feast of Grace from the dawn of time. It is a feast that is meant to begin now and continue into the future. It begins in Christ’s Church and extends well beyond into Heaven. Beginning here and now, we can begin to be nourished and grown up into those who have accepted the invitation and intend to persist as guests at this great feast. If we accept the invitation, we are to begin to enjoy the things that God hath prepared for them that love Him. (1 Cor. ii. 9)
So we, along with the rest of the world, have been invited by God, through Jesus Christ, to embrace the Spirit that seats us at the great supper of Heaven. Yet, how many refuse to come to this feast? Perhaps, even, we are not really present. Being present in body is one thing but being attentive and focused in spirit is quite another. Those who are truly present at the great supper that Jesus has inaugurated must be awake, alert, and attentive to the nature of the feast and the feeding. So many make excuses as to why they cannot come to the feast. The same excuses define the nature of those who are present but are not feeding truly on the spiritual fare that the Lord offers. In both cases, they are really pre-engaged to another feast and its earthly fare. Whether absent or present in body, their souls are taken up with other loves and the sustenance that they provide. They are moved far more by the riches of this world, busied with its cares, and enamored of its delectations and delights. There is room at the feast but no room in their hearts for the loving intention of the host and his provision. (The Harmony of the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels, M. Scott, 154) And so they forfeit those greater and lasting riches that will make earthly life and its rewards pale in comparison.
Notice that the man in the parable or God does not waste His time with those who are careless and insouciant regarding heavenly and eternal verities. We read that the master or God is angry. When God’s love is rejected it will be felt and perceived as wrath, ire, and rage. Abused mercy turns into the greatest wrath. (M. Henry, Comm.) Yet, God quickly turns back to being Himself and thus to share His love with those who will humbly and gladly receive His affection. Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. (Ibid, 21) The great supper of the Lord is intended first for those who have been specially called to know and love God. Literally, the parable intends for us to think of the Jews, God’s chosen people and the apple of His eye. Spiritually the parable intends for us to think of Christians who, having received the great fulfillment of God’s promises in Jesus Christ, nevertheless make excuses for not being presently alert, awake, and attentive to the services of the Church and the means of God’s Grace. In either case, should Jews or Christians neglect to cultivate the love of God in Jesus Christ in their hearts and in the Church, they will be dropped and damned. It is as simple as all that.
The master in the parable -God, turns His attention to others. The parable takes a turn and twist for the purpose of emphasizing those who will be called and rewarded. Note that those who end up at the feast and staying for eternity will be the poor, maimed, halt, and blind. (Idem) Those who should have known Christ, accepted Christ as the Father’s Ambassador and Emissary, and as their own Saviour and Redeemer, refused Him. They had no felt need for Jesus Christ. And so now those will be invited who have a clearer view and experience of their own weakness, frailty, fallenness, sinfulness, and alienation. They know their need and are ready to come. They may be literally poor, maimed, halt, and blind or they may be the equivalent in a spiritual and psychological manner. It matters not. The parable is for all ages and the temptation comes to all to think themselves too rich, too busy, or too happy to be good. We cannot taste the supper until we have a taste for it. The penalty of refusal is rejection and our heaviest punishment will be what we shall miss. They, too, who have accepted the invitation, and have taken their seats at God’s board, must have a care that they really partake. (Scott, p. 155) To really partake, we must be spiritually poor, halt, maimed, and blind and thus in need of God’s riches, motion, health, and illumination!
The pride and business of the world or the pleasure of earthly pastimes might prevent us from coming to the Lord. What it amounts to is the undue love of earthly things. And so we must become spiritually poor, halt, maimed, and blindin order to discover our real need for the healing love that only God can give. Yet, there is more. What do we read next? Not only are those who come those in physical and spiritual need of God’s love and mercy. Notice what the parable says: And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room. (Ibid, 22) There is room for a deeper felt need for what God promises to give us through His love. Not only must we be self-consciously poor, maim, halt, and blind, but in addition we must more fully aware of our own unworthiness. And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. (Ibid, 23) We must be compelled to come by the love of God.
What this means is that God must beseech, intreat, and urge us to come to the supper. This word compelmust mean to desire passionately for our inclusion in this healing feast of God’s mercy. Of course, faith cannot be forced. And so this compelling must mean that strong and earnest exhortation, which…Christ will address to [His] fellows. (Trench, Parables, Ch. xxi)This is that love of God that forever desires our communion with Him. This is that love that never counts the cost but always considers it the greatest treasure to have one more man in everlasting habitations. This is the love that will die so that we might live with Him forever. The invitation must appear compelling also to our hearts as what alone can ensure our presence at that feast whose sustenance brings joy without ceasing. Although we are unworthy of it, we must learn the compelling need for it and then the desire to ensure that it shall inform our thoughts, words, and works all our days.
Jesus says to us today:
All things are now ready, now is the accepted time; it is now, and has not been long; it is now, and will not be long; it is a season of grace that will be soon over, and therefore come now; do not delay; accept the invitation; believe yourselves welcome; eat, O friends; drink, yea drink abundantly, O beloved. (M. Henry)
Christ has not left us for long. Christ will not leave us for long. In fact, Christ is with us and for us through the Holy Spirit now. The Feast has begun and we are called. We must not delay. We must be seated. We must be present. We must concentrate. The virtues with which the great supper feed us begin here and now. We must be concentrated on the Giver and His gifts. The gift is His love. His lover will open us to a world of sanctifying righteousness that begins to yield great joy and mirth. The virtues of Love will fill us. The virtues of Love can be shared with all others so that they too must come to the Feast and find salvation. Let us close with the poet’s discernment of God and His gifts.
How many unknown WORLDS there are
Of comforts, which Thou hast in keeping!
How many Thousand Mercies there
In Pity’s soft lap lay a sleeping!
Happy He who has the art
To awake them
And to take them
Home, and to lodge them in his heart. (R. Crashaw)
And so, we love Him because he first loved us. (1 John 4. 19)
Trinity tide is all about the moral life rooted in the vision of truth that we see in God. Today I will speak about the friendship of God and man. Throughout the seasons of the liturgical year you and I have been illuminated progressively by the knowledge of God so that we might come to find friendship with Him. If Eastertide might be called the season of vision and knowledge, Trinity tide is one of activity, experience, and living. To know God through vision, as He reveals Himself in the historical life of Jesus Christ, is not enough. Vision is knowledge, but knowledge for the Christian is the perfection of that belief that must bear fruit in our lives.
Satan tempted, distracted, and tormented Christ in order to extricate Him from His first Love and mission which was to save us, precisely because he knew that He was the Holy One of God, the Son of the Most High, who came down from Heaven to reestablish our Love for God and our neighbor. So Satan had a real knowledge of what Jesus Christ intended to do for all mankind, and he opposed Him. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life of God made flesh. Knowledge of this reality is not sufficient to save a man. Knowledge must be translated into the desire for virtue. And what I mean to suggest is not that one must not have intellectual virtues like wisdom, understanding and prudence, but that it is moral virtue that reveals man’s participation in and application of what he knows to be God’s will for his life.
But how can a man find this truth, let alone allow it to govern his entire existence? In this morning’s Epistle, St. John reminds us that no man hath seen God at any time (1 John 4. 12).So how can we possibly know of any love or friendship approximating the Love of God? For the natural man, God is the great unknown—the imperceptible beyond, the mysterious principle or definer of all existence, which speaks haltingly and obscurely in the world’s great religions. In the best of them He rules and governs the created order through the rational principles of His design. And yet such a God seems impersonally uninterested in the struggle and ordeal of human existence. A metaphysical understanding of this God becomes feasible and yet friendship with Him seems an unrealizable dream. Like the best of the ancient pagans, man knows Him, and yet cannot discover a way to become His friend. Man seems no better off and might even be worse. Because what he knows of Him does not touch him personally, at best he resigns himself to Stoic apathy or at worst he surrenders to Epicurean despair.
But St. John tells us this morning that Christians ought to know better. God is more, it turns out, than an operative principle or mechanical engineer of the universal patterns and laws that man’s mind discerns in nature’s ever-changing existence. God is Love. God is one who desires and longs for, seeks out and finds a common ground of friendship with man. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4. 10) So, we love Him because he first loved us. (1 John 4. 19) God is Love, and that Love not only makes, creates, orders, defines, governs, beautifies, and harmonizes all of nature, but He also comes to His human sons and daughters in order to redeem and reconcile them to Himself.
To know this is to begin to see and grasp a new way of living. It is to perceive and embrace a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. xxi. 1), being made by God Himself, who through Jesus Christ proclaims, behold I make all things new. (Ibid, 5) St. John tells us that every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. (Idem, 7,8) We are not then called to be children of knowledge only, but children whose knowledge reveals God’s love for us in His Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. We have been touched by Him in the life of His Son. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. (1 John 4. 9) And here is the operative difference between those who live naturally in and through the world and us. God sent His only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. The knowledge that we have and the truth which we confess is nothing short of new life, life in communion with our Heavenly Father through the Son by the real and present operation of the Holy Spirit. Our knowledge of Jesus Christ is meant to form a new moral character in our lives, through which, as members of His Mystical Body, we become the new sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father.
And yet we cannot have any of this until what we know and see becomes what we desire and love. In other words, we must make an act of will that surrenders completely to Jesus Christ by forfeiting and foregoing all rights to ourselves. God is Love, and He loves us in and through His Son. This is the only true Love that can lastingly convert and carry a man back to his destiny in friendship with God the Father. We can be like most men of the world, good enough, but loving and living only for the here and now. They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. (1 John 4. 5) We can be like Dives - the rich man in today’s Gospel, who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day, (St. Luke xvi. 19) whose earthly life was mollycoddled and cosseted by comfort, ease, frivolous recreational pastimes, and amusements. Or, perhaps if we are not moved and defined by the kinds of riches that characterize those full of tongue and weak of mind (R.Hooker, E.P., i. viii. 2), we might be like Dives in another way - perhaps we count ourselves rich spiritually. We feast sumptuously on Christ’s Body and Blood each week, we pay our tithes and live fairly moral lives, and count ourselves blessed.
But being like Dives may mean that we are either material or spiritual hoarders. In this morning’s Gospel, Dives walked over Lazarus, who was laid at his gate, full of sores and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. (Ibid, 20, 21) The literal interpretation of Dives’ moral character was that he was uncompassionate, uncaring, cheap, mean, and parsimonious with his earthly treasure. The spiritual interpretation is that Dives could have cared less for the spiritual welfare of this poor beggar Lazarus who found love only from the dogs [who] came and licked his sores. (Ibid, 21) In either case the Love of God was not alive in Dives’ heart. Friendship with God was of little worth when compared to his earthly desire and happiness. And so in the end, his soul is parched and tormented because he rejected the Love of God. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. (Ibid, 22,23) Dives might have known God, but his knowledge had not been converted into Love of Him or his neighbor.
Unlike Lazarus who had nothing here but longed for the more that only God can give, Dives is left with the dried fruit of a self-love that rejects God’s offer of loving friendship to man through Jesus Christ. Had Dives received the Love of God in Jesus Christ, he would have given liberally of his material means to poor men like Lazarus and others because he would have loved him as a spiritual brother, one worthy not only of his material bounty but also of his prayers and spiritual hopes. In other words, the Love of God in Jesus Christ would have so filled his heart that he could not help but share so great a gift and treasure with any and all of his neighbors. When the Love of God is alive in the human heart, giving to others becomes an unselfconscious expression of what lives to be passed out and on to all others.
St. John invites us this morning into the real and present operation of God’s Love. The Love he knows is both a Love received supernaturally and then a Love shared with others naturally and instinctively. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? (1 John 4. 20) If a man does not love his brother whom he sees and knows with his natural eyes, then the invisible power of God’s Love ceases to move him, stops reaching out, and thus dies within a heart that is too cold for continued existence. And if this is the case, we might find ourselves with Dives in Hell when we die, where all access to Heaven is now impossible ‘because the gulf is too great’ and the time for our awakening to the Love of God has ended.
In closing let us consider this. Today we are called to be touched by the Love of God in the real and present life of Jesus Christ. The knowledge of that Love must move us to respond. Here is where Hope comes in. The Love we know, we desire as what alone can touch, change, and transform us. For it is only through God’s prior Love for us that we have Hope and confidence that that same Love can change us. We pray for that Love. And we know that it has transformed the ground of our souls when the same Love becomes Hope in us for all others. Then our knowledge and vision expand to include our neighbors. What we see and know in every other person is the vision of one whom God’s Love desires to touch and transform also. Then the Love of God and the Love of Man become one in us. Short of this double operation of Christ’s Love in us, we shall not be saved. Then with Dives we shall cry out for a Love ignored, untried and untested in our own lives, the only Love that could have made us the friends of God because we knew that it was given to us in order to touch and fill the hearts of all other men.
They marvelled to see such things; they were astonished,
and suddenly cast down. Fear came there upon them;
and sorrow, as upon a woman in her travail.
(Psalm xlviii. 4,5)
One day in the future men will look back at our age and describe it as the time when man had forgotten his past. In general we shall be judged as those who had little or no respect for the wisdom of our fathers, and in particular as those who spent their lives running away from the truth. Because of both, we shall be known as those who forfeited any meaningful future. William Wordsworth once said, Life is divided into three terms - that which was, which is, and which will be. Let us learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present, to live better in the future. But Wordsworth was a Christian, and authentic Christianity, we must admit, is the most feared and despised of all religions in this dark age of ours. Why? Well, because it demands that every man face his past, cull it into the present, name it, claim it, repent of it, and open himself up to that sanctification that promises better life in the future. Authentic Christianity is something that our world cannot bear; our world hates the past, and never more passionately than when it creeps into the present to judge and measure us, to reveal to the world why we are not as spiritually healthy as we pretend to be.
Pentecost or Whitsunday is all about the past, present, and future. Pentecost helps us to see who we have been and what we have done; Pentecost teaches us who we are now; Pentecost calls us forward into a spiritually informed future. Today we read about the first Pentecost in the cenacle –or upper room, in the Acts of the Apostles. Monsignor Knox describes the setting in this way: A room haunted with memories –through that door did Judas Iscariot slink out into the night…on that table the consecrated chalice reposed; through that window they listened to the shouts of ‘Crucify Him’; that floor had been trodden by impassible feet. It was in this room that the Holy Ghost visited His people on the day of Pentecost. (Pentecost: R. Knox) It was in this room that both good and evil battled in response to Christ’s impending Passion. It was in this room that one man betrayed our Lord, another sought refuge having denied Him thrice, and the rest remained huddled together for fear of the Jews. It was in this room that the past events of the Last Supper and the Foot Washing were about to become the signs and badges of the Apostles’ common life and Christian future. In was in this room that past sin would be remembered so that future hopes could be realized in the new life that the Holy Spirit would bring. If man is to be redeemed and saved, the past must always mold and shape the future in the present. Each of the Apostles would bear about in his life the forgiveness of his past sins, the sanctification of his present predicament, and the redemption for his future glory.
So perhaps we should turn to our text in order to examine how this process all began at the first Pentecost.
WHEN the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilæans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, where in we were born? (Acts ii. 1-8)
What jumps out at most Christians immediately is the rushing mighty wind, cloven tongues like fire, then speaking in [other] tongues. What they are taken with mostly is the vigorously aggressive, paranormal, transcendent, and otherworldly dynamism of the Holy Ghost. And so they tend to conclude that the Apostles were swept up into a chaotic, disordered, even anarchic Dionysian irruption of emotion and passion that defied all reason. And so their response is akin to the eyewitnesses [who] were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this? Or with the others mocking, saying, these men are full of new wine. (Acts ii. 12, 13)
But a more cautious reading of the text reveals an ordered and providential sanctification of the past, in the present, and for the future. This was the day of Pentecost, the Feast of Weeks, on which devout Jews from all over the world descended upon Jerusalem to remember God’s giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. The Holy Spirit only ever comes to sanctify those who gather to thank God for past mercies and future Grace. And so we read that [the Apostles] were all with one accord in one place. (Idem) They were of one mind, united in purposive prayer, in one place, watching and waiting, honoring one past, loving one another, and praying about the future. For that blessed Dove comes not where there is noise and clamour, but moves upon the face of still waters, not the rugged ones. (M. Henry) This particular Pentecost fell on the first day of the week. The pouring out of His Spirit that gives birth to the Church is linked to the first day of the historical creation. Even when the sudden sound from Heaven, as of rushing mighty wind (Idem) fills the Cenacle, the Spirit fills the Apostles with fear as they remember the words of John Baptist: He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and fire. (St. Matt. iii. 11) And so tongues of cloven fire gently rest upon their heads making time past present. Matthew Henry tells us that the Spirit, like fire, melts the heart, burns up the dross, and kindles pious and devout affections in the soul. (Idem) And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts ii. 4) What could have broken down into confusion and chaos was, as it turned out, an ordered and disciplined redemption of the past in the present. The Holy Spirit translated one message of the wonderful works of God (Acts ii. 14) in Jesus Christ to devout men out of every nation, and to every man in his own tongue. (Idem)
To the Apostles, the past experience of Holy Week and Christ’s Eastertide teaching were just now beginning to be understood. God’s power, wisdom, and love were making sense of the past. For, as Father Knox reminds us, In those six weeks before Pentecost the Apostles had already lived through, as it were, the whole cycle of Church history; there was nothing callow, nothing tentative, nothing inexperienced about their methods from the very first. And because she was born old, the Church remains ever young. (Ibid) What the Apostles experienced was nothing short of the old man being made new and the historical past being transformed and redeemed in the present and for the good of the future. And so belief led to repentance, repentance opened to obedience, obedience elicited knowledge, and knowledge reached forth to the future in and for God.
