Advent III: Thomas Aquinas with Commentary
Let a man so account of us as the ministers of Christ. (1 Cor. iv. 1)
IN the preceding Epistle the Apostle has taught us that Christ was a Minister for us. But I say that Christ was the Minister of the Circumcision, so, therefore, in this Epistle he teaches us that we ought to be the ministers of Christ, and six matters are treated of concerning this ministry.
First, that we ought to make ministers of Christ; second, that we ought to avoid a thoughtless choice; third, to despise human discernment; fourth, not to trust to individual conscience; fifth, to submit all choice to Christ as the Judge; sixth, to seek praises from God alone.
Of the first: Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ. Of the Second: to judge nothing before the time. Of the third: It is a very small thing to me that I should be judged of you. Of the fourth: I know nothing by myself. Of the fifth: Until the Lord come. Of the sixth: Then shall every man have praise of God.
It ought to be known about the first point that there are three chief reasons why we ought to be ministers of Christ and to serve Him (1) Because whatever we are able to do He gave us the power to do when He created us ; (2) because He served us by redeeming us ; (3) because He will further preserve us to glory.
Of the first, S. Bernard, Who ought we more rightly to serve than Him Who need not have created us unless He willed. It is He that hath made us, and no we ourselves. (Ps. xcv. 7).
What we are able to do is a gift that God intends we should perfect. Whatever gift has been given to us by God is a gift of His freely willing desire. So we ought to want to perfect what was not given to us by necessity but by God’s free will or desire. The power to perfect our natures includes the vocation to ministry. Ministry includes all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that God intends to bring alive in us through our cooperation with His Grace. So we are called to better ourselves in relation to God by freely accepting God’s Gracious invitation to generate, cultivate, and perfect the Divine Gifts of the Spirit in our lives.
Of the second: I am among you as He that serveth (St. Luke xxii. 27), for He temporally served them by washing their feet, in cleansing by His own blood the wounds of sinners, and in ministering to His own flesh. And began to wash the disciples' feet. (St. John xiii. 5) (2)Him that loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood. (Rev. i. 5) Thou hast made me to serve with thy sins. (Isa. xliii. 24) (3) Jesus took bread and brake and gave it to His disciples. (St. Matt. xxvi. 26) St. Bernard says: The good Minister Who gave His Flesh for food, His Blood for drink, and His Soul for a ransom, He will likewise serve in glory." That He will gird Himself and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth to serve them. (St. Mark xii. 57) Rightly, therefore, we are said to be His ministers.
To minister means to wait upon others, serve to, offer, reveal, disclose, and share from a disposition of humble love. As ministers we are to serve up God’s truth and love as a gift that is made to be multiplied and bestowed upon our fellow men. We must be the servants of truth and love lest we think that we are lords who make, preserve, and perfect it on our own. By God’s Grace we serve God’s truth and love to others. Thus the gift and the Giver are both greater than we are. And thus with caution, care, and wisdom we offer it to others. What we offer is something that we have discovered by the Light of His Grace. What we discover we delight in all the more because it is something that is not self-evident but gifted to us.
But there are these things which He chiefly hates in His ministers want of compassion, disobedience, and uselessness. Of the first: O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? (St. Matt, xviii. 32, 33)
The gifts of God’s Grace can be summarized chiefly in His mercy, pity, compassion, and forgiveness of sins made flesh in Jesus Christ. To minister God’s Grace is to impart and share His mercy with all men. The undeserved, unmerited, and unearned Forgiveness of Sins is the greatest gift that the Christian minister can bestow on others. Should we fail to extend it to others, we have not truly received, cherished, treasured, and grown it in and from the ground of our our hearts and souls.‘But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to smite his fellow-servants, and to eat and drink with the drunken, the lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites : there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (St. Matt. xxiv. 48, 49) The minister must be awake and alert to the need for the uninterrupted flow of God’s Grace into his heart and then into the hearts of others. Many ministers will be cut down while drunk, and thus will face the Judge in a state far removed from the sobriety that must characterize the soul that humbly and gratefully receives the gift of Grace. ‘And that servant which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.’
Of the third: And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (St. Matt. xxv. 30) There are three things which the Lord requires in His servants the first, that they should be cleansed from every defilement of sin ; the second, that they should be ornamented with every virtue; the third, that they should be decorated with honesty of manners.
Of the first: He that walketh in a perfect way he shall serve Me. (Ps. ci. 6) Let them minister having no crime. (1 Tim. iii. 10)
He who loves the Lord will keep His Commandments. ‘The Law of God is an undefiled Law converting the soul.’ (Ps. xix. 7) If we would be changed and perfected by the Grace of God we must be cleansed from all unrighteousness. For the merciful Grace of God to transform us, on our part we must flee all evil and open ourselves up wholly and completely to the redemptive process.
Of the second: In all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God. (2 Cor. vi. 4)
What we embrace inwardly and spiritually, we must reveal and disclose to others externally and visibly. The First Love of our hearts must move us to holy and righteous thoughts, words, and works. These are the fruits of hearts that are right with God, intending to please Him with all of our lives.
Of the third: Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles. (1 St. Peter ii. 12) Of these three things: And thou shalt bring Aaron and his sons unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation and wash them with water; (Ex. xl. 12, 13)and thou shalt anoint them as thou didst anoint their father (v. 15).We are unto God a sweet savour of Christ. (2 Cor. ii. 15) But the Lord requires that we should serve Him in three ways first, by imitating Him; second, by delighting in His service ; thirdly, by fearing Him.
To have an honest, upright, and holy conversation and commerce with all men, we must always resort to the Lord for purification, washing, and cleansing. Then the Lord will anoint us with His Holy Spirit that we might become a sweet smelling savour unto Him. Once we are washed, then we are ready to imitate and replicate His truth, delight in surrendering our wills to His Absolute Desire for us, and fear to disregard, disobey, and displease Him. Thus we shall be moved by His wisdom, His Love, and His power. We shall serve up His truth because we are honored to take up the call. ‘If any man serve Me, let him follow Me.’ (St. John xii. 26) We shall delight in this service. ‘Serve the Lord with gladness and come before his presence with a song.’ (Ps. c. 2) We shall then fear to lose the truth in which we delight. Thus we shall, ‘Serve the Lord with fear.’ (Ps. ii. 11)
The first makes the service acceptable to the Lord; the second makes us ready in serving ; the third preserves us in His service. But the Lord promises three rewards to His servants, viz., happiness, dignity, and eternity. Of the first Reward: For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree. (1 Tim. iii. 13) Of the second reward: Well done, good and faithful servant, thou hast been faithful over a few things. (St. Matt. xxv. 23) Of the third reward: And serve Him day and night in His Temple;" and afterwards He " shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters. (Reve. Vii. 15)Eternity is a fountain of life. As Dionysius says, Eternity is endless, and at the same time the whole and perfect possession of life.
The truth shall bring us true joy. God’s love will dignify our hearts as they blend with His in one will and desire. Our end is eternal life and in it God’s truth and love will define our lives forever. In eternity we shall be united also to those fellow men who understand His truth and love with His love. Amen.
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