You are under the power of no other enemy, are held in no other captivity and want no other deliverance but from the power of your own earthly self. This is the one murderer of the divine life within you. It is your own Cain that murders your own Abel. Now everything that your earthly nature does is under the influence of self-will, self-love, and self-seeking, whether it carries you to laudable or blamable practices; all is done in the nature and spirit of Cain and only helps you to such goodness as when Cain slew his brother. For every action and motion of self has the spirit of Antichrist and murders the divine life within you.
(William Law: The Spirit of Love)
Today you and I find ourselves situated in that brief time of the Church’s life between Epiphany and Lent. In the past weeks we have embraced the vision of God manifested in the life of Jesus Christ, and have quietly meditated upon the magnificent and brilliant beauty of God’s love in the Incarnation of his only-begotten Son. We now begin to prepare for more in Lent when Jesus Christ demands that our vision and death should lead into death. On Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima Sunday- roughly seventy, sixty and fifty days before Easter, you and I are bidden to prepare for this death. And what better way to begin this journey than with William Law, that famous 18th century teacher of the Christian moral life.
William Law, you will remember, lived through a time when the western world was being seduced by the ideas of Deism. Deism teaches belief in God, but cannot accept that God’s Word was made flesh in Jesus Christ. Because Enlightenment science could not prove that God’s Word was made flesh, the age then tended to reject the Incarnation. The demands of the time do seem curious, however, since if man in any age could prove or produce the Incarnation, then man might save himself. That man cannot save himself is precisely the reason for the Incarnation. The Incarnation makes sense only if God in Christ does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. At any rate, in the midst of scientific discovery and a zeal for human proofs, a world emerged, in which faith in Jesus Christ and his unifying and reconciling mission of redemptive love were denied. But our friend- the good and noble Reverend Mr. William Law, would have none of it. Against the rationalist pride of the Deists, William Law called his contemporaries back to belief in Christ.
But to do so, on the whole, rather than finding the threat to Christian belief in the philosophy of the Deists, William Law chose to locate it in human habits. Bringing before man his own inner temptations which emerge even when, with the best of intentions, he seeks to faithfully follow Jesus Christ, Mr. Law sought to address the root cause of unbelief from the standpoint of behavior. So he would diagnose the problem by locating the root cause of vice in man’s worldliness. You are under the power of no other enemy, are held in no other captivity and want no other deliverance but from the power of your own earthly self. This is the one murderer of the divine life within you. The real danger that we must face is that of our own earthly self. For it is the self that accepts or rejects, affirms or denies, and embraces or expels the Divine Life within. It is your own Cain that murders your own Abel. [For] everything that your earthly nature does is under the influence of self-will, self-love, and self-seeking, whether it carries you to laudable or blamable practices…. Law finds our proclivity to spiritual destruction nicely imaged in the 4th chapter of Genesis, where Cain slew Abel out of envy and jealousy.
Cain was made to be a tiller of the ground. Allegorically he is the man who ought to till and cultivate the soil of the soul. Abel was a keeper of the sheep, and is truly superior to Cain allegorically and spiritually –for he is the symbol of Christ the Good Shepherd, who comes to shepherd Cain’s cultivation into the service of God. But we read that Cain slew Abel, and so we interpret this as meaning that Cain did not cherish and perfect his God-given gifts. Cain’s problem was with his own earthly self, and so he became the murderer of the Divine Life within. First, he was ungrateful for the gift of his calling- to cultivate the soil of the soul. Second he became envious of his brother’s gift, the care and love of his soul, figured in his younger Abel’s vocation to tend to and care for the sheep. But Cain –and you and I who are very much like him, rather envy the presence of the shepherd in our lives, and so cannot welcome him, because we resent his gifts. Because we are moved by self-will in our own earthly self, we allow God’s gifts in others to destroy our own.
The logic of our Cain-like existence unfolds nicely in today’s Gospel Parable. In it we learn about what can and will progressively destroy the gift of God’s Word when it is sown in the human heart. God the sower addresses Cain and goes out to sow his seed. As he sowed, some fell by the way-side, and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. (St. Luke viii. 5) Like Cain we treat the Word of God as what has been sown outside of the heart, is removed from its expectations, and alien to its inmost longing and desire. We are like those who are by the way side and hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe, and be saved. (Ibid, 12) We have heard the Word addressed to us; we are even reminded that He intends to bless us always. When we are confused and alarmed, He even asks us, Why are you extremely sorrowful? Why has your countenance fallen? (Genesis iv. 6) God has made us and called us. We are bidden to till the soil of our souls. But we treat God’s Word as an external phenomenon only. In our immaturity we can see its blessing only in others like Abel. We do not remember that we come from God and that He has given us the gift. In our forgetfulness and frustration, the Word of God is snatched away from us and is devoured. Thus it never comes alive.