But they could endure this only because they had slowly and patiently allowed the work of God the Holy Spirit to teach them the truth and to transform their hearts. They remembered the words that Jesus had spoken to them in the Upper Room: If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth (St. John xiv. 15, 16) Because they loved Jesus, they began to keep His commandments. With His departure, He had generated within them the deepest need for permanent comfort from His Holy Spirit. They began to realize that the greatest blessing spiritually is to know that we are destitute; and [that] until we get there, Our Lord is powerless…As long as we are rich, possessed of anything in the way of pride and independence, God cannot do anything for us. It is only when we get hungry spiritually that we receive the Holy Spirit. (The Bounty of the Destitute: O. Chambers) St. Thomas Aquinas, tells us that the Holy Spirit, whom they embraced and increasingly desired, conveys to man four operations: Subtleness of substance, perfection of life, impulse of motion, and hidden origin. (Sermon: Emitte Spiritum) From His hidden and concealed place of Divine dynamism, God purges man of past sin and generates an ethereal, profound, and subtle ground for the soul’s new life . The Spirit perfects by purifying knowledge and affection in the present. He moves man to receive holiness for the future. He reveals His hidden origin in the Father’s desire to generate the Son’s eternal wisdom. So the hidden and invisible Divine cause, through the motions of eternal love, perfects and sanctifies the Apostles by refining and rendering them subtle and contemptuous of all temporal and earthly things.(Idem)
Jesus says that the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (St. John xiv.) The Holy Ghost will illuminate the past so that in the present we might repent, believe, and understand. The Holy Ghost will bring the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ to life in our hearts as He speaks death to our sins. As members of Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, the Holy Ghost longs to mold and shape us into the instruments of His unselfconscious holiness. The Church is neither new nor old, but eternal….for her Pentecost is continually repeating herself, making all things new, (Pentecost: R. Knox) for those who know that they can be perfected and made new only by God’s Holy Spirit because they have not forgotten how to be sorry. (Repentance: O. Chambers)
On this day let us give thanks for the gift of the Holy Ghost who invites us to examine the past in the light of God’s Word that shines in the present for the sake of our future. Let us pray that the Holy Ghost will make Christ Jesus heard, hallowed, and heeded because the past is not dead but alive in a present that redeems the time for a destiny that proclaims the wonderful works of God and gives glory to God forever and ever, Amen.
As the briefest liturgical season in the Church Year, Ascension-tide lasts only ten days. We believe that on the fortieth day after Easter Christ ascended to the Father. Ten days later the Holy Spirit was sent into the womb of the nascent Church on the feast of the Pentecost or Whitsunday. So we have but a few days to examine the significance and meaning of the Ascension for us.
The Ascension is Jesus Christ’s return to the eternal state that He shares, as Son, with the Father and the Holy Spirit. In the Ascension, Christ restores human nature back to the origin of its being and meaning, so that with Christ as the Head the Holy Spirit might come down from heaven and rebirth all men who believe as Christ’s new Body. In the simplest of terms, Christ the Son of God, in a Resurrected and Glorified state, returns human life to communion with God the Father. Each word, thought, and deed that constitute man’s return to God in Christ will now be shared from Heaven with all men through the ever-descending and transforming Holy Spirit.
Faithful man had been yearning to ascend back to God since the time of Israel’s primordial Fall. But he found himself in the midst of a godless and idolatrous people. There is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities. (Is. lxiv. 7) Sin had enslaved the ancient Jews; God seemed concealed and unconcerned. But the prophet confesses his sin in order to be lifted up above it. But now, O Lord, thou art our Father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand. Be not wroth very sore, O Lord, neither remember iniquity forever: behold, see, we beseech thee, we are all thy people. (Ibid, 8,9) Acknowledging his sin, and the collective wickedness of his people, the prophet faithfully cries out to God for deliverance and salvation. Israel may have unmade herself, but God can and will fashion her anew if only she lifts up her eyes unto the hills from whence cometh her help.
With Psalmist, he is powerless to fight against spiritual powers that have the advantage over him. O help us against the enemy, for vain is the help is man. (Ps. lxiv. 12) And so his heart ascends up passionately within as he soars up to sing the song of faith. O GOD, my heart is ready, my heart is ready; I will sing, and give praise with the best member that I have. Awake, thou lute and harp; I myself will awake right early. I will give thanks unto thee, O LORD, among the peoples; I will sing praises unto thee among the nations. (Ps. cviii. 1-3) From the ground of his soul the fire of faith envelops, informs, and consumes his heart. The music of the spiritual lute and harp call him up into the song of praise and thanksgiving. He thanks God anticipatorily for what he believes and trusts shall shortly come to pass. For thy mercy is greater than the heavens, and thy truth reacheth unto the clouds. Set up thyself, O God, above the heavens, and thy glory above all the earth; That thy beloved may be delivered: let thy right hand save them, and hear thou me. (Ibid, 4-6) Deliverance comes only from above. The glory that saves must come down from above from the one who is God’s right hand.
Christians believe that what Isaiah reached out and hoped for was the Incarnation of God’s right hand Man, even His own Son. What was desired from above has come down to the earth in the Mission and Ministry of Jesus Christ, God with us and for us. The Word of God’s promise that was held in faith and embraced in hope then was made flesh and dwelt among us. (St. John i. 14) And yet the chief purpose of His Incarnation was that man’s human nature might once again become a living sacrifice, wholly acceptable unto God. (Romans xii. 1) Man was made to live above Himself, conformed to God’s will, and always to become clay in the hand of the potter.
But in Christ, we are not only called to become clay in the hand of the potter but also placed into his kiln. We are called not only to being refashioned but also to reanimated and regenerated. This cannot be done until Christ takes us into the fire of His sacrifice, the fire that destroys all sin and death. His suffering and death constitute the necessary first moments in the salvific process of our new birth. His suffering and death are the kiln in which the Potter is firing up the clay for new life through a Sacrifice that will begin on earth and ascend up into Heaven. As Paul Claudel writes, Jesus Christ, the Man-God, the highest expression of creation, rises from the depths of matter where the Word was born by uniting with woman’s obedience, toward that throne which was predestined for Him at the right hand of the Father. From this place He continues to exercise his magnetic power on all creatures; all feel deep within them that summons, that injunction, to ascend. (I Believe…159) God’s Son was always called by the Father into Ascending Sacrifice. Throughout the whole of His life, He suffered and died to Himself as He mounted and ascended in heart and soul back to God. Since the time of His Ascension, He has called all men to do the same through the Sacrifice that He shares with us. When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of me. (St. John xv. 26) From His Ascension seat in Heaven, the Son of God sends His Spirit into our hearts so that we too may mount and ascend back to the Father, beginning here and now, through heart and soul.
But before the Holy Spirit’s descending fiery love begins to enable us to be made one with the offering of our humanity back to the Father in Jesus Christ, we must first focus on Christ’s ascent back to the Father. Our eyes must follow persistently and diligently the flame of fiery love that lifts and carries Christ back to the Father. Bishop Westcott reminds us that we are meant to penetrate to the passion of the ascending Jesus. We are encouraged to work beneath the surface of things to that which makes all things, all of us, capable of consecration. Then it is, that the last element in our confession as to Christ’s work speaks to our hearts. He is not only present with us as Ascended: He is active for us. (Sermons…) Christ’s Ascension must works its way into our hearts. True Sacrifice mounts up and ascends back to God. Austin Farrer describes the movement nicely:
WE are told in an Old Testament tale, how an angel of God having appeared to man disappeared again by going up in the flame from the altar. And in the same way Elijah, when he could no more be found, was believed to have gone up on the crests of flaming horses. The flame which carried Christ to heaven was the flame of his own sacrifice. Flame tends always upwards. All his life long Christ's love burnt towards the heart of heaven in a bright fire, until he was wholly consumed in it, and went up in that fire to God. The fire is kindled on our altars, here Christ ascends in fire; the fire is kindled in the Christian heart, and we ascend. He says to us, Lift up your hearts; and we reply, We lift them up unto the Lord.
In the ascending flame, our desire must tend upwards and burn towards the heart of heaven in a bright fire. We pray that the flame of our own sacrifice might be blended to that of Christ’s so that we too might begin to become supernaturally lighter as the fire of God’s love lifts us into the Heaven of His new life. We pray that in faith we shall lift our hearts up unto the Lord because in the blazing fire of Heaven’s light we are beginning to see that the truest offering of man to God is found in Christ’s Ascending Sacrifice. Thus, old earth-bound habits, customs, and ideals must be burnt up in the surpassing power of God’s Grace in Christ’s ascending heart. Christ who now sits at God’s right hand, interceding and pleading for us, longs for us to unite with the unending Sacrifice of His Ascended Life to the Father that our love might burn towards the heart of heaven in a bright fire, and be wholly consumed in it.
St. Peter tells us this morning that the end of all things is at hand because Christ has ascended to offer His Sacrifice for us to the Father. We must be therefore sober, and watchful unto prayer. (1 St. Peter iv. 7) Our spiritual faculties must be exercised in the movement of Ascending love. Trusting that Christ now reigns in the greatness of His power and majesty at God’s right hand, we must have our conversation with Him in Heaven, to love His appearing, and to be dissolved into His love. (Jenks, 352) We must pray that the Holy Spirit will descend into our hearts and bring us to a forthright confession of our sins and need for the surpassing power of His Ascended glory. We must pray for the steadfast courage to persist in the battle against Satan through the power of Christ’s Sacrifice. We must pray that we may feel the powerful attraction of Christ’s Grace and Holy Spirit, to draw up our minds and desires from the poor perishing enjoyments here below, to those most glorious and everlasting attainments above where Christ sits at the right hand of God. (Idem, Jenks) Christ’s power to attract, absorb, and asphyxiate our hearts will consume our hearts as we come alive to Christ’s perpetual Sacrifice to the Father can be concluded effectively in the words of the poet:
Lord, when the sense of thy sweet grace
Sends up my soul to seek thy face.
Thy blessed eyes breed such desire,
I die in love's delicious Fire.
O love, I am thy Sacrifice.
Be still triumphant, blessed eyes.
Still shine on me, fair suns! that I
Still may behold, though still I die.
Though still I die, I live again;
Still longing so to be still slain,
So gainfull is such losse of breath.
I die even in desire of death.
Still live in me this loving strife
Of living Death and dying Life.
For while thou sweetly slayest me
Dead to my selfe, I live in Thee.
(A Song: Richard Crashaw)
Is Jesus the living Son of God, the Saviour, the Deliverer, the Mediator, the Advocate,
The Judge for you? Is He is the Logos of God in your heart and soul? If He is, then He is the reason, truth, goodness, and beauty that animates your life. If he is, then He is the ruling and governing principle of your whole existence. He then indwells your heart by His Grace and through the Holy Spirit. He then moves and defines you. He enables you to die to sin and come alive to righteousness.
The problem with most Christians today is that they treat Jesus as a dead man only to be related to as past history. Most Christians are practical atheists. This is why they are able with ease to say -mostly about moral matters, “that doesn’t bother me.” Everything that is going on is our world around us should bother us. 95% of it is filth, pollution, perversion, and corruption. 95% of it is sin, plain and simple. 95% of is moved and defined by the fear of offending sinners. Sinners need to be offended. We need to be offended. Our God is offensive. He loves us enough to tell us, in Jesus, that what we are doing is not right but wrong and not good but evil!
If you are a Sacramental Christian -as all Christians must be, the next time you go to the Altar Rail, when you partake of bread and wine, believe that it becomes the Body and Blood of Jesus the Saviour. Believe that He enters into you to purge you of your sin and to infuse His righteousness into you. Believe and allow Him to have His way with you. Believe and remember what He has done for you in dying on the Cross. Believe and remember that He has risen and is ascended and still wants you from His seat of Glory in Heaven. Remember and be moved by the Indwelling Saviour of the World. Be moved and share Him from your heart to the heart of another.
This is thankworthy, that if a man for conscience endure grief,
(1 St. Peter ii. 19)
Our Epistle reading for The Second Sunday after Easter, taken from St. Peter’s First Letter, continues our Easter tide theme of suffering. Last week we meditated upon how suffering and death are necessary components of Resurrection and new life. So today we continue to see how the ancient Church Fathers, who chose the readings for our liturgical season, had some deeper truth in mind when they chose our readings for Easter-tide. I believe that they wanted to be honest with us about what Resurrection entails. They wanted us to remember that human life, as joyously focused on Christ’s Resurrection as it should be, is more honestly experienced as a life in tension between dying on the one hand and rising on the other. What I mean is that the Church Fathers knew only too well that for the prudent and cautious pilgrim life involves spiritual warfare – a real battle between dying to sin and rising into righteousness.
So, this Sunday the Church Fathers ask us to understand again that suffering is a good and virtuous part of a greater whole. Last week we spoke of how Christ’s Peace comes to us in order to convey and express the forgiveness of sins, and an invitation into new life. Today we learn that the process of its possession involves something which we are inclined to ignore, neglect, or fall away from when left to our own natural desires. St. Peter tells us this morning, For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. (1 St. Peter ii. 19,20) St. Peter knows that Christ has offered to us that Peace that conquers and overcomes our spiritual resistance and obduracy to it. He knows, too, that the Lord extends to us what amounts to the forgiveness of sins, whose reception must be so gratefully received and then offered to others. Christ’s Peace and Forgiveness overwhelmed and overcame the Apostles. What they neither anticipated, imagined, nor deserved began to grow in their hearts and their souls. Christ has risen from the dead; Resurrection means not only God’s forgiveness of man but man’s forgiveness of man. For I have given you an example, that ye should do [to one another] as I have done to you. (St. John xiii. 15)
For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. (Ibid, 15) The message is clear, by well doing, by forgiving, by praying, by blessing, by hoping -by suffering these virtues to come alive in his soul, the Christian is to stand out in the pagan world as one whose life reveals how good overcomes evil, mercy vanquishes cruelty, benevolence banishes malevolence, hope crushes despair, and light dispells darkness. Yet, St. Peter acknowledges that this will be difficult. He writes his Epistle to a community which is struggling to overcome evil with good, or, more specifically, to suffer Christ’s Resurrected goodness to overcome all and every form of evil that stubbornly and resentfully resists the Gospel. St. Peter does not pretend that Christians are not engaged in spiritual warfare; but he does seem intent upon directing their attention to the spiritual battle against evil in their own souls, and away from the evil that others might visit upon them. The failure to love and forgive on the outside is always a deflective measure designed to protect the self from the needful confrontation of one’s own demons!
St. Peter reminds his flock and us today that Christ Jesus was the one Person in history who understood and underwent this struggle completely and perfectly, and unlike any other. St. Peter tells us that Jesus himself, our God and our Brother, took upon and into Himself the effect of sin in suffering and death, despite the fact that he did not sin, neither was guile found in his mouth; who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered he threatened not; but committed himself to Him that judgeth righteously. (1 St. Peter ii. 22,23) In a radical and real way the wrongful presence and seeming power of evil in our world tortured and killed Jesus Christ. And yet He suffers its effects with the love that penetrates the heart of darkness. He did not render evil for evil, because He died to sin –both to its meaninglessness and to its malice. For in suffering and enduring sin’s assault, He carried it into its proper end, i.e. death. Within Himself, the goodness, the love, the compassion, the pity, and the forgiveness of sins remained and prevailed: who in his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes you were healed; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. (Ibid, 24,25)
What the Apostles realized long ago was that Jesus Christ, the Crucified One, rose up on Easter Day as the Wounded Healer. What they began to realize slowly but surely was that this same Jesus who had forgiven men from the Cross, was now standing before them as the Good Shepherd, whose Peace and Forgiveness would shepherd them and others into the Father’s everlasting care and embrace. In the parable that He uses in this morning’s Gospel lesson, Jesus likens himself to both the door and the Good Shepherd who longs to carry us through it to the Father’s eternal presence. We can become His sheep if we begin to know His love and submit to his care. Austin Farrer explains Jesus’ words in this way:
What does he say? A man cares naturally for his own things. He does not have to make himself care. The shepherd who has bought the ground and fenced the fold and tended the lambs, whose own the sheep are to keep or to sell, cares for them. He would run some risk, rather than see them mauled; if he had only a heavy stick in his hand, he would beat off the wolf…He says that he cares for us as no one else can, because we are his. We do not belong to any other man; we belong to him. His dying for us in this world is the natural effect of his unique care. It is the act of our Creator. (Weekly Paragraphs for the Holy Sacrament: Easter II)
We do not belong to any other man, Dr. Farrer insists. He might have added that we do not belong, truly, to this world, to the flesh, and certainly not to the devil. He is saying that we belong to God. And to belong to God we must come to know him through His Son and Word. We cannot come to know our Heavenly Father again without the Peace and Forgiveness enfleshed in the saving life of Jesus. If we begin to open our hearts to His gifts of Peace and Forgiveness, we shall begin to know that we belong to Christ. But we protest: All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every man to his own way, and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah liii. 6) True enough. And if we leave it at that, we will be worshipping Jesus a dead and tragic hero. But He responds to our sin. He rises up and calls us forward. I am the Good Shepherd, and I give my life for my sheep…I am the Good Shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known by them. (St. John x. 11, 14) Jesus tells us that He knows us. He knows who we are and what we need. He gives His life for us, not only in His dying but also in His rising. He has killed sin, death, and Satan so that in and through His loving care we might rise up out of it all. His desire for us is constant and promises salvation if we come to know and embrace Him. Death did not destroy His desire, nay rather it is a necessary component of new life that Christ the New Man offers to us. The Father desired that death should be made good in the demise of His Son. Jesus the Good Shepherd was carrying us on His shoulders into our death. Jesus the Good Shepherd now carries all men on His shoulders up and into a life as suffering becomes something new. To love is to suffer. Jesus’ suffering for us is that virtous Personal loving energy that enables us to die and to rise. We can begin to know Him, Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, and that though [we] walk through the valley and shadow of death, [we] shall fear no evil, for [he] is with us, [his] rod and staff comfort [us]…, and that [He even] prepares a table before us in the presence of [our] enemies; [He] anoints [our] head with oil; [our] cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. (Ps. xiii. 4-end)
Today, my friends, as we continue to wend our way through Easter tide, let us always remember that, indeed, we have erred and strayed from [Christ’s ways]like lost sheep. And yet He knows this, for we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture. (Ps. c. 3) We belong to Him and He suffers now to find and rescue us that He might restore us to our Heavenly Father. So, as Cardinal Newman says:
Let us not be content with ourselves; let us not make our own hearts our home, or this world our home, or our friends our home; let us look out for a better country, that is, a heavenly. Let us look out for Him who alone can guide us to that better country; let us call heaven our home, and this life a pilgrimage; let us view ourselves, as sheep in the trackless desert, who, unless they follow the Shepherd, will be sure to lose themselves, sure to fall in with the wolf. We are safe while we keep close to Him, and under His eye; but if we suffer Satan to gain an advantage over us, woe to us!... Blessed are we who resolve—come good, come evil, come sunshine, come tempest, come honour, come dishonour—that He shall be our Lord and Master, their King and God!... and with David, that in "the valley of the shadow of death, we shall fear no evil, for He is with us, and that His rod and His staff comfort us…(The Shepherd of Our Souls) Amen.
As my Father has sent me, so send I you. (St. John xx. 21)
You and I have just come off of an intense Holy Week and Easter when we tried to walk with Jesus Christ from His suffering, Passion, and Death into the first intimations of His Resurrection. You will remember that last week we left Saints Mary Magdalene, John, and Peter having found the Empty tomb. Christ Jesus had not yet appeared to them, and so with them, our faith wondered and pondered what all of this might mean. What they did not know, and what we often forget, is that Christ was already working on their souls and preparing their hearts for His bodily manifestation to them. Christ is always working on our souls and preparing us for deeper union and communion with Himself. And as we slowly begin to move through the Forty Days of Easter, we shall, I pray begin to sense and perceive the meaning of His Resurrection for us. I say for us, because Jesus Christ is God the Father’s desire for us made flesh. And in Eastertide, that desire will radically alter and forever change our understanding of what it means to be risen with Christ.
But, to be sure, as this was no easy task for the Apostles, so it will not be for us. Just imagine what the Apostles must have been thinking when they endured the time of Jesus’ departure from them after Good Friday. Why, if only He were here, we might be able to express our sorrow, shame, and guilt over having abandoned, denied, and betrayed Him, they must have thought. Then He might forgive and heal us, as He had done so many times before. Then their minds might have jumped to the Empty Tomb wondering if God had taken Jesus back to Heaven like Elijah and Moses, as they were assembled behind the doors for fear of the Jews.(St. John xx. 19) And to be sure there was Mary Magdalene’s account of how she had seen Him, after having thought He was the gardener. (Ibid, 15) Perhaps she was mistaken, and it was the gardener! She claimed that she approached Him, but He told her not to touch Him since He had not yet ascended to the Father. (Ibid, 17) She must have imagined it and seen a ghost. Her love for Him was, after all, rather exaggerated, and the mind can do strange things through wishful thinking. So, though she returns to them, and tells her tale, the Apostles remain tremulous, timorous, and apprehensive. And then, lo and behold, Jesus came and stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when He had so said, He shewed them His hands and His side.(St. John xx. 20) How did He enter this upper room, they wondered with utter astonishment? The door was bolted shut. Yet, no sooner had He entered than He shewed them His hands and His side. (Ibid) To be sure this was the Lord, for His presence was palpable and tangible. They saw clearly that He was with them, though they didn’t know how. He proclaimed Peace to them all, and then slowly but surely the scales fall from their eyes, and they began to see clearly that the Lord had risen from the dead. Needless to say, the Apostles must have been flummoxed and bewildered with near incredulity. Yet, they were overcome and overtaken by some union and cohesion of the Divine and human, the supernatural and the natural, God and man in the Lord Jesus. For here surely is a Divine Being who can walk through shut doors yet in the body bearing the marks and scars of the Crucified Man.
Yet, this Risen Christ wastes no time with calling His friends into the new life that they witness and endure. The life which bears the marks of His suffering and death, continues the work that He was born to commence and complete. He says, Peace be unto you: as my Father has sent me, even so send I you; and he breathed on them , and saith unto them, Receive the Holy Ghost…. (St. John xx. 21-22) It is as if He picks up and continues His mission to them, from that time when he had left off to go to His suffering and death. And yet their emerging faith, their knowledge and love seem to be growing in the face of this Resurrected Jesus’ wounds and His scars. Thus, slowly but surely, what begins to be believed, embraced, and understood by the Apostles is the fact that Christ’s death on the Cross is somehow taken into this His Resurrection appearance to them. The fact is echoed this morning in St. John’s First Epistle. There we read that whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. (1 St. John v. 4-6) The temptation has always and ever will be to worship a Divine Jesus only, or the one who was baptized with water by John Baptist in Jordan said, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God. (St. John i.33) But St. John the Evangelist tells us that He came not by water only, but by water and blood. (Idem) The Resurrected Jesus whom the Apostles begin to believe and follow is one who comes to cleanse all men from sin and guilt in that fountain opened for sin and all uncleanness, the precious blood of the Lamb of God, slain to take away the sins of the world. ( Prayers…, B. Jenks, p.225) What the Apostles begin to believe and grasp is that this Resurrected Jesus Christ is not merely God, but God as Man who has suffered and borne the punishment for the sins of the whole world. The impression that strikes them most is that Christ’s suffering and death are taken up and incorporated into His Resurrection and new life. And Christ imparts this truth to them not merely by manifesting and revealing the wounds in His Resurrected Body. From the external and visible He draws them into the inward and spiritual. As the Father had sent Him, so He will send the Apostles. (St. John xx. 21) And so, He breathes on them that they might receive…the [first wave] of the Holy Ghost’s (Ibid, xx. 22) transformation of their lives.
Notice that this first wave reveals the forgiveness of sins. Christ will indeed impart the Holy Ghost to them in phases and stages. What comes first is sending the Apostles out equipped with the forgiveness of sins through the Spirit of the Crucified One. Christ sends His friends out into the world by sharing and imparting His Holy Spirit to them. The Holy Spirit incorporates them into that suffering and death which have established the forgiveness of sins. Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. (St. Luke xxiv. 29) The Spirit has infused the marks of His victory over sin into His new Body. Through the Spirit that He imparts to them, they can participate in His defeat of sin, death, and Satan. In His gift, they must receive the forgiveness of sins if the victory is to be effective. He has forgiven them and will forgive others. What the Apostles must remember, as St. Paul writes later, is that when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly…and that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us…and that if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.(Romans v. 6,8,10) The point is that Christ becomes the forgiveness of sins for all who will embrace this reality as the wellspring and catalyst for the journey into salvation. Of course, some will receive it and some will not. Jesus says to the Apostles, whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. (Ibid, 23) Sins are only retained for those who do sense the need for the forgiveness of sins through the death of God’s only-begotten Son upon the Cross.
But before we conclude, let me come back to a point which we touched upon earlier. We said that Christ is sending the Apostles as the Father has sent him…through the Holy Ghost [whom] he breathes [upon them.](Idem) Here Christ begins to include them in His mission which is the new life of His Resurrection. Again, this mission and new life emerge and proceed from His Resurrected Body that bears the marks of his suffering and death. The Apostles and all of us who would become members of Jesus Christ’s Resurrected Body must bear the marks of suffering and death. We must thus become those who will suffer and die daily to all that stands between us and God’s will made flesh in Jesus Christ. We must suffer to embrace the Grace that overcomes our sins, bringing to death whatever stands between us and God. Only in so doing do we become members of the Resurrected Body of Jesus Christ. Also, we must suffer and endure the world’s rejection of this truth. The world won’t like it one bit. For then, only in suffering to die to ourselves can we help others to bring their suffering in sin to Jesus Christ for death and burial. Only then can we share the good news of the forgiveness of sins with the world. Then we shall know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are called according to His purpose. (Romans viii. 28) And that in the end, though we be tempted by [earthly] excesses or any lusts of the flesh, we shall not feast on the meat that perishes, nor sink the vessel [of our Resurrected body] that is carrying us over to the blessed Land of Promise. (Ibid, Jenks, p. 371) Amen.
If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above,
Where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affections on
Things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life
Is hid with Christ in God.
(Col. 3. 1-3)
There is something rather strange about our Easter Epistle, which was addressed by St. Paul to the Church at Colossae, a small Phrygian city in Asian Minor. For no sooner has Christ appeared to Peter, to Mary Magdalene, James and all the Apostles, to some five hundred, to Stephen before his martyrdom, and lastly to Paul as one born out of due season (1 Cor. 15. 8) than He disappears and returns to His hidden state, with the Father in Heaven. And St. Paul seems to suggest that man is back to having a relationship with the hidden God. Your life is hid with Christ in God. (Col. iii. 3) He did say that, didn’t he? But what does he mean by it? Surely, he is not advocating what passes for most as real religion and Christian experience these days? Plainly, he is not urging us onwards towards some kind of private affair, a hidden relationship, between you and a god who keeps your life hid within himself never to be challenged, questioned, or called to account by Mother Church or your fellow Christians. Nor can he be calling us to the kind of a la carte religion that picks and chooses what it wants, when it wants, and how it wants in order to ward off unwelcome advances by an intrusive and overly interested God?
No, this is not what St. Paul is suggesting at all. Rather, what he has in mind is a kind of hiddenness that points to an unbreakable intimacy and communion with God. The word is not pejorative but positive. For St. Paul, being hid with Christ in God (Idem) points to a relationship whose nature and value are known fully by Christ and shall be discovered by us progressively if we see to find the secret of it. He makes the conclusion because of the radical belief that Christ indeed has already taken our lives within Himself back to the Father. And this is not to say merely that He has Risen and Ascended to God as a kind of occult medium between man and God in general. This is no paranormal mystical movement, no cosmic sentimental syrup for New Age superstitious slothful slugs. No, indeed, St. Paul means that Christ has returned human life to the God the Father for the beginning of a relationship whose bond cannot be broken by any created principality, power, or dominion. To put it more exactly, because He has lovingly taken our old fallen nature into death, now He raises it up and returns it to God forever. Because He has taken it up again, enlivened it, and returned it to a place where no harm can happen unto it, St. Paul says rightly that our life is hid with Christ in God. (Idem) But more importantly for St. Paul, Christ has taken us into Himself, and in the scars and wounds which He exposes in the hands and feet of His Resurrected Body, He reveals that the men of all ages can be reconciled to God the Father. Suffering and death have always been seen as an obstacle to man’s relationship with God. But for Christians, the suffering and death of Jesus Christ are the fundamental building blocks that lay the foundation of a faith relationship whose life is now hid with Christ in God. (Idem)
But how do we find this relationship through the Risen Lord with whom our life is hid in God? The Apostles had a hard enough time seeing how man’s life could be hid with Christ in God in His death on Good Friday. What were they to make of His Resurrection on Easter Sunday? The struggle between life and death and sin and righteousness must have nearly conquered their already teetering faith. Perhaps George Herbert’s poem about the life that is hid with Christ in God (Idem) will be of use:
MY words & thoughts do both expresse this notion,
That Life hath with the sun a double motion.
The first Is straight, and our diurnall friend,
The other Hid and doth obliquely bend.
One life is wrapt In flesh, and tends to earth:
The other winds towards Him, whose happie birth
Taught me to live here so, That still one eye
Should aim and shoot at that which Is on high:
Quitting with daily labour all My pleasure,
To gain at harvest an eternall Treasure.
The poet tells us that life has a double motion or meaning. First, its external, visible, and physical life is illuminated by the sun in the sky. This is straightforward; we are enlivened and illuminated by the sun who is our diurnal or daily friend. This life is earthly and mundane. The second life is inward and spiritual. Here another sun enlivens and illuminates us. This is God’s Son who is transcendent and heavenly. Here the spiritual sun longs to enlighten and enliven our hearts and souls. The first life is wrapped up in earthly flesh and tends towards death. The second life is heavenward bent and leaps up to heaven inspired by Christ’s birth. Christ’s birth has taught us that with one eye on earthly life we tend towards His death. Yet, always with our other eye -the spiritual eye, we can focus on that light which leads back to Heaven’s life. And so with the poet we must toil and labor to be enlivened and illuminated by the greater sun, God’s own Son, so that at the Harvest of Souls we might be rewarded with God’s eternal treasure.
We must, therefore, keep our mind’s eye on that double motion of death and new life that we find in Jesus Christ. Our mind’s eye must beware of living in the light that leads only to the first death that will become the second eternal and unending death. Our mind’s eye must then see the sun and its other light so that we might follow Christ into the everlasting joy of eternal life. CHRIST being raised from the dead dieth no more: death hath no more dominion over Him. For in that He died, He died unto sin once: but in that He liveth, He liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin: but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom. vi. 9) Christ Jesus our Saviour is Risen from the dead. He invites us to become a part of that double motion that has destroyed death and generated new life. So we must seek those things which are above. (Col. iii. 1) Not above and beyond our reach, but above and beyond our wildest dreams and imaginings, above and beyond what we desire or deserve, above and beyond the threats of the world, the flesh, or the devil. And yet not above and beyond what God’s love can and will do for us. God’s love overcomes sin with righteousness and death with life. The double motion of earthly and heavenly life is bound up in the light of God’s sun, Jesus Christ. Seeming contraries are now swallowed up into Christ’s victorious love. What we seek is not above and beyond God’s ever-healing touch, His ever-quickening Spirit, or His ever-present desire to save His people. But yes, above and within the heart of Jesus, whose Glorified Body and Life are with the Father and also with us. Yes, above and within Jesus Christ Himself, in whom every aspect of our lives can become a new occasion for our rising up and out of ourselves, mortifying [our] members which are upon earth; [up and out of] our uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness….(Col. iii. 5) In our bodies, because hid within His Risen and Glorified Body. In our souls, because hid within His Risen and Glorified human Soul. In our manhood, because hid within His Manhood that invites us to discover the hidden depths of the Father’s hidden love. Christ is risen from the dead. Sin is finished, death is finished, Satan is finished, if only we shall believe that our life is hid with Christ in God. (Col. iii. 3)
CHRIST is risen from the dead: and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death: by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die: even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 1 Cor. xv. 20. To be hid with Christ in God, we must be made alive. To be made alive we must become assimilated to Christ’s work, here and now, as we become part of His Glorified Body in time and space. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. (St. John vi. 51) What is our life? To be hid with Christ in God. How can it be perfected? We must sit down and taste His meat (Herbert, “Love bade me welcome…”). Christ’s meat is His Body and Blood which we shall receive in the Holy Communion. This is the perpetual offering of Himself to us. When we eat His Body and drink His Blood, we do show the Lord’s death, until He comes again. (1 Cor. xi. 26) What do we show? His death. What does that mean? We take His death into us. What does it bring? New life in Him. When we eat His Body and drink His Blood, we do begin to reckon [ourselves] to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans vi. 11)
Thanks be to God that giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. xv. 57) On this Resurrection morn, let us remember that the motion of our destiny must be a double motion. If we intend with pleasure/ To gain at harvest and eternal treasure, we must be dying daily to earthly sin. There can be no eternal joy unless we have been broken over and over again through His death. New life demands death. False happiness, superficial earthliness, shortcuts to the kingdom, and all refusals to face the facts of our sin must die. We must die in the light of one sun to come live through another. [Our] life hath with the sun a double motion.... Monsignor Knox tells us that death, burial, resurrection comprise the secret of all sanctity. Our secret may be hid with Christ in God, but its joy must be experienced in our intimacy with Christ so that we cannot help but give it to all others. My…Life…is…Hid…in…Him…that…is…my…Treasure. (Idem) Happy Easter. Amen.
He riseth up from supper, and laid aside his garments, and took a towel and girded himself.
Tonight you and I are invited to the last supper of Jesus Christ. We move into a realm that is fraught with the fear and trembling of Jesus’ friends, who do not understand the meaning of it all and what will come next on the tomorrow of God’s today. For the Apostles have been following Jesus for some three years, and they have experienced the hand of God at work in Him. In a sense there was so much to be thankful for, so many wonders and miracles, so many beautiful teachings and sayings, so much that seemed so very positive. But there were also the ominous words of frightful prophesies and impending doom. Perhaps if the Apostles were anything like you and me, they might have forgotten or chosen to ignore the negative in Jesus, focusing only on his powerful and loving presence. Surely what was coming would not be all that bad. It couldn’t be as grim as He implied. Perhaps this is what they thought. At any rate, surely Jesus the Son of the Most High God would be able to work some miracle or wonder in order to lessen the severity of possible unpleasantness. For this, they hoped and prayed.