God’s Word is spoken to us and next, as our Gospel tells us, it falls upon a rock, and as soon as it springs up, it withers away because it lacked moisture. (St. Luke viii. 6) Perhaps with Cain we know that the Word has been spoken, but as time goes on we begin to grow cold and hardened as envy for its perfection in the heart of our brother Abel overwhelms us. Its fertility and fecundity in our brother’s life shows up our own failure to grow it. As the Word’s success in others grows, it breeds only malevolence and ill will in our hearts because it has outrun and outshined us. Thus we have no root and in time of temptation fall away. (Ibid, 13) We are tempted to view what others have and what we have not. As we cultivate and perfect our bitterness, wrath expands, and so our hearts are hardened to the hearing of God’s Word. We cannot will the good of our brother. Because we do not love the brother whom we do see, we cannot love the God whom we cannot see. (1 St. John iv. 20)
Our sin enlarges and matures. The Word of God falls among thorns, and the thorns spring up with it, and choke it. (Ibid, 7) With Cain God’s Word has been heard, but by now our self-will, self-love, and self-satisfaction have strangled and suffocated to such an extent that we cannot believe. We have become possessed by pride, envy, and wrath so completely that we have effectively devitalized and disabled the Word’s potential growth within our souls. In addition to being envious of his brother Abel, Cain is truly stifled and smothered by his own self-important but precarious insecurity. God’s Word cannot breathe its way into his heart because of his own exaggerated sense of inward failure. The good is perceived to be so great in the other that what remains is too little to do good for himself.
The seed that longs to be sown in the heart of Cain, you and me, is the Word of God. It yearns to fruit and flower in the soil of the human soul. If with Cain we spend much of our lives refusing to hear and obey God’s Word, the Divine Word will perish first outside and then within us. Every action and motion of self has the spirit of Antichrist and murders the Divine Life within you. (Idem, Law) Ill will or malevolence towards any other man is the effect of our failure to cultivate God’s Word in our own souls. We kill it in others because we are alarmed to discover what we have refused to cultivate in ourselves. And yet the true Abel, our brother Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh for us, endures our spiritual murder of Him, responding only with a deeper desire for the confession of our sin and the longing for His new birth within our souls. It is only when we come to see that we have murdered our brother Jesus Christ, that we come to perceive what the Word made flesh can become in and through us.
Today, knowing that blood is on our hands, let us pray for that forgiveness that will cultivate rich and fertile soil in our souls ready to hear and obey the Word of God. Let us with St. Paul glory in the things which concern our infirmities. (2 Cor. xi. 30) That is, let us resort to God because we are infirm, weak, and powerless without the persistent pursuit of His magnanimous love. Let us remember that God’s love is so large that there is more than enough to be shared with us and all others. With William Law, let us daily and hourly in every step that we take, examine the Spirit that is within us, whether it be Heaven or Earth that guides us, and judge every thing to be sin and Satan, in which our earthly nature, our own self-love or self-seeking has any share in us, nor think that any goodness is brought to life in us before we die to pride, envy, wrath, and all selfish temper. (The Spirit of Love…) For it is only then that we might begin to approach God with an honest and good heart, [and] having heard the word, [begin to] keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience. (Ibid, 15) Amen.
Thomas Aquinas: Pride, Summa: II, ii. 162, 1.
It would appear that Pride is not a sin.
On the Contrary: Pride or superbia is so called because a man thereby aims higher [supra] than he is; wherefore Isidore says (Etym. x): A man is said to be proud, because he wishes to appear above (super) what he really is; for he who wishes to overstep beyond what he is, is proud. Now right reason requires that every man's will should tend to that which is proportionate to him. Therefore it is evident that pride denotes something opposed to right reason, and this shows it to have the character of sin, because according to Dionysius (Div. Nom. iv, 4), the soul's evil is to be opposed to reason. Therefore it is evident that pride is a sin.