But what we observe tonight cannot be disconnected or severed from the complete and total fabric which we call the life of Jesus Christ. The signs and the wonders had been performed in order to lead to a deeper reality that is about to unfold before our very eyes. The power of God is with and in Jesus. He has come to redeem human nature through rejection, suffering and death. Jesus and the Father are one. He has been tempted to reject his Father’s will and way, but He has successfully resisted this to the end. The outcome has been the revelation of God’s Grace in every aspect of His earthly life. For what we find in the life of Jesus, prior to the end, tonight, and then tomorrow is the real desire of God for His people. God has been at work in Jesus reconciling the world to Himself. (2 Cor. V. 19) Through Jesus, God has spoken the words of promise. Through Jesus, God has communicated the way to salvation. Through Jesus, God has revealed that He is never far away and distant, but rather always present and powerful. His power in Jesus has opened the eyes of the blind, unloosed the tongues of the dumb, and moved lame legs. His love has been manifested in the constant desire of God for His people. God has been at work in the life of Jesus. The today of God has never been denied by Jesus, and that reality persists in the drama of tonight.
Tonight’s celebration marks the Last Supper that Jesus will share with the Apostles. Tonight, Christ shares the Passover supper with his friends. He has broken bread and poured out wine, offered it to His friends, and said that this bread and wine will become His Body and his Blood. What it means is surely obscure and hidden from the Apostles at that time. But what is crucial to our meditation upon it is that Christ still offers the today of God to his friends. The today of God will become something of greater meaning and substance after His Resurrection and Ascension and at the Pentecost. But on this night, He continues to piece together the elements of His life as they begin to form the future of God’s today. He offers His friends a meal that is packed full of promise, as the today of God’s desire and love continues to call and summon those who believe and those who will follow. Bread is broken; wine is poured out. Tomorrow a body will be broken and blood will be poured out. The two will not be, in the end, divided, but one will become the other as God’s love in Christ moves beyond the confines of history. Tonight the body –soon to be broken on the Cross, stoops down to wash and to cleanse the dirty feet of its disciples. In the today of God’s nearness, Jesus reveals to us that He is the servant of His Father’s Love and ministers it to others as He has always done. In the today of tonight’s Gospel, Jesus waits upon his friends. In the today of tomorrow’s meaning, He will do the same in another form. He is the servant who comes to wash and to cleanse, today with water, and tomorrow with blood. Both will be one. We are washed through water and blood. We are purified through Baptism and Eucharist. The today and tomorrow of God with us and for us, God near to us in Jesus, is but one revelation coming from the loving heart of God and shown forth in the actions and gestures of Jesus. Tonight seems warm and reassuring. Tomorrow will be ghastly and horrific. Both combine to give to us the one Today of God’s purpose and intention, behold I make all things new. (Rev. xxi. 5)
But there is more to the today of God’s nearness that we should see and grasp as we move through the drama of the Last Supper and Good Friday. What Jesus does is who He is, as the desire of God’s today. What Jesus does and who He is are what He intends for us to become. He will give us bread and wine, and will wash men’s dirty feet. He will give us his Body and Blood and will wash the dirty feet of our souls. He must do this, that we might be strengthened and nourished by His presence in the inner man. The today of God desire and service approaches us, first on the outside and then within.
Tonight, Jesus comes to wash our feet, and, with Peter, we react with horrified surprise and proud resistance. Lord, thou shalt never wash my feet. (St. John xiii. 8) Our instinct is to refuse God’s desire to wait upon us and to cleanse us. This is our arrogance and pride. Our sense is that the holy one of God should never stoop down to the level of our sinfulness. God is high, we are low; the Master should never condescend to the slave. Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man. (St. Luke v. 8) Jesus answers, If I do not wash thee, thou hast no part with me. (Ibid) In the today of God’s nearness, again, we learn that God stoops down from heaven to wash our dirty feet, the dirty feet of our souls. In the today of God’s nearness, we learn that God stoops down from heaven to offer us imself completely, not just to wash and cleanse us with water and blood, but to feed us also with His flesh and His blood. In the today of God’s nearness, we learn that God is ever present to heal and save us, to give himself to us and for us, to nourish and strengthen us with nothing less than Himself, at work in our souls. God will bring us into death and new life.
Tonight, we learn that the God of today is a loving God, one who knocks at the doors of our souls in order to make all things new. The God of today is in Jesus Christ and we need Him. If He does not wash us, if He does not die for us, if He does not rise for us, then we can have no part with [Him], and the salvation He brings. We do need Him. The outward and visible sign of God’s service today for us is seen in Jesus who washes the disciples’ feet. The outward and visible sign of God’s service today is seen in Jesus who will feed us forever in the future with broken bread and poured out wine. The outward and visible sign of God’s service tomorrow will be seen in a broken body and poured out blood. Will we allow the today of God to touch us, to wash us, to cleanse us? Will we realize that God’s stooping down in Jesus Christ is nothing short of bearing our burden, taking on our sinful predicament and condition? Will we begin to understand that God alone in Jesus Christ can endure and overcome our sinful pride, envy, wrath, murder, sloth, indifference, greed, lust, and so forth? Will our eyes be opened to the fact that our sin has willed his death?
And as we shall see, this same Lord, in His own body hanging upon a tree, will say this: I love you and forgive you. Come follow me. I die and you will die. I will rise and so shall you. Come follow me. My Body will be your body. My Spirit will be your spirit. My life and my love I offer to you, always and everywhere, ever broadening, ever expanding. God’s love for you in me. Your love for God in me. Come follow me, and you shall find your true life. Come follow me, and you shall find your true love. Come follow me, and you shall find your true home and destiny, prepared for you by my Father from before the dawn of the ages. Amen.
Although all be offended, yet will not I.
(St. Mark xiv. 29)
We ought to remind ourselves that our membership in the mystical Life of Christ is no easy business. To become a tried and true member of the life of the Crucified One takes time, practice, the development of spiritual discipline, and an ongoing surrender to the Mind of Christ that longs always to remold and remake us. One thing that we learn about the spiritual life today is that membership in the life of Christ requires vigilance, acuity, or alert. Of all the virtues that protect and defend the spiritual life, the need for watching and waiting is of preeminent importance. Watching and waiting demand, of course, stillness and silence as we face our demons and overcome them with the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. To be vigilant means to be awake, circumspect, alert, cautious, and ready for whatever the devil may throw our way. And what we ought, at all costs, to be prepared for is the devil’s determination to lead us into the sin that separates us from Jesus Christ -our way, truth, life that leads back to God the Father through the Holy Spirit.
The supreme act of sin is illustrated for us today in the freely will choice of Judas Iscariot. Because Jesus refused to become Israel’s political liberator from Roman domination, Judas sells Him for thirty pieces of silver. One tradition has it that Judas orchestrated his Master’s arrest so that Jesus might be provoked at last to use His Divine Power to banish the Roman occupiers and to put down the Jewish Sanhedrin, whose comfortable cohabitation with the Roman occupiers was viewed by many as malicious betrayer. Judas wanted Jesus to reveal His Divine power once and for all in the interests of Israel’s temporal and earthly restoration. But, Jesus would have nothing to do with such an earthly passion that was possessed by life in the City of Man. So Judas betrayed His Master. Later he will repent. despair, and hang himself.
Today we are called to be vigilant against the temptation to provoke Jesus Christ to meet our earthy needs by overcoming our earthly suffering and sorrow. We are called also to be vigilant against demanding Divine intervention when we have not done our part in conditioning our lives to the operation of Divine Grace. So we are called to be awake to the fact that Jesus Christ does not come to us to ensure the prosperity and peace or the comfort and enjoyment of this life in this world. Jesus Christ came to die for the sins of the whole world, and in so doing to bring that old, limited, fallen human nature, alienated from God, to death. In His death Christians find the first beginnings and stirrings of their own death –death to the world, the flesh, and the devil. Today we ask ourselves, How have we betrayed Jesus Christ in our lives? Have we sold Him for next to nothing, and thus betrayed Him because we pursue earthly and temporal peace, comfort, accommodation, happiness, and contentment? Have we betrayed Him because we will not allow Him to reign as King Supreme from the soil of our souls and so to guide our footsteps to His Kingdom?
In a similar vein, we must be on guard against that kind of relationship with Jesus Christ that depends upon another kind of earthliness. That would be the demand for bodily, physical, and sensory ecstatic or transfiguration moments. Holy Week teaches us that our relation to God hinges upon suffering and death. Our spiritual state in relation to the Father, through Jesus Christ, and by His Holy Spirit, can never be measured solely by the body’s feelings, sensations, emotions, and passions. It is good for us to experience Him at a distance and almost as absent at times so that we might contemplate His glorious power, wisdom, and love. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. God often seems to be far away and removed from our senses because He wants us to learn to fear and obey Him out of spiritual love. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the holy is understanding (Prov. ix. 10) The fear of the Lord is that awesome apprehension of the One upon whom all life and salvation depend. The fear of the Lord engenders that poor in spirit self-knowledge of powerlessness and utter dependence upon God for both being and redemption. The fear of the Lord moves a man to ponder, wonder, study, explore, and investigate the ways of God.
This is the fear of the Lord which St. Peter had forgotten throughout Christ’s Passion because he feared men. Because of it, his rash, enthusiastic, even premature determination never to be offended by Jesus Christ came to naught. Not only does he eventually abandon Jesus, but he even denies ever having known him. An overly enthusiastic, impulsive, compulsive, and impetuous relation to Jesus Christ is very dangerous indeed. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. (St. Matthew xiii. 20, 21) Faith that is not rooted and grounded securely in the fear of the Lord and obedience thrives temporarily and then dies a swift death. It is, more often than not, unpremeditated, unrestrained, and unthoughtful. It reveals superficial religion, too close to the immediate gratification of the body, to pain and pleasure, to fear and trepidation, to the changes and chances of this fleeting world. It is unstable and uncertain, and in the end, with St. Peter, is as easily swayed to deny the Lord as it was to defend Him heroically to the end. It is rash and not grounded in the silence and stillness that contemplate God’s nature.
Today we must ask ourselves, How have I denied Jesus Christ? How have my thoughts, words, and deeds denied any familiarity or acquaintance with the Suffering Servant and the Lord of God’s Love? How have I talked the talk but refused to walk the walk up to the place of Love’s new birth on Calvary Hill? How have I failed to accept that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and that obedience to His will through Grace leads to true understanding?
Let us pray today for vigilance. Couldest thou not watch one hour? Watch ye and pray lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak. (St. Mark xiv. 37, 38) Let us pray for the fear of the Lord, obedience to His commands, and a determination to follow Him silently and conscientiously, to watch, see, and learn what the Lord of Love will do for us from His Tree of New Life. Amen.
And he answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly.
(St. Matthew 27. 19)
There is a good deal of silence that is meant to surround us as a response to the Passion and Crucifixion of the Son of God during Holy Week. Holy Week has been set aside from the time of the early Church to ponder our Lord’s suffering in silence and stillness. If we approach this time with a determined silence and stillness, we will, no doubt, find that it assaults and confounds our human reason, as it tears and wrenches the human heart from the fulfillment of its usual desire. But if we sustain the stillness, and with a silent mind ponder the unfolding drama of Holy Week, a reassuring blanket of divine quiet might begin to warm the soul this week, enveloping it with the Word that desires to be made flesh in us so that we might journey with Jesus from death to new life.
In the lections for today, we already begin to observe the truth that will emerge through the trial, arrest, and condemnation of Jesus Christ. There is a lot of commotion. Pontius Pilate, Governor of Judaea, will attempt to bring calm and stillness out of chaos and confusion, on what should be just another fine Friday afternoon in an ordinary outpost of Caesar’s Empire. He seems a reasonable enough man, who is neither drawn to nor impressed by the religion of the Jewish Aristocracy, which has stirred up the people of Jerusalem. He is commissioned with enforcing the Pax Romana –the peace of Octavian, that has successfully stilled and silenced the then civilized world. Earthly calm and peace comprise his vocation. Mostly he will try to treat this Jesus of Nazareth as the cause of a small-town Jewish family squabble from which he longs to wash his hands. But he cannot, for it threatens the peace of Caesar’s city. So he will aim at commanding silence and stillness in order to reestablish that kind of peace that all Romans cherished. In the service of Roman Law, he will rebuke the Jews and urge them to judge Christ themselves, or send Him to Herod. (St. Matthew xxvii. 14) Needless to say, none of this works. To complicate matters, another kind of stillness, silence, and peace will emerge from this Christ. It will be so unsettling that Pilate marvels greatly. (Ibid, 14) For Pilate knows that out of envy the Jews have delivered Jesus up. Yet, their jealousy threatens the Pax Romana. The city’s peace must be maintained. Caesar’s rule cannot be questioned. Pilate’s wife will tell him to have nothing do with that just man (St. Matthew xxvii. 19) and in a sense he will try to do just that. But the crowd will demand that Barabbas be released and Jesus crucified. Pilate desires stillness and silence and then finds himself drawn into the noisome conflict: Why, what evil hath he done?(Ibid, 23) Pilate will exclaim. The Jews are not interested in any alleged crime. They want blood. Let Him be crucified, they cry. So, in response to that determined envy that promises only to breed further chaos and anarchy, we shall read that, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see you to it. (Ibid, 24) The Pax Romana is asserted. The Jews will confess: His blood be on us, an on our children. (Ibid, 25)
Pilate will believe that he has rid the world of Jesus Christ for political expedience. The Jews hatred of Him will be quenched. Even the disappearance of His Apostles into hiding seems promising for the silence and stillness of the Roman Peace. The problem seems to have been solved quickly and satisfactorily. The greater silence and stillness in Christ’s heart that ensure His obedience to the Father have not, as yet, startled and triggered others into consciousness of what is transpiring. The still and silent core of His mission and meaning have not yet found fertile ground in men’s souls. And so the external chaos of this week will drive them into the world of sadness and confusion. Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad. (St. Matthew 26.31) God’s own Good Shepherd and Sacrificial Lamb, it would appear, are rejected on a number of different levels, and for a variety of reasons. Men always find reasons to explain why they persist in being lost sheep.
But for a few others, the silence and stillness of the dying Son of God will begin to move the ground of their souls. From the still and silent center of His obedience to the Father, this Jesus of Nazareth will begin to speak to those whose stillness and silence comprise the fertile ground that can receive His meaning. Christ the Word will be heard and heeded, slowly, even imperceptibly, by those who have chosen to believe and to follow. Even now as the world and its words assault and kill the human Jesus, the Word of God persists and endures in order to speak from the stillness and silence of His dying heart. For this Word made flesh –this Jesus Christ, is always dying to Himself and coming alive to the Father for the world. He did not cease to do so, especially when He will be most tempted to do so in and through His earthly suffering and death. He came from God and He will return to God. But not before He willingly offers himself to God and man by laying down His life in death so that all might live.
This morning, with St. Paul, we remember that though He was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2. 6-8) Jesus Christ’s silence and stillness in suffering and death are the centrifugal points around which His mission of service is perfected. Here, He does not desperately pry into the secrets of His Father’s will and plan. He is content to humbly obey. Rather, He prefers to die so that the Father’s will might be realized in Him and for all. He will become the new Man, the Second Adam, who once again is happily free because in silence and stillness, He joyfully obeys and fulfils the Father’s desire. He knows that only in silence and stillness, only in death to Himself, can the Father’s plan and purpose emerge into new life.
This week, I pray, that each of us shall make time to travel with Jesus up to His Cross. Some people are too busy to do so. But let us make an effort to travel up to Golgotha in this place and at set times. Let us come to this place when the busy world is hushed and the feverish day is over to be still and quiet in order to be confronted by Christ’s silent and still adhesion to the Father’s Word. All of us can go with Christ to his Cross. We can travel with the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. John looking and listening, though we might be very confused and bewildered. This Word of God in Christ will be mostly silent. Pilate marveled, and so should we. This Word who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously (1 Peter 2. 22, 23), we will begin to see as the Word of God’s Love in the flesh. This is a Love that first touches and moves the still and silent hearts of those who remain faithful to it. This is the Love that was first seen and heard in miracles and parables, and now persists in revealing itself to others from that ample supply of forgiveness and hope still remaining to be shared by this Man from His Cross. Ultimately and perfectly He still loves and gives so that all men might live.
On this Palm Sunday we hear Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. And yet it seems that no sooner has the jubilant song of praise and celebration been sung than the new malevolent cries for Christ’s execution rise and swell. Crucify Him. Crucify Him. Let him be crucified. We must try to pry silence and stillness out of this inconstant and fickle emotion. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53. 4-6)
Let us follow the Word, and quietly listen to the words of T. S. Eliot:
If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness
and Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word. (Ash Wednesday V)
In stillness and silence let us acknowledge that our lost words are lost and our spent words are spent. They are dead. Let us remember that that God’s Word alone brings life, meaning, and salvation. Let us hear Christ the Word in silence and stillness from the Cross of Calvary. Amen.
Before Abraham was, I AM.
(St. John viii. 58)
The threat of God’s nearness and proximity are quite enough to unnerve, unhinge, and unsettle men in all ages. There is something about human nature that is resistant, refractory, and recalcitrant to God and His Word. Most men treat the existence of God carelessly, incautiously, indifferently, or haughtily. Think about it. The majority of men in our own time say, I am spiritual but not religious. What that usually means is that he or she isn’t in the least bit interested in the intellectual pursuit of God, and is, rather, smugly and self-righteously self-contented. Evidently he’s got it all figured out and he doesn’t need to know more. Or he or she is using arrogance and hubris as a shield against their own fear of confronting themselves and then necessarily finding God. If such a person goes on to describe the philosophy or theology that moves him, what emerges usually amounts to little more than a spiritualization of feeling. If it feels good, and I do it, it must be authentic and morally good. Of course, such a philosophy of life is nothing more than an adolescent approach to reality, where the ideal of adult behavior has long since vanished, since adult behavior would testify of norms and ideals, which our society has deemed hurtful.
Of course, Jesus Christ meets all opposition to God’s visitation then and now with the words that read in this morning’s Gospel. Which of you convicts me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? He who is of God, hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God. (St. John viii. 46) To be fair to post-modern nihilists, who have stopped caring about Jesus Christ because they are drenched, drowned, saturated, and soaked in the pagan culture which envelopes and enables them, it is no small wonder that Jesus Christ and His message are not only alien but antagonistic. They have become habituated and hardened to a new religious dogma whose benefits demand that they have a spiritual right to feel good, and do whatsoever pleases them. With Christ, they find a real enemy of their secular religion, and thus soon become they become the new Pharisees. What is threatened is their supposed freedom. In Christ and His religion they fear only what will enslave and oppress them to the shackles that impede their progress. What threatens them most is that there might just be one form of goodness and truth that is absolute and not relative, true and not false, right and not wrong, and forever binding upon their consciences. Who and what they fear most is Christ.
So they are like the Pharisees in this morning’s Gospel who find Jesus Christ who questions their religion and the gods whom they worship. Because they are so unacquainted with the Divine Goodness they can only react to what they consider to be evil. Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan and hast a devil? (St. John viii. 48) What is alien, strange, and contradictory of our ways and mores we fear. That we might be questioned about our choices and customs might irritate or enrage us. Jesus of Nazareth calls most of our lives into question. And when He does, wouldn’t we rather think that the problem is more with Him than us? This is how we convince ourselves that we need not heed with too much seriousness who Jesus says He is and what He asks of us. If He irritates us merely, we pardon, excuse, and justify our failure to follow Him on the intellectual or emotional grounds that who He says He is and what He asks are beyond the reach of common sense. If He succeeds in enraging us, we proceed to silence and kill Him.
Of course, technically speaking, we are right. Who He says He is and what He asks are beyond the reach of what most mortal men think makes sense! If who He says He is was within the scope of human intelligent creativity, we would have invented it long ago and saved ourselves. So the real question is this. Do we believe that He is who He says He is, and will we give Him what He asks of us? Jesus claims that God is His Father…[He] has come from God…that [he came] not of [Himself], [but was] sent. (St. John viii. 42)The Pharisees are irritated because they can’t imagine that Jesus could ever be who He says He is, and so condemn Him as demon-possessed. Their rage is enkindled when He challenges their reliance on a Law that cannot save them. Jesus answers, I have not a devil; but I honour my Father, and ye do dishonour me. And I seek not mine own glory: there is one that seeketh and judgeth. (St. John 8. 49-50) Jesus comes to honor all men with God the Father’s desire for their salvation. The Pharisees honor themselves and seek glory from men. Those who are sinking and going to decay boast most of how other men hold them in the highest esteem. Christ knows that their arrogance stands only to make them not better but worse. What He offers, He has received from the Father, and honors it as what alone can touch human hearts and transform them with eternal glory. He is sent by the Father on a Divine Mission: My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me and to finish His work. (St. John iv. 34) What He will offer is something that the world has never before experienced in quite this way.
We are irritated and might become enraged. Jesus claims that if a man keeps [His] saying, he shall never see death. (Ibid) What He promises to faith exceeds our wildest imagination. We are offended because He challenges us to imagine something beyond our frail powers. Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, if a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death. Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself? (St. John viii. 52-53) The Pharisees mean: You are a man, Jesus of Nazareth, and when you die, your words will die with you. Abraham and the prophets are all dead. And their words have died with them. Indeed their words are as dead as they. So, we cannot believe that your words will ensure our everlasting life.
This is the response of all men who conclude that God’s transcendent Word was dead to Abraham. Christ speaks once again. If I honour myself, my honour is nothing: it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that He is your God: yet ye have not known him; but I know him: and if I should say, I know him not, I shall be a liar like unto you; but I know him, and keep his saying. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad. (St. John 8. 54-58) Christ the Word teaches us that human life is made by God to be blessed, honored, transformed, and perfected by the indwelling Word of God’s love. What He communicates to the world as the Word made flesh is God’s love for His people and passion for their salvation. Christ discloses also that His Father has always intended to save and deliver His people. Christ keeps the Father’s saying because it is the power of love that through Him will save all men. The Father’s saying is the Word of love that moves and enlivens the whole of the universe. The Father’s saying is the Word of love that longs for His people in the life of His Son. This is the same unchanging Word of God, the same saying that moved Abraham to hope in salvation and the life with God that never ends. Jesus says, Before Abraham was, I AM. I am the Word, that was heard of old, is with you now, and will be with you forever if you believe and follow me. I am my Father’s eternally-begotten Word of love for you. Will you follow me? If our faith is dead like that of the ancient Pharisees, our irritation will become the rage that kills Jesus and longs to drag Him into our spiritual death. Then took they up stones to cast at him…. (St. John viii. 59)
Jesus, God’s Word as flesh is sent to do His Father’s will. God’s Word is His will, His will is His Love, and His Love is the utterance and expression of God’s deepest desire and delight for all men’s salvation. His Love is that passion that longs to come near to us on this Passion Sunday. This is the passion is that Love that does not count the cost. His Love is as broad as the universe and as deep as the human heart of Jesus Christ. His Love incessantly, persistently, and relentlessly desires to make us His own. His Love is His Passion. This is the Passion that stirred Abraham to hope for the salvation of the nations through God’s Word. This is the Passion that resonated, reverberated, and resounded in the spirits of those ancient souls who heard God’s Word and were athirst for God, yea, even for the living God…. (Ps. xlii. 2) This is the Passion of God in Jesus Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, to purge our conscience from dead works so that we might begin to serve the living God. (Hebrews ix. 11)
On this Passion Sunday, Jesus Christ persists and perseveres in His determination to reveal God’s Passion and Love for us. Our English word passion comes from the Latin word patior and it means to suffer, endure, or even to be hurt or wounded. Today, Christ calls us into a vison of His suffering love. He calls us also to overcome our prideful irritation and arrogant rage with a humble desire for the love that He brings. Our first opening to His passion will not feel good. He comes near to us. If we are humble enough, His approach will challenge and shake us. If we remain with Him, He will begin to smite and wound us. If we persevere with Him up to His Cross, we shall be smitten and wounded by His suffering death. So let us consider Christ’s approach and with Henry Vaughn gaze with awe upon the Love that dies to smite and wound us into a death that cannot help but lead to new and glorious life.
Ah, my dear Lord! What couldst thou spy
In this impure, rebellious clay,
That made thee thus resolve to die
For those that kill thee every day?
O what strange wonders could thee move
To slight thy precious blood and breath!
Sure it was Love, my Lord: for Love
Is only stronger far than death.
(Henry Vaughn, ‘Incarnation and Passion’)
But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.
(Gal. iv. 26)
At the very beginning of Lent Jesus said to his disciples, Behold we go up to Jerusalem. (St. Luke xviii. 31) We began our journey at Christ's command. Long journeys are hard work, and this Lenten journey is no exception. For nearly some seven weeks Christians are invited to walk with Jesus towards Jerusalem. Walking to Jerusalem is what our lives are all about. We walk with Jesus in order to see how He conquers the temptations of Satan and triumphs over sin for us. We walk with Jesus to discover that, like the woman of Canaan, we are more like dogs than men, aliens and exiles to God’s promises, and yet wholly hanging upon crumbs that fall from His table. So, we learn to long humbly for that mercy that persists in obtaining Jesus' mercy and healing. As dogs, we learn also that we are, more often than not, dumb and mute, incapable of comprehending and articulating God’s Word and will in our lives until His inward Grace opens our spiritual senses to His desire.
Our Lenten pilgrimage with Jesus up to Jerusalem, (St. Matthew xx. 18) will not be easy. We learn much about ourselves on this journey, and so we become spiritually exhausted. We grow haggard, hungry, and perhaps even dejected and discouraged. Lenten fasting and abstinence do that to a person. At times, we become distracted and even lose our way. The pull and tug of certain temptations may well have been overcome, but seven other demons worse than ourselves threaten to consume us. (St. Matthew xii. 45) Satan realizes that he is losing our spirits, and so he attacks our bodies with renewed vigor through the elements of this world. (Galatians iv. 3) We have the best of intentions and yet feel ourselves the children of the proverbial Hagar, the bond woman –mother of an earthly bastard child. We do want to become free men, children of promise, and followers of Jesus, who go up to Jerusalem which is above… and is free. (Galatians iv. 26) And yet it seems the more we try that further back we fall.
So today Jesus Christ and His Bride, the Church, provide us with what we need. Today is Dominica Refectionis –Refreshment Sunday or Mothering Sunday: the day on which Mother Church asks us to sit down and rest awhile, to find some spiritual refreshment so that our pursuit of Jesus Christ will not be in vain. Today we are asked to stop, to breathe, and to contemplate Jerusalem which is above… and is free. (Ibid) So we read that Jesus went up into a mountain, and there He sat with His disciples. (St. John vi. 3) Jesus bids us come with Him to the mountain of His holiness so that He might strengthen us for our continuing Lenten journey. He knows that we are in danger of spiritual languor and listlessness. So, He intends to provide us with that spiritual food which will give us dogged and dauntless determination to press on.…Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. (St. John vi. 10) St. John Chrysostom tells us that Jesus calls us up to rest at intervals from the tumults and confusion of common life. For solitude is a thing meet for the study of wisdom. And often doth He go up alone into a mountain, and spend the night there, and pray, to teach us that the man who will come most near to God must be free from all disturbance, and must seek times and places clear of confusion. (St.J.C.: Sermon…)
So, we must sit down, listen, and trust. And yet in Lent, worn out as we are, when asked by Jesus, Whence shall we buy bread that [we all] may eat? (St. John vi. 5), our minds jump back to earthly provisions for earthly refreshment. Jesus asks this question this morning to prove Philip, for he Himself knew what he would do. (St. John vi. 6) He intends to enlarge and deepen Philip's faith so that he might find refreshment in spiritual and not earthly food. Philip has seen the finger of God at work in the miracles that Jesus has performed. Will he believe that Jesus can provide food that no man can find or afford and that can satisfy far more than the physical hunger of a paltry five thousand? What measure of faith does Philip have? Philip answers, as most of us would, as one in bondage to the elements of this world. He responds that even two-hundred penny worth is not enough for this crowd. (St. John vi. 7) Philip is thinking in earthly terms and thus calculates the monetary cost of feeding the hungry thousands. Too many people, too little money, he conjectures. Thus, Jesus intends to reveal the smallness and poverty of Philip’s faith. His faith should have been in process of enlarging and expanding because the same Jesus who made water into wine at the Wedding in Cana of Galilee would surely be able to feed the hungry multitude. His faith should have seen too that if Christ has asked whence shall we buy bread that He intended to provide refreshment of another kind and from another source.
Philip’s faith is small and weak because of what they do not have. Andrew’s faith is small and weak because of what they do have. There is a young lad who hath five barley loaves and two fishes, but what are they among so many? (St. John vi. 9) As Philip’s faith was overcome by too much, Andrew’s was constrained by too little. To offer so little to so many could only stand to mock and offend them, Andrew thought.
True faith can often be destroyed because we conclude that we never have enough or we complain about having too little. Jesus tells us to sit down, listen, and trust. He asks us to remember that we are going up to Jerusalem, that we are dogs eating from the crumbs that fall from His table (St. Matt. xv. 27), and that we must not only hear the Word of God but keep it. (St. Luke xi. 28) Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. (St. John vi. 10) The disciples obey the Master, though as yet they have nothing to set before the guests. Nature serves her Master and so affords Him and His guests a plush, green carpet of cushioned grass. And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would. (Ibid, 11) Before we make use of God’s gifts to us, we must give thanks. What He gives to us is more than sufficient to satisfy our hunger. Jesus asks us to entrust our wellbeing to Him as we travel up to the Jerusalem of our salvation. Five loaves and two fishes will feed five thousand. Tiny morsels, fragments, or crumbs that are blessed by God’s Word will always be sufficient to fill and refresh hungry souls. Andrew’s poverty becomes Philip’s plenty. Something small becomes something great. The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field. (St. Matthew xiii. 31)
Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof. (Ibid, 32) Jesus says, gather up the fragments that remain that nothing be lost. (St. John vi. 12) Faith is fed with such spiritual plenty that fragments remain from Christ’s feast –twelve baskets full to continue to refresh twelve Apostles and the multitudes in the world whom they will convert. Those who think that Jesus Christ comes to satisfy only earthly hunger are in bondage to the elements of this world. (Gal. iv. 3) They are the children of Hagar. They are like Christians who pursue earthly needs and wants to the detriment of their souls. Their faith rests in earthly things and does not enlarge to embrace Christ’s true desire for man. To them nothing remains of Christ’s desire to feed the faith of their souls. But faith’s sustenance is food for men wayfaring. As St. Hilary suggests, The substance [of the five barley loaves and two fishes] progressively increases. (The Passing of the Law: St. Hilary of Poitiers) And as Archbishop Trench says, So we have here a visible symbol of that love which exhausts not itself by loving, but after all its outgoings upon others, multiplies in an ongoing multiplying which is always found in true giving.... (Par’s. p. 213) Christ does not exhaust His loving power merely in provisions for the needs of the flesh. His love intends always to fortify, enlarge, and refresh that faith that will follow Him up to Jerusalem which is above, and is free. (Gal. iv. 26)
Therefore the Apostles gathered the fragments together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten. (St. John vi. 13) St. Augustine tells us that the fragments that remained were the parts that the people could not yet eat. (Tr. xxiv. 6) What remains over and above from this miracle is the spiritual meat that the people cannot yet eat. Yet, Jesus says, if you follow me, you will desire to eat of these fragments that remain. In the fragments that remain are hidden gifts of mystic meaning. In the fragments are contained the more of God’s food, which Jesus will give to them that hunger and thirst after righteousness. (St. Matthew v. 6) Jesus always provides more and better food to those who follow Him in faith. Faith sees that the more than the multitude can eat is Spirit and is Truth. Within fragments and crumbs of earthly food lie hidden the spiritual nourishment of God’s Grace that will be food for men wayfaring. There is more to be seen, grasped, and ingested of this Giver and His gifts, but not until the eyes of faith are opened and the believer’s heart is softened. Let us then gather up the fragments that nothing be lost. (St. John vi. 12) We will need them, for remember, behold we go up to Jerusalem, and mere earthly fare will never feed and sustain a faith that seeks to behold and plumb the depths of that love that never stops giving. Amen.
Against thee only have I sinned and done that which is evil in thy sight…(Ps. Li. 4)
Ultimately when we sin we rebel against God. Even when we sin against our neighbors, we are sinning against God because they are His craftsmanship and work and deserving of our righteous respect. At the end of the day, whether we sin against others or ourselves, we shall have to give an account of our sinning before God our Righteous Judge. In the final reckoning, all sinners must deal with God.
The good news is that God’s nature and property is always to have mercy and to forgive. (Penitential Service, BCP, p. 63) God desires that we should approach Him and repent so that He might forgive us. Sin for God is something that we must claim, confess, and own. Sin for God is something over which we must be contrite, compunctious, remorseful, and ashamed. Sin for God is no call to punishment, but a signal for forgiveness. God is love and that love is always ready to forgive sorry sinners.
But God does not forgive sinners without conditions. The sinner must repent and be in possession of a temper that is truly sorry for his sins to be forgiven. What God forgives is sin and man’s way of obtaining forgiveness is through sorrow over the wrong that he has done. To obtain forgiveness, we must submit ourselves to God’s judgment and then to express our deepest remorse and grief over our rebellion against His Will and Law. God cannot and will not forgive us if we are not sorry.
Now this brings up an interesting point. When should we repent? When we have transgressed God’s Law for human beings. Where is God’s Law found? In Holy Scripture. What is that Law comprised of? Well, basically, what the Church has concluded from Scripture as the Seven Deadly Sins. These sins are not simple but complex and multifarious in meaning. They are pride, envy, wrath, sloth, avarice, gluttony, and lust. A good enumeration of their multifarious expressions can be found in the St. Augustine’s Prayer Book. The Seven Deadly Sins comprise all sins that ignore or neglect, violate or overturn, or reject and deny God’s plan for human life. God’s plan includes the redemption of our minds and hearts, or of reason and will. God’s plan involves every choice that we make and every motivation that fuels it. God’s plan involves not only what we do by why we do it. Sin against God’s will is exhaustive and exhausting. And if we don’t repent of all of our sins, we shall not be saved and returned to God.