Pride is expressed when a man seeks to exceed the limitations of his own being, knowing, and loving. Man is a limited being and thus should seek, through reason, to understand the finite contours of his being. His being is created, made, molded, and fashioned by Another. And thus he ought to learn that he is derivative and dependent upon Another for his existence and its perpetuation. Only the pride-riddled man fails to acknowledge his small and potentially insignificant being in relation to God’s large and perfect Being. Furthermore, man should learn that his knowledge is imperfect. That he is he born in ignorance or not-knowing ought to be self-evident, since he spends most of his days attempting to come to possess a knowledge that is beyond his natural state and must be discovered outside of himself. Only the pride-riddled man thinks that he knows what he does not or thinks that his knowledge is sufficient when there is so much more to know. In addition, man should become aware of his failure to love his fellow man. In all sorts of ways man does not love his brother, and mostly for reasons of pride. Because a man thinks himself to be above and beyond his peers, he is possessed by prideful hubris, and is thus most unlikely to benefit from the being, knowing, and loving that others can furnish him.
Reply to Objection 1. Superbia may be understood in two ways. First, as overpassing [supergreditur] the rule of reason, and in this sense we say that it is a sin.
Right reason teaches a man not to over-reach the powers of reason. Thus a man should not use his reason to overstep the created bounds of reason’s vision and understanding. If he does, he is proud because he is forgetful of the finite and uncertain nature of his conclusions. Thus a man who desires to know as God knows exceeds human reason’s ability. Man cannot know good and evil so that he is moved by the one and free of the other. Man is not God.
Secondly, it may simply denominate super-abundance; in which sense any super-abundant thing may be called pride: and it is thus that God promises pride as significant of super-abundant good. Hence a gloss of Jerome on the same passage (Isaiah 61:6) says that "there is a good and an evil pride"; or a sinful pride which God resists, and a pride that denotes the glory which He bestows.
There is a kind of pride that may be found in the gift that God gives out of His superabundant mercy. So pride may be found in the the unearned Grace and Mercy that comes to man over and above his natural desserts. So a man might take pride in the Grace that overcomes his sinful nature and restores him to fellowship with his Maker.
Reply to Objection 2. Reason has the direction of those things for which man has a natural appetite; so that if the appetite wander from the rule of reason, whether by excess or by default, it will be sinful, as is the case with the appetite for food which man desires naturally. Now pride is the appetite for excellence in excess of right reason. Wherefore Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xiv, 13) that pride is the desire for inordinate exaltation: and hence it is that, as he asserts (De Civ. Dei xiv, 13; xix, 12), pride imitates God inordinately: for it hath equality of fellowship under Him, and wishes to usurp His dominion over our fellow-creatures.
The proud desires excessive exaltation over his fellow man. He uses his reason to imagine that he should be above and not on a level with his neighbor. He treats his neighbor as less because he thinks himself to be more. He thus fails to love his neighbor as himself. And thus he cannot possibly receive the gifts that his neighbor has, and that he needs, because he is blinded by his own imagined superior difference.
Reply to Objection 3. Pride is directly opposed to the virtue of humility, which, in a way, is concerned about the same matter as magnanimity, as stated above. Hence the vice opposed to pride by default is akin to the vice of pusillanimity, which is opposed by default to magnanimity. For just as it belongs to magnanimity to urge the mind to great things against despair, so it belongs to humility to withdraw the mind from the inordinate desire of great things against presumption. Now pusillanimity, if we take it for a deficiency in pursuing great things, is properly opposed to magnanimity by default; but if we take it for the mind's attachment to things beneath what is becoming to a man, it is opposed to humility by default; since each proceeds from a smallness of mind.
Pusillanimity, faintheartedness, or cowardice is the vice at the extreme opposite of Pride. Like pride it is opposed to magnanimity. It is not large-hearted by fainthearted. It is not urged on to great things by reason of fear. Thus it despairs. Humility lies as the virtue between these two extreme vices. Humility is fearful of God in so far as it does not seek to usurp His authority and power. Humility is fearful of God in so far as it does not seek to fail in its created vocation and calling. Pusillanimity is opposed to humility because it reveals a smallness of mind that does not measure up to an ability that humility will find in Grace.
To become acclimated to humility a man must bear the burden of his own sinful pride, and look to its true nature as it bears down upon his soul. Pride weighs a man down into a center that falls progressively down into the earth. His love is his weight, and the proud man bears about a heaviness that counterbalances the stirrings of a self that becomes light only in so far as it loses itself. But the proud man who repents and desires to made new can become light by reason of courage, magnanimity, and humility. From humility and with courage he will desire the movements of the magnanimous Spirit of God, and so his vice will be translated into virtue by reason of desire.
So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.
St. Matthew xx. 16
The Church in her ancient wisdom is nothing if she is not keenly aware of the dangers that human nature poses for the process of redemption and salvation. Think about it. If the Church were not aware of human nature’s tendency to fall away from the vigilance that is required in the process of salvation