So we must locate, name, claim, confess, and grieve all of our sins. Only in this way can and will God forgive us. God is too respectful of our created being, of our reason and free will to expect anything less from us. As men are free to obey or disobey the Law of God, so are they free to accept or reject the forgiveness of sins He is always ready to offer to them. (Times of London, The Christian Year, p. 69) Forgiveness is never forced. It cannot be. It must be only and ever be God’s desire for our betterment and perfection. Desire and love are never forced. God longs for us to desire to die to sin and come alive to righteousness, to move out of exile and towards intimate communion with Him. Forgiveness must be desired as what alone can bring sinners from their vice into the operations of Divine Virtue. Forgiveness must be longed for as what alone can bring us all from death into new life
Neither does God overturn the Laws of His truth. Sin is its own punishment. Those who suffer the effects of their sinful choices often endure the abuse, suffering, torture, chastening, discipline, and correction that might very well awaken the soul to its wayward meanderings. Sin often disappoints, especially if the sinner is conscious of his desire for the more lasting, enduring, and permanent joys that he finds in others. Sin might alert him to its imperfect approximation of perfection. Sin might cause a deluge of sorrow and unhappiness to arise in his heart. Sin might hurt his body, his soul, and his spirit. Sin might hurt others and stir the conscience to guilt. Sin might bring pain to those who are awakening to the Spirit. Such pain may very well trigger the desire for forgiveness and the love that heals and saves. Whatever effect sin has on the human soul, God desires that the sinner might turn away from his wickedness which he hath committed to do that which is lawful and right so that he might save his soul alive. (Ez: xviii. 27) The turning is found in conscience that desires finally to abandon alienation and exile from God and to embrace the forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness of sin is freedom from its power and must issue in righteousness which rejoices in the liberty of service to God. (Idem, 69)
To come to see and experience the forgiveness of sins brings the deepest sense of liberation, joy, and peace. It is an act of creative Goodness. (Idem) A man can be said to come alive truly only when the forgiveness of his sins has been registered and appreciated. God alone has created us for Himself and His redemption in Jesus Christ promises always to enlarge the creation by way of the forgiveness of sins. With the forgiveness of sins comes an awareness of new life and the meaning that attaches to it. With the forgiveness of sins comes that piercing truth that life is made for return to God with all of the creative energy that newborn babes desire as they embark on life in God’s new creation. Man is born again, born from above, and regenerated through the forgiveness of sins. The forgiven man becomes aware that he has passed from death unto life, from slavery unto freedom, and from darkness to the light of God’s presence. (Ibid, 70)
Will we accept the forgiveness of sins? We must repent to receive it. We must repent to enjoy its benefits. Will we accept that Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, became the Forgiveness of Sins for us? Will we embrace Him as God’s forgiveness? Will we participate in His mercy and forgiveness and share it with others? Will we see that the Forgiveness of Sins is alive and well in the Holy Spirit of the Father and Jesus His Son? Will this Forgiveness of Sins issue forth in Jesus’ Death and ours? In Him, will we begin to be dead unto sin but alive unto righteousness? This is what Lent is all about.
Blessed is the womb that bare thee and the paps which thou
hast sucked. But Jesus said, Yea rather, blessed are they
that hear the word of God, and keep it.
(St. Luke xi. 27, 28)
In last week's Gospel, a heathen woman taught us how to come to know ourselves, repent of our sins, and to supplicate Christ for His merciful love and His all-powerful healing of body and soul. You will remember that the Syro-Phoenician woman taught us how to express humility and obedience to God- that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves. (Collect Lent II) She taught us also that if we are to be healed inwardly and spiritually we must persistently pursue the Lord Jesus and to say at all times O Lord, thou Son of David, have mercy upon me.(St Matthew 15. 22) I hope that like her we came to know ourselves as spiritual whelps or dogs –which is to say that we are never worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under [the Lord’s] table. (Prayer of Humble Access)
I hope that we learned also that the faith of the Syro-Phoenician woman is not meant to reveal a temporary appeal to the Lord. It is meant to become the habit of our lives. We are to come near to the Lord in good times and in bad. We are to search for Him, find Him, and hear His Word persistently in our souls. As Jesus insists in today’s Gospel, Blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it. (St. Luke 11. 28)
Today, another woman, this time a Jewish one, having witnessed Jesus’ healing of the deaf and dumb man and listening to His Word, praised and lauded Him with these words: Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps that gave thee suck. (St. Luke 11.27) Or, Happy is the Woman that has Thee for her Son. The mother…of one who ‘speaks as never man spoke’, that has so much of the Grace of Heaven in Him and is so great a blessing to this earth, as Matthew Henry explains it. (M. Henry Comm…) But Jesus corrects the woman. He insists that the source and cause of all wisdom and righteousness is God. It may very well be true, and indeed is, that the womb that bare Him and the paps which He had sucked were blessed- His mother was, after all, the Blessed Virgin Mary. But she was blessed because she heard the Word of God, and kept it. In other words, she was blessed, indeed blessed…among women (Luke 1. 42)) because her soul magnified the Lord, and her spirit had rejoiced in God her Saviour.( St. Luke 1. 47) Blessedness comes from hearing God’s Word, retaining it, nourishing it, and giving birth to it literally and spiritually in human life.
Since the source of all truth is God’s Word, we are called to hear this truth, keep and perfect it. Keeping the Word of God in our souls is what faith's pilgrimage back to God is all about. We must not seek to be healed of incidental demons only to travel on our merry way, forgetting about the nature of God’s Word that longs to transform us more deeply and lastingly. We are called not to treat God and His Word as the doctor and his medicine at Urgent Care. Faith seeks for healing on an ongoing basis. Sometimes faith has a particular demon that needs exorcising. Sometimes faith needs help in making it through the common drudgery of life. But faith must always be banishing its vices amassing those virtues that fortify it against the assaults of other demons. Faith seeks comprehensive healing. The medicine of faith must be allowed to cure the body, soul, and spirit if true spiritual health is to be found.
At the beginning of today's Gospel we read that Jesus was casting out a devil and it was dumb.(St. Luke 11. 14) The man whom Jesus finds is physically deaf and dumb. Obviously, then, he can neither hear nor speak. Can we identify with this man? We may not be physically deaf and dumb, but are we spiritually deaf and dumb? Is it possible that we have not heard the Word of God addressing us, because we have been too moved and defined by the noise of this world? If we are honest with ourselves, we must confess that we blither and blabber, shoot out vain words in mindless chatter that makes us deaf to the spiritual address, call, and summons of God in His Word, Jesus Christ. St. Paul tells us that mindless jabber, filthiness, foolish talking, and jesting (Eph. 5. 4) too often express and define our lives. He warns us against being deceived by vain words that provoke the wrath of God. (Ibid, 6) He reminds us also that when we hear the Word, and keep it as a habit in our hearts, we must then give thanks for it. (Ibid, 4) We cannot begin to give thanks to God for His Word, until the demons of our deaf and dumb natures have been cast out and off. Hearing God’s Word and keeping it, St. Paul suggests, cannot come about if we are having fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness. (Ibid, 8, 11)
In our Gospel for today we read that When the devil was gone out…of the deaf and dumb man…the dumb (man) spake. (St. Luke 11.14) and the people wondered. Those present were amazed. And so too, in our own fallen world, people will be confused and sore-amazed when we are bent on hearing God’s Word and keeping it. God no sooner unlooses our tongues in new spiritual ways, begins to change our lives, than our family members, friends, and others become judgmental and censorious. In the Gospel today some of them said, He casteth out devils through Beelzebub, the prince of the devils. And others sought a sign from heaven.(St. Luke 11. 15,16) When we begin to hear God’s Word and it begins to grow and mature in our lives, people will suspect that psychological imbalance and mental instability are hard at work within us. They will judge us. Many will become impatient and then indignant with us. Some will sense that this world and the words that enslave them to it are being judged and measured by the still small voice of God’s Word hard at work in our hearts and souls. They might begin to perceive that silence is true Wisdom’s best reply. (Euripides)
But Jesus makes it clear that when our spiritual ears are opened and our spiritual tongues are unloosed, God’s Word and not the devil has responded to man’s silence. If I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore shall they be your judges. (Ibid, 19) The Devil disrupts, divides, stirs up, confuses, and confounds men with noise, noise, noise. Jesus says, But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you. (St. Luke 11.20) It is the finger of God alone that is powerful enough to find our dumb and deaf silence and to infuse it with the healing and salvific Word of Truth. The Devil or Beelzebub ensnares and entangles us in meaningless blubbering, blather, burble, gabble, gibberish, and gossip. Through television, the internet, and the cell phone he whips us up into a world of words, exaggerating our fears, entrenching our anxieties, endangering our relationships, and emboldening our depression. He fills our ears with words that divide and clutter our minds with the noise that makes us deaf to the Word of God. The Devil is no friend of spiritual silence and the Word of God that will liberate all men. He is not divided against himself (St. Luke xi. 18), for his single determination and desire is to sever us from the still small voice of God (1 Kings xix. 12) that would save us.
Someone much stronger than Satan must drive Satan out. Someone whose power can overcome all confusion must enable us to hear and respond to God’s desire once again. That one is God’s Word, spoken to us in the life and mission of Jesus Christ. For when a stronger than [Satan] shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all the armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils. (St. Luke 11. 21) When Jesus the Word drives out Satan, Satan's power is gone. When the Word drives the Devil out, then the Devil is silenced. Goodness and healing come from God alone, and Satan is positively dislodged and unhinged when their invasion is at hand. God speaks His healing Word through His Son Jesus Christ and the powers of darkness, disorder, disharmony, and dolor are scattered. The spiritually deaf and dumb can neither hear nor speak unless and until God’s Word of love dismisses and dispels all disorder and enables us to respond to God’s merciful work. Yet, only with our response can sanctification begin. Blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep it. (St. Luke 11.28)
Keeping the Word of God is the hard part. Because of silence and stillness, the unclean spirit has gone out of us. (Ibid, 24) But then there is a danger. We walk through dry places. (Idem) We have been emptied but not filled, healed of Satan’s indwelling and yet not his future threats. As Abbott Bruno says, we are
Empty, since he finds there no charity, nor true faith, nor humility, nor patience, nor justice, nor mercy, nor any of the other things with which the souls of the saints are furnished. How does he find it? Swept and garnished: he finds it as he desires to find it. (St. Bruno, Toale)
In this Lent, we must find more than courage to welcome Jesus the Strong Man into our hearts. We must pray too for His Holy Spirit so that our sins might be overcome by their logical positive counterparts, God’s virtues. Will we then pray for stillness and silence in our hearts as we long the more earnestly for Christ the Word to infuse us with that holiness that enables us to keep His Word? Will we be blessed because first we heard the Word, and in hearing the Word, we believed, and in believing we safeguarded it? (St. Bruno, Toale) Safeguarding requires the same daily silence and stillness that forever embraces the Word that overcomes all evil within with good. Will we then be blessed because Christ says, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep it? (Ibid, 28) Amen.
[Love-2.1-15] Eusebius. Oh! Theophilus, you have forced me now to speak, and I cannot contain the Joy that I feel in this Expectation which you have raised in me. If you can make the Scriptures do all that which you have promised to Theogenes, I shall be in Paradise before I die. For to know that Love alone was the Beginning of Nature and Creature, that nothing but Love encompasses the whole Universe of Things, that the governing Hand that overrules all, the watchful Eye that sees through all, is nothing but omnipotent and omniscient Love, using an Infinity of Wisdom, to raise all that is fallen in Nature, to save every misguided Creature from the miserable Works of its own Hands, and make Happiness and Glory the perpetual Inheritance of all the Creation is a Reflection that must be quite ravishing to every intelligent Creature that is sensible of it. Thus to think of God, of Providence, and Eternity, whilst we are in this Valley and Shadow of Death, is to have a real Foretaste of the Blessings of the World to come. Pray, therefore, let us hear how the Letter of Scripture is a Proof of this God of Love.
To know God as Love seems to commonplace for comment. But post-moderns mistake God as Love with God as Sympathizing Sentimentality. God is not sentimental. God does not affirm us in our sinful rebellion against Him. Love is Wrath when we reject His Will. The Love we speak of here is the Being of Power who enlivens and quickens invisibly all things simultaneously. This Love pierces and penetrates every being with that potential meaning towards which it strives. It is omniscient and omnipotent. It is All-Wise. This Love offers to lift all fallen creatures back into the realization of their ends and to thereby perfect them. This Love offers to reward willful obedience with Happiness and Glory. This Love is never forced. It must be desired and embraced by the mind and the heart, through reason and will. Every creature who becomes sensible of this Love through intelligence will be seized, captured, and ravished with delight. The contrary nature of the Divine Love as perceived ‘in the valley and shadow of death’ stands only to reinforce desire of it and transformation by it. But before we move on with Love, we must examine the nature and condition of Wrath. Such will better enable us to understand God as Love.
[Love-2.1-17] Now there are two Things, both of them visible to your outward Senses, which entirely open the true Ground and Nature of Wrath, and undeniably show what it is in itself, from whence it arises, and wherein its Life, and Strength, and Being consist. And these two Things are, a Tempest in the Elements of this World, and a raging Sore in the Body of Man, or any other Animal. Now that a Tempest in the Elements is Wrath in the Elements, and a Sore in the Body of an Animal a Wrath in the State of the Juices of the Body, is a Matter, I think, that needs no Proof or Explication. Consider, then, how or why a Tempest arises in the Elements, or an inflamed Sore in the Body, and then you have the true Ground and Nature of Wrath. Now a Tempest does not, cannot arise in the Elements whilst they are in their right State, in their just Mixture or Union with one another. A Sore does not, cannot break forth in the Body, whilst the Body is altogether in its true State and Temperature of its Juices. Hence you plainly see, that Wrath has its whole Nature, and only Ground of its Existence, in and by the Disorder or bad State of the Thing in which it exists and works. It can have no Place of Existence, no Power of breaking forth, but where the Thing has lost its proper Perfection, and is not as it ought to be. And therefore no good Being, that is in its proper State of Goodness, can, whilst it is in such a State, have any Wrath or Rage in it. And therefore, as a Tempest of any kind in the Elements, is a sure Proof that the Elements are not in their right State, but under Disorder, as a raging Sore in the Body is a certain Indication that the Body is impure and corrupt, and not as it should be; so in whatever Mind, or intelligent Being, Wrath or Rage works and breaks forth, there, there is Proof enough, that the Mind is in that same impure, corrupt, and disordered State, as those Elements that raise a Tempest, and that Body which gives forth an inflamed Sore. And now, Gentlemen, what think you of a supposed Wrath, or Rage in God? Will you have such Things to be in the Deity itself as cannot have Place or Existence even in any Creature, until it is become disordered and impure and has lost its proper State of Goodness?
God cannot be in a state of Wrath, Rage, Ire, Fury, or Anger. In His Nature, He is one with the created universe. To Him, the created universe is wholly Good, True, and Beautiful. Even sinners sinning in their sins can only ever be some Rational and Logical Part of the Good that is established and Being Fulfilled. Wrath, Rage, Ire, Fury, and Anger are expressed at disorder and impurity. To God the greatest of evils are the poorest of choices in a nevertheless rich and abundant Providential Plan that will unfold despite bad angels and sinning men’s rejection of Him. God can turn all evil to good and all sin to the benefit of His Unchanging Love. His Love is Unchanging and thus He never ceases to desire the worst of sinners, though they have willed their eternal destiny in the furthestmost depths of Hell. God’s Love extends into Hell itself and the greatest anguish is felt in the hearts of those who have denied its effectual offer for the highest happiness and joy.
O LORD, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights; Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness, and true holiness, to thy honour and glory, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.
St. Thomas Aquinas tells us about the order in which Satan tempted Christ.
For at first he tempted Him to that which men desire, however spiritual they may be—namely, the support of the corporeal nature by food. Secondly, he advanced to that matter in which spiritual men are sometimes found wanting, inasmuch as they do certain things for show, which pertains to vainglory. Thirdly, he led the temptation on to that in which no spiritual men, but only carnal men, have a part—namely, to desire worldly riches and fame, to the extent of holding God in contempt. And so in the first two temptations he said: "If Thou be the Son of God"; but not in the third, which is inapplicable to spiritual men, who are sons of God by adoption, whereas it does apply to the two preceding temptations. (Summa, III, xli. 4)
As we have said, the first temptation was to things earthly and necessary for physical nourishment of our bodies, their clothing, and their comfort. The second temptation was to spiritual self-importance, the protection and security of the holy man and ascetic, or to pride and vainglory. The third temptation seems to be a combination of the first two, where the importance of the earthly man and his pride take precedence over God to the extent that Christ is tempted to sever Himself from His heavenly Father. In the final temptation we hear this:
Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and
sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and
saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and
worship me. (Ibid, 8,9)
St. Thomas reminds us that here Satan does not address Christ with If thou be the Son of God since this temptation is for those who will become purely carnal men and not spiritual sons of God by adoption and Grace. Here Satan strives to sever Christ entirely from God. If Christ need perform miracles neither on the body or the soul, neither against nature nor reason, then perhaps Satan has finally reduced Christ to the pure potential of becoming His own God severed from the Father. Perhaps Satan now can convince Christ to move beyond good and evil, beyond right and wrong, beyond any final victory of the one over the other. Perhaps He can become the ruler of a universe where good and evil can find peace, coexist, and live happily ever after together. To worship Satan is to settle for a world in which God and the Devil are opposing forces and mutual antagonists. To worship Satan is to make something of evil that is nothing to God. To God, evil is absolutely without power, meaning, significance, or durability. But perhaps Christ will accept a world with good and evil, God and the Devil, or two realities and not the one reality of God’s rule and governance. I guess this world is not so bad. Some years ago a fellow seminarian commenting on various theological innovations at dinner one evening by repeating the phrase, That doesn’t bother me. An old Welsh Canon finally responded to him with, What does bother you? It doesn’t seem that very much bothers you. You must belong to the ‘that doesn’t bother me school of theology’. The only problem with it is that it is a school of thought that will lead both you and your sheep into Hell. Think how easy it is to become acclimated to the heathen culture that surrounds us. Think how often we can shrug our shoulders and exclaim, What can I do about it? What we can and must do is pray. Everything should bother us.
Christ is here tempted to accept and affirm that sin cannot be overcome by obedience to God’s will. Christ is here tempted to believe that God’s goodness in His heart cannot overcome sin and death. Christ is here tempted to believe that His trust in the Heavenly Father cannot win over, transform, convert, sanctify, and save sinful men. He is tempted to give up and settle for less when God Almighty can always do better and more and always wants better in the service of His best.
Men in all ages want Jesus Christ to be King of this world over and against the demands of the Eternal Kingdom of our Heavenly Father.
When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him
by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself
alone. (St. John vi. 15)
Jesus cannot surrender or sacrifice the demands of His Heavenly Father to the demands of this world. Some, like Judas Iscariot, wanted Jesus to deliver the Jews and Israel from Roman oppression. Modern men want Jesus to deliver the United States of America from the grips of Satan by establishing a kind of Christianity as the state religion –of course, the kind that won’t hurt anyone’s feelings. Jesus must be faithful to the Father. He must continue to bring men to the Father through the pattern that leads to His all healing Death, Resurrection, and Ascension.
Jesus Christ is called to resist Satan’s temptations in order to travel up to the throne of His Cross. He must resist this final shortcut. Jesus Christ is called to resist Satan’s temptation in order to give His life a ransom for many. Jesus Christ is called not to compromise with evil not to make peace with Satan but to overcome evil and Satan by the power of that Love and Goodness that lives to die and dies to live.
Satan now treats Christ as a mere man and not the Son of God. Evidently, Christ had not proved Himself to Satan as the Son of God. Christ will be a mere man. Behold the Man (St. John xix. 5), Pilate will exclaim. Indeed. The Son of God is satisfied to be treated as a mere man. He is a mere man. He is the new first mere man, the new Adam, who will establish the pattern of our new life for return to God the Father. This is the first day of the new creation. Christ is not troubled by being treated as a mere man. He is honored and privileged to subject Himself to the same law that He decreed for all of us. A true ruler and governor is ruled and governed by the principles which He lays down for his people.
And this ruler and governor comes like no other. He comes to bow down in humility, to serve, to wash the dirty feet of our souls, to minister to us, to give His life for us, and to surrender His own importance and dignity for our sake. He comes to establish a Kingdom also. He will do it quietly and inconspicuously. It will be hidden beneath the layers of the Parable that His life is. His Life is the Pattern and the Pattern is a Parable for those with eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to feel. His Life will be the way, the truth, and the life for those who long to find God, for those who long to find in their end their beginning.
Christ says to Satan:
Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord
thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.
Christ has resisted the final temptation. He invites us into the power of His resistance. It is a power that works from the inside out, from God’s heart into the world, from Heaven down into earth, and from the Father, through the Son, and by the Spirit into us. It is a power of joyful obedient love that will overcome all evil with good, all hate with love, and all madness with the Divine Wisdom. The pattern is a parable whose inner meaning calls forth our joyful obedience.
Next we read:
Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.
Behold the Man who has resisted Satan and all his minions. The angels now come and minister unto Him. At last they can be useful. They come to love and comfort Him. They have been cheering Him on all along. They love Him with unceasing love. They know too, however that His work is far from over or done. He desires for another place to lay His head also. Will He lay His head on our hearts? Will we find that we too want to love and minister to Him. He must go to His Cross before this comes to pass. Will we find Him there, down at the Cross? Will the pattern of the parable, the parable of God’s love for us become our reality at the Cross?
Now, He comes down from the mountain. Next, He will ascend the mountain of the Cross. But He comes down to find us again today. How? Through the Holy Spirit. He comes down to find us again today armed as the Word of God. He is with us and for us. Behold, we go up to Jerusalem with Jesus. Let us travel up with Him. May Christ the Word banish the devil from our hearts. May Christ the Word infuse us with His Spirit. May Christ the Word take us up to death and beyond. May Christ the Word embrace us with a love that will never die. No shortcuts.
Let us pray:
WE beseech thee, Almighty God, look upon the hearty desires of thy humble servants, and stretch forth the right hand of thy Majesty, to be our defence against all our enemies; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Let us Pray:
O LORD, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights; Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness, and true holiness, to thy honour and glory, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.
Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. (St. Matthew iv. 5,6)
Fulton Sheen reminds us in his Life of Christ that Christ is tempted to take shortcuts for the redemption of man and to the Kingdom. So many Christians are tempted to take shortcuts in their Christian pilgrimage. They think that they are blessed enough with earthly prosperity and they give up on the pilgrimage before it even begins! Man shall not live by bread alone (Idem), Christ insists. We believe that we have done enough, given enough, prayed enough, and sacrificed enough. We believe that we have sufficiently followed Him. And now we find the Second Temptation. We no longer want to turn stones into bread or bread into mammon. Stones are stones and bread is bread. True bread is food for the soul and true wine is a spiritual drink.
So, beyond the first kind of temptation, Christ invites us into a second. Rather than treating material things like food, drink, clothing, mammon and money as gods, Christ is tried, tested, and tempted to treat his own abstemious human nature as an end in itself. Like all of us, having fasted and prayed, abstained from food and drink, and relying on the nourishment of God’s Word, Christ is tempted to presume that God will ensure His safety no matter what. Here, Satan says, Well, it is good that you are entrusting your body to nourishment on God’s Word. If that is the case, it doesn’t matter what you do with your body. Throw it down. God will rescue you for your faithfulness and obedience to His Word. He will not let any harm come to one who is so faithful and true!
Satan tempts us into thinking that because we have embraced a certain degree of holiness and righteousness in our lives, we can do whatever we like with our bodies. Our souls are what matter. The soul lives on and the body is of no consequence. The first temptation is alive and well in the second. So long as we are faithful, say our prayers, live respectable enough lives, don’t harm our neighbours, God will not allow any harm to come to us. Since earthly things are of secondary importance we can do something heroic or maybe even rash in order to prove that God is with us and will not suffer any harm to come to us! We might be tempted here to throw ourselves to the proverbial lions or to provoke the Caesar’s of this world to wrath. God will rescue us and then the people will believe. So we aim at becoming martyrs. We shall provoke or tempt God to perform a last minute miracle for us as we prove our faith in Him! God will protect us. He will ensure our security. Our overindulgence of earthly food and mammon have threatened us with despair. If we have overcome them, we might be tempted to presume that God will protect us as we prove to the world that He is with us in our asceticism.
Now our abstemious denial of things earthly threaten to tempt us with a presumption of things heavenly. Our fasting from food, drink, clothing, money and mammon might very well urge us to prove to a fat, drunk, glamorous, rich, comfortable, and otherwise occupied neighbours that we are faithful and true to God. We will wake you up to it as we provoke God’s favour before your very eyes! People who give up earthly things are often tempted to lust for miracles, signs, and wonders. I had a very ascetic Orthodox priest friend who was forever fasting and praying. But he had this very odd habit of having to tell me about his miraculous icons, one of which was always weeping real tears. He kept insisting upon talking about these miraculous icons and finally he screamed at me because I wasn’t much interested. You seem so uninterested and bored with what I am telling you. I responded, I am. He screeched back at me: Why? I replied: Because I am much more interested in how we can bring real human beings to shed tears over their sins because they realize that Jesus wants us still. I wasn’t trying to be rude. I was being honest. Denying things earthly only to have to provoke signs and wonders to prove our faith in Jesus the Saviour of the World isn’t very faithful. It is superstitious and highly problematic.
Satan tempts Christ to think that we provoke signs and wonders from God to prove His presence in our world. So many around us worship mammon. Now the ascetics want mammon miracles. Mammon miracles are supernatural events that are meant to jolt and shake us out of unbelief. Don’t just stand there, do something! Satan cries to Jesus. Throw yourself down if you are the Son of God. Throw yourself down and God will snatch you up and bring you back to Himself. Throw yourself down. There is no need for suffering, passion, or death upon a Cross! Give us a good miracle and all will believe and follow you back to God!
The priority of the body has been denied. The soul is right with God. But most men won’t see it. So, it seems rational to throw down the body to prove that the soul is most important and that God will not let such a faithful soul perish. If the soul’s good is of utmost importance, then surely, we should prove to the world that our souls are protected and secured by God’s never failing providence! Like the Orthodox priest, haven’t you noticed that when people give up the food, drink, sex, and money they start blabbering on about miracles and signs and wonders?
But how can what is irrational and unreasonable be of God? The body is created by God, is good, and is to be used in His service. The soul is made for reason and knowledge and should never embrace what is irrational in order to provoke God’s favour! Christ has taken on our human nature. He has taken on the laws that rule and govern our lives. He has taken on our natures not to destroy the body or the soul and not to overturn the laws that rule both. He has taken on our natures to save us through the good use of both in the service of the Father! God doesn’t rescue His children from the logic of their choices. God doesn’t cater to the immature whims of rash or cowardly fanatics who want to win the applause of a mob. God’s providence doesn’t allow men to suspend wisdom so that men might be won by cheap Grace. God’s Grace is not cheap. God’s Grace does not destroy nature but redeems it.
Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.
Jesus will not lead us back to God the Father through signs and wonders. The effects of miracles last for about as long as post-modern man’s attention span. Jesus has come down from Heaven to work sin out of the world and righteousness in. This can happen only when man embraces the pattern that Jesus establishes. This pattern is one where human life becomes a living sacrifice to the Father because God’s mercy moves the human heart. That mercy must move our hearts to hear the Word of God and keep it in our bodies and in our souls as we move with Jesus through temptation and towards the holy city of Jerusalem. There will be time enough for signs and wonders. But the real sign and wonder that we shall find will be in the human heart that begins to believe that Jesus the Crucified One is the miracle of God’s love before our very eyes. Here is the pattern. The real miracle comes about when we shall see the great wonder of God’s own Son suffering and dying for us. Follow the love of Jesus down to the Cross and discover that Jesus is still loving us in death. Follow the love of Jesus down to the Cross and discover that Jesus is living to die and dying to live. Embrace the love of Jesus with joyful obedience. This is the true miracle, the true sign and wonder. The real miracle will be found in that joyful obedience that in utmost faith with love gives itself over to Jesus. Willy Mae Ford Smith, the African American Evangelist, reminds us that when we give ourselves over to Jesus, His Holy Spirit comes alive in us deep down and in between the bone and marrow.
Do I demand that God should prove His existence by dancing to my tune and fulfilling my every whim and fancy? Come down from that Cross and save both yourself and us! Do I provoke His favor by feeling that I have done enough and should not be required to do any more? Is Christ’s obedience to the Father not enough for me? Is the shedding of His blood not sufficiently miraculous for me? Is His giving from the Cross not adequately loving of me? Why is Jesus not enough for us?
In our quiet time let us pray about how we have sought for signs and wonders in our Christian lives. Let us pray about how we have desired miracles on our bodies, others’ bodies, and yet only at the very last minute have called God into the picture to have the priest sprinkle holy water on those who waited too long to call upon God. Holy water won’t save us. Priest mostly aren’t much good at miracles. Let us pray that we might work on our souls, the souls of our loved ones, the souls of our brothers and sisters in Christ so that rather than provoking and tempting God, we might have a rule of life that welcomes Jesus into our struggle with sin. Let us embrace the Word of God in our hearts so that we can walk with Jesus down to the Cross. No shortcuts to His Kingdom! No shortcuts to avoid Suffering Love!
Let us Pray:
ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.
(St. John iii. 27)
He must increase, but I must decrease.
Let us pray:
O LORD, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights; Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness, and true holiness, to thy honour and glory, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.
I would like to reflect with you today on the temptations of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I am sure that you have studied them extensively in your Christian journey, and so if I tell you what you already know please use it all as inspiration for a renewed determination to pray it into your lives. My chief concern today is prayer. And I would like to share with you today just how the temptations of Jesus Christ can become our own through prayer. The real benefit of the Christian religion is that whatever Christ has endured for us in time past can be made present to us and can become our own in prayer through the Holy Spirit. So, today we are asking the Holy Spirit of the Father and the Son to help us to face the temptations that Christ faced, to resist them, and to embrace those virtues that will establish us in true obedience to our Heavenly Father. This is what Lent is all about. Of course, none of this can be done without God’s Grace. Jesus Christ is the new pattern of full and perfect obedience to the Father through the Spirit. So, we pray that we might become a part of the pattern that He has established. If we become a part of the pattern that Christ established for us, the Holy Spirit will sanctify us and lead us to salvation.
Let us turn to Scripture. Here we read:
Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. (St. Matthew iv. 1)
The Son of God has come down from Heaven to save us from the sins that would alienate us from God our Heavenly Father and His Kingdom. He has come down from Heaven to save us from the sin that has corrupted and enfeebled us. God has made our natures good but sin has corrupted us. Sin has enfeebled us so that we cannot obey God by willing His goodness into our lives. We are born into sin because our first Father, Adam, disobeyed God at the urging of Satan. We have inherited Adam’s sinful nature. Christ has come down from Heaven to free us from our sinning and our sins. Christ has come down from Heaven to make us right with God again. In Holy Baptism, He began that process of regeneration. Regeneration is being born again to obedience and virtue through the Holy Ghost and from above. But our regeneration is the work of a lifetime. So, to continue this process of being born again through the Holy Ghost, we must travel with Jesus into the desert or the wilderness. To continue this process, we must forever be on guard and be ready to engage in battle and wage war with the temptations that Satan always brings before our minds and our hearts.
We must realize also that temptation is normal and good. Temptation is not sin. Temptation is trial and testing. Anything that is worthwhile in life has to be tried and tested to see if it is worthy of our attention and good enough to be established in us as a habit of life. Trial and testing involve struggle. To struggle means to fight. To fight to discover if something is good and then to fight for its acquisition is all part of man’s perfection. Man is made to use his mind and heart to see and will the good in life. And all of this involves trial, testing, and struggle. Man is made to know and to love. When we find the good, we must struggle with all of our might to embrace it in our hearts. We can do this through God’s Grace. We can do this in and through Jesus Christ who promises us His Spirit. No pain no gain. No guts, no glory. No cross, no crown. Temptation presents us with all of those choices other than God’s. Temptation presents us with all of those false gods, which we must resist if we hope to be saved.
So let us be determined to be tempted, tried, and tested. Let us struggle to see what is wrong with sin and what is right with goodness. Let us struggle to surrender to God’s will in and through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. Through temptations our characters will be tried and tested and hopefully formed by the goodness that overcomes all sin.
Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. (Idem)
The wilderness is a desert. It is a place removed from the usual distractions of human life. Please keep your cell phones off for the duration of our retreat. We need to create a space of quiet and stillness today as we allow ourselves to face our temptations, to resist sin, and embrace God’s goodness.
Today, Jesus Christ wants to teach us how to gain holiness by overcoming temptation. (The Life of Christ, Sheen, p. 62) Christ leads us into that stillness and quiet that will contemplate temptation. With Him, He will ask us to be tried and tested as we consider in what ways we have yielded to temptations and sinned in our lives. There will be three kinds of temptations that we shall be asked to resist with Him.
And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred.
The season of Lent imitates Jesus’ forty days of fasting in the wilderness. Fasting from food and drink for specific periods of time tames the body and opens the soul to a deeper awareness of reality. Reality is better perceived to be full of temptations when our bodies are less full of food and our minds are not altered by drink. Reality with its temptations to good and evil can be confronted best when we fast and pray. Adam was tempted by good and evil and chose the latter. Christ must be tempted by both to reestablish our way into goodness once again.
St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us that as Man Christ wished to be tempted. Our Saviour wishes to be tempted so that He might endure our nature to its fullest. What a friend we have in Jesus! As God, He cannot be tempted. But Jesus is God as Man. As Man, Christ will endure all of our temptations, trials, testings, and struggles.
For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling
of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
(Hebrews iv. 15)
Jesus will be tempted but will not yield to the temptation in sin.
Jesus is God as Man. After forty days of fasting in the wilderness, He is hungry. When we don’t fast, we put earthly hunger before all other things. When we do fast, earthly hunger assaults and attacks us. The point of fasting and prayer is to find a deeper and more lasting communion with God. The point of fasting and prayer is to embrace God’s goodness more fully in our lives. The Devil hates our fasting and prayer. The Devil hates for us to find the sanctification that leads to salvation. The Devil hates for us to take up a cross that promises a crown! But Jesus reminds us of the words of the preacher: My son, if thou come to serve the Lord, prepare thyself for temptation.(Ecclus. ii.1) While we fast, we are in union and communion with God feasting on His Word. When we finish, naturally enough, we are hungry. We are tempted to put earthly sustenance, satisfaction, and even joy before God’s Word. This is our first temptation.
If thou be the Son of God, command these stones to be made bread. (Ibid, 3)
We fast and we pray. We try to keep a good and Holy Lent. We want to go to God’s Kingdom. Yet we are so moved and defined by earthly food, earthly lust, and mammon. In these dark and dangerous days, our earthly comfort is paramount. In these dark and dangerous days, our body’s appetites are predominant. But we are not called to rush headlong into gluttony, lust, and avarice. We are not called to rush headlong into gorging that is full of greedy passion for bodily fulfilment. Our time of fasting should moderate and temper our body’s appetites. Our time of fasting and feasting on God’s Word should move us to the virtues of temperance, chastity, and generosity. Jesus rebukes Satan and says, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. (Ibid, 4) What is most important for the man who will resist temptation is that he should rely wholly and completely upon the nourishment that God’s Word provides. Earthly comfort cannot save us. Our obsession with it might very well damn us. Food, drink, clothing, and money are all secondary to Jesus. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (St. Matthew vi. 33)
Jesus has nothing in the wilderness but stones and is tempted to turn them into bread. We have bread to waste and want more. In our quiet, let us pray about how we have worshipped the world, the flesh, and devil. Let us focus especially on how we have overindulged food and drink, have overindulged sex in ways other than God has intended, have been greedy and thus have worshiped money, mammon, and have been hoarders and spendthrifts.
Let us Pray:
O LORD, we beseech thee, mercifully hear our prayers, and spare all those who confess their sins unto thee; that they whose consciences by sin are accused, by thy merciful pardon may be absolved; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his foolishness.
The season of Lent is nothing if it does not confuse human wisdom and turn man’s expectations upside down. For what the lections of this Holy Season attempt to show us is that the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He takes the wise in their own craftiness. (1 Cor. iii. 19) And again, as Isaiah records, therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people…for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid. (Isaiah 29. 14) In Lent, we learn that the Wisdom of God revealed in the human life of Jesus Christ, more often than not, challenges and overturns the wisdom of this world. And I don’t mean to say that human wisdom is destroyed, but rather that its limitations are revealed as what are always in need of God’s redemption and perfection.
In last week’s Gospel we read of a real challenge and trial that Christ underwent in order to resist the wisdom of this world and to embrace God’s Wisdom. You will remember that the Spirit led Christ into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. And there we learned that Christ resisted the temptations and in the end banished Satan and his ways. The wisdom that we gleaned from that Gospel is that somehow this Jesus Christ, God as Man, faced evil, resisted it, and in the end overcame it. Man’s wisdom walks in step with the devil; it thinks that it can use the Divine Spirit for worldly ends, that it can make God subject to its whims and idle curiosities, and that it can be as absolute as God. (RDC. Lent I) What Jesus Christ reveals to us is that true wisdom is God’s will and that the new humanity which He struggles to establish as a pattern depends wholly upon it. The devil strives to sever Jesus and us from God’s will and way. He longs to hide us from ourselves, establishing and centering us in our muddled confusions and delusions, concealing from us the true way of liberation and healing. He longs to shield us even from the Wisdom of God, from seeing and knowing that the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding. (Job xxviii. 28)
But Jesus came down from Heaven to reveal God’s wisdom in human nature for our benefit. He came down to bring us back to the fear of the Lord, and that the Divine Wisdom might be born our hearts. But if we heed the message of today’s Gospel, we learn that there is another dimension still that must be added to our piety if God’s Wisdom is to come alive in our lives. This is the element of desire. For it is from the limitations of our earthly passions and desires that we must learn to long the more earnestly for the Wisdom of God.
In this morning’s Gospel, we see how alien, unfamiliar, and even foreign God’s Wisdom is to most men in most ages. Jesus had departed from Jerusalem and from a people who would not receive the Wisdom that He endeavored to disclose and reveal. The ancient Old Testament prognosis of God’s people was finding fulfilment in Jesus’ hearing: This people draweth unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. (Matthew xv. 8) God’s Wisdom had found no place to germinate and grow itself in the hearts of the religious Jews. Even Jesus’ disciples seemed hard-headed and dimwitted. Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man. (St. Matthew xv. 18-20) God’s Wisdom cannot reach and touch those who do not need it from within. Those who come to need it from realize that their earthly desires and satisfactions provide no lasting health and happiness. So, because He found no need for what He offered from His own people, in this morning’s Gospel Jesus left religious Jerusalem for the frontier territory where Israel borders the land of the heathen. Perhaps the Wisdom that He carried would not be so dyspeptic and disagreeable to those who lived at the far removed from Judaism’s heart.
What He found confounded the customs and habits both of the Jewish scribes and also of His own disciples. God’s Wisdom was, after all, aimed and directed first and foremost at them. That their blindness and ignorance should be overcome only by the discovery of its nature and desire for its power in the heart of a pagan woman would prove all the more confounding. Behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. (St. Matthew xv. 22) Canaan means place of submission, humiliation, and lowliness. So, from this lowly place was heard a cry for the Divine Wisdom and Mercy- that is with and in Jesus. Jesus seemed immune and impervious to the cry. St. John Chrysostom writes that The Word has no word; the fountain is sealed; the physician withholds His remedies. Jesus studies what will emerge from this supplication. Wisdom is quick to hear and slow to speak…(St. James i. 19) Divine Wisdom will elicit from its seeker a sincere and determined desire for its love and power.
Next, we read that, His disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. (St. Matthew xv. 23) The disciples long selfishly to derive the truth from Jesus without the distraction of the mob. A selfless woman will have Him for her daughter in a far better way. But not before she has overcome a Jesus who will draw out her faith in Him to the utmost. He responds, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (St. Matthew xv. 24) Jesus reminds her that the Jews alone should want what He has because they would know that they are lost sheep. She will insist that the Gentiles are promised a share in it also. And, besides, she knows that she too is lost and needs to be found! Jesus is intrigued. His trying of her is rooted in the tough love of the Old Testament: I will wound and I will heal (Deut. xxxii. 39) St. Augustine describes His method in these words: He is no unkind physician who opens the swelling, who cuts, or cauterizes the corrupted part. He gives pain, it is true; but he only gives pain, that he may bring the patient on to health. He gives pain; but if he did not, he would do no good. (Aug, Serm. xxvii) This is God’s Wisdom. She has pain, the pain of her possessed daughter and the pain of her broken heart. It is painful for her to express this truth but it moves her all the more urgently to cry out, Lord, help me. (St. Mattew xv. 25) Jesus draws out the painful truth of her predicament and her powerlessness. This alone can fuel the passion that will secure her desire. It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs. (St. Matthew xv. 26) To which she responds, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table. (St. Matthew xv. 27) Wisdom has elicited from her heart the confession of pain and the poverty of her spirit. She knows that she is alien to Israel’s promises; she claims no rights to God’s Word and Wisdom; she knows herself as powerless creature in the presence of her mighty Creator. She knows that no man can assist her. She cannot help herself. So she turns to the sole source and origin of all healing. The Wisdom in Jesus is met by her own. Yes Lord, in comparison to your own people who should know themselves as lost sheep, I am a dog. But surely Lord, thou dost not merely enlighten me to the knowledge of my lowly sickness, but so that thou might open to me the door of thy healing. God’s Wisdom desires to touch and to heal all men. God’s Wisdom is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Ps. xlvi. 1) Jesus honors what he could not find in His own people or even in His disciples. O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. (St. Matthew xv. 28)
Today let us take note of the alien woman’s pain. I wound and I will heal. (Idem) The pain that Jesus elicits reveals her limitations and she comes to discover herself in the light of God’s Wisdom. She claims that she is a dog because dogs are content to eat the fragments and morsels that fall from Christ’s table. She knows that they are more than enough to heal both her and her daughter. Luther tells us that, Like her, thou must give God right in all He says against thee, and yet must not stand off from praying, till thou overcomest as she overcame, till thou hast turned the very charges made against thee into arguments and proofs of thy need, till thou, too, hast taken Christ in His own words.’ We might think it foolish that we should become as clever dogs to secure the power of the Divine Wisdom that Christ offers. But it is foolish only if human wisdom is the mark and measure of truth. Where is the wise person?...Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. (1 Cor. i. 20, 21) The woman of Canaan was a fool for Christ. This alien woman, a dog, gladly and thankfully receives supernaturally charged crumbs that drop from Christ’s table. For, as the Venerable Bede writes: If, after the example of the Caananite woman, we continue resolutely in our praying…certainly the grace of our Maker will…correct everything in us which is wrong, sanctify everything unclean, and make serene everything which is turbulent. He is faithful and just, so that He will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from every iniquity, if with the attentive voice of our mind we cry out to Him who lives and reigns with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for all ages and ages. (Hom. i. 22)
[Love-2.1-13] Had I an hundred Lives, I could with more Ease part with them, all by suffering an hundred Deaths, than give up this lovely idea of God. Nor could I have any Desire of Eternity for myself, if I had not Hopes, that, by partaking of the Divine Nature, I should be eternally delivered from the Burden and Power of my own Wrath, and changed into the blessed Freedom of a Spirit, that is all Love, and a mere Will to Nothing but Goodness. An Eternity without this, is but an Eternity of Trouble. For I know of no Hell, either here or hereafter, but the Power and Working of Wrath, nor any Heaven, but where the God of Love is all in all, and the working Life of all. And therefore, that the holy Deity is all Love, and Blessing, and Goodness, willing and working only Love and Goodness to every Thing, as far as it can receive it, is a Truth as deeply grounded in me as the feeling of my own Existence. I ask you for no Proof of this; my only Difficulty is how to reconcile this Idea of God to the Letter of Scripture. First, Because the Scripture speaks so much and so often of the Wrath, and Fury, and vindictive Vengeance of God. Secondly, Because the whole Nature of our Redemption is so plainly grounded on such a supposed Degree of Wrath and Vengeance in God, as could not be satisfied, appeased and atoned by any Thing less than the Death and Sacrifice of the only begotten Son of God.
The ‘lovely idea of God’ is that He is pure and perfect Goodness. This is the ‘Goodness’ that enables us to hope for Heaven as our final and eternal resting place. This hope alone lifts us above our own wrath, rage, ire, fury, and anger to partake of God’s Nature. This hope will lift us above ourselves to participate in the freedom of the will that desires only God’s Goodness. ‘An Eternity without this’ is an Eternity in Hell. Hell is defined by wrath, rage, ire, fury, and anger. The vice that stands chiefly opposed to God’s Goodness and Love is wrath that included resentment and bitterness. Such is the vice that actively resists God’s healing Goodness and Love. Thus, we must desire to conquer all wrath within us. We must desire to embrace God’s Goodness and Love because this is the Truth that saves and delivers us from our wrathful despair. And yet we cannot do it without God’s help. And so God sends His only-begotten Son into the world to conquer wrath with His Goodness. He takes the problem into Himself by moving through His Son to suffer man’s wrath and to overcome it.
[Love-2.1-14] Theophilus. I will do more for you, Theogenes, in this Matter than you seem to expect. I will not only reconcile the Letter of Scripture with the foregoing Description of God, but will show you, that every Thing that is said of the Necessity of Christ’s being the only possible Satisfaction and Atonement of the vindictive Wrath of God is a full and absolute Proof that the Wrath of God spoken of never was, nor is, or possibly can be in God.
The Divine Wrath that we read of in Scripture is man’s experience of God’s Goodness and Love negatively or from a distance. It is Love, Desire, Passion, and Yearning as its contrary. When we sin, we rebel. When we rebel, we place ourselves at odds with God. When we are at odds with God, we experience not His nearness but His distance. The Distance is not merely absence but it is Love as rejected, Love as despised, Love as forsaken, and Love as abandoned. Sin is its own punishment. Ours sins yield their desired effects and ends. The end of sin is ultimate death as ongoing alienation from God. In the meantime, we experience little deaths, or habitual alienations from God’s love in time and space.
dSo the last shall be first, and the first last:
for many be called, but few chosen.
(St. Matthew xx. 14-16)
We have just completed our Epiphany-tide pilgrimage and now are entering what is called pre-Lent. The season we have left behind has been characterized by illumination and manifestation. In it, we saw that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us whom we discovered to be the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth
(St. John i. 14). Now we turn to a period in the Church’s life extending from Septuagesima Sunday to Ascension Day. In it, we shall be moving from contemplating the Divine presence to a call to pilgrimage that will end in death. In it, we shall be called to receive God’s labor of love and the work of His Grace that reaches down from heaven to reconcile us to Himself.
Specifically, on the three Gesima Sundays – Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima – the Latin names for the seventy, sixty, and fifty days before Easter, we are reminded of God’s original vocation for us, the dangers that bring about our Fall from God’s Grace, and the preparation for our return. If Lent will be about the necessary death to sin, then the Gesima season will help us to discern and identify the sins themselves. This work is essential since we believe that in the end times we shall be judged on whether or not we have confessed our sins and died to them. Sin is what separates us from God. So, at the Judgment, we pray that Christ will conclude that we have died sufficiently to everything that separates us from His wisdom, power, and love. And, of course, the Church knows that the work that we are contemplating is no easy business. So, she provides us with this Gesmina season so that we can attempt to begin the call to labour (R.D. Crouse) for the discovery of our sins.
We begin with today’s Gospel. In it, Jesus gives us a way that will help us to locate sin. To do so, He makes use of a parable. As you know, a parable is an illustrated story that makes use of images to convey a message of spiritual and moral meaning. Archbishop Trench tells us that it is like a casket of exquisite workmanship…in which jewels yet richer than itself are laid up, or, as fruit, which however lovely to look upon, is yet in its inner sweetness more delectable still. (Notes on the Parables, R.C. Trench, p. 30) In today’s parable, Jesus desires to instill a truth that will condition our search for sin and the successful victory over it. It is a parable that is all about method. What He is keen to impart to us is a kind of rule and pattern that will situate our souls in right relation both to our problem and God’s solution of it. So, He intends to warn the Apostles and us about one serious temptation that might very well destroy the work before it has begun. What I mean is that Jesus wants to show us that His work can begin only when we embrace a unique disposition of soul.
For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder,
which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.
And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent
them into his vineyard. (St. Matthew xx. 1,2)
Jesus teaches us first that the work of God’s Kingdom begins not with man but with God. He is an householder or the owner of His own vineyard –a plot of land destined to be fruitful with what makes glad the heart of man. He has a work to be done and His work is His desire for us to labor at identifying and discovering our sins. That He sets out to find us shows that He knows what is best for us. That He went out early in the morning means that man’s salvation is God’s priority. Man’s salvation is the work of redemption. It will involve working out sin and working in righteousness. That the laborers are promised one penny suggests that something equal for all is the reward for those who will work for God. Notice that it is only to the workers who are hired early in the morning, to the first, that the specific amount of payment –one penny is promised.
Next, we read:
And he went out about the third hour, and saw others
standing idle in the marketplace, and said unto them; Go ye
also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you….
Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.
God calls men into His vineyard in all ages. Some hear the call early in the morning, some at noon, and some at dusk of human life. Those who are called later are rebuked mildly for being idle, slothful, lazy, unoccupied, distracted, or even busy about the wrong things. No matter; God’s desire for men’s salvation labor is greater than their sinning. His yearning and longing for all is expressed in His ongoing intention for them to labor in discovering their sins at all hours of the day. God is the householder and He knows that the work of His vineyard is incomplete until all men are invited into this labor. He promises to pay those whom He finds later what is right, just, or suitable. Those whom He calls later are no doubt surprised by joy that God would want them at all, especially since He knows that they had been idle, and had God been like all other employers they might not have been called to work at all! Therefore, God’s desire for them stirs them up with grateful hearts to join the others in the labor of His vineyard.
We read then:
And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others
standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the
day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us.
He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard;
and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. (Ibid, 6,7)
God’s moves and finds those whom His heart always desires. Those whom He finds at the eleventh hour seem to need to be needed more than the others. They are often those for whom love has been experienced only as envy, wrath, and resentment. They have felt forever unwanted and thus are convinced that they have nothing to contribute to the work of God’s vineyard. So, they must be encouraged more earnestly to enter this labor.
Finally, we read:
Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first.
And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every
man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received
more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it,
they murmured against the goodman of the house, saying, These last have wrought
but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden
and heat of the day. (Ibid, 8-12)
Man’s work in the vineyard of God will pay out one reward to all. But notice that those who came last are paid first. The Lord puts idle people to work at the end of the day and then pays them before the others. Worldly employers pay the managerial staff first and handsomely. Then, with what is leftover the idle –the johnny come lately –the cleaners, the window washers, and so forth. Not so with God. The last shall be first and the first shall be last. (Ibid, 16) For God knows that the first think that they ought to be paid more (Idem) because they came first, worked longer hours and harder than the others. So, they murmured against the good man of the house. (Idem) The householder responds:
Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take
that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee….
Is thine eye evil, because I am good? (Ibid, 13-15)
Employment in the vineyard of God is a privileged gift that far exceeds what any man could ever deserve, earn, or merit. It should generate a disposition of soul through which we become self-consciously the last and least. Fallen man is forever unemployed without God. Fallen man deserves nothing but just punishment for his sins.
Yet notice the wisdom of Jesus. If the first had been paid before the last we might never have learned the danger that accompanies work in God’s vineyard. The first show us what happens when we set our eyes on what we should earn and not on the free gift of God’s Grace that reaches down to lift up fallen man –the last and least. They see themselves as advanced beyond the others because they came first. But seniority does not secure immunity from sin. Nor does lateness of call bar the path to saintliness. (E. T. Marshall) These men think that their coming earlier and working longer should earn them a greater reward than others. They have forgotten that the Grace of God was under no necessity to help them out of their fallen condition. You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you. (St. John xv. 16) They have forgotten also that the labour into which God has invited them bestows a reward that is unrelated to man’s efforts and good works.
On the other hand, Archbishop Trench says that the workers who were hired later in the day reveal a true spirit of humble waiting upon the Lord, in full assurance that He will give far more than his servants can desire or deserve… and that God will not fail to show Himself an abundant rewarder of them that seek and serve Him. (Ibid, 141) These men reveal a deep gratitude for a gift that they never desired and whose power and reward would be beyond their wildest imaginations.
The last shall be first…. To be last and least in God’s Kingdom is a disposition of soul that alone can obtain God’s Grace in the battle against sin. Let us pray to be as the last and least so that we may be mercifully delivered by God’s goodness. In becoming the last and the least, we are best positioned to appreciate the gift of God’s mercy. The gift of God’s mercy generates goodness in the soul. That goodness will make us stronger and stronger and better and better. With it will come a profound humility, with which we can hope more earnestly for the joy that reconciles us to God. Then we shall rejoice in the glory of His Name, through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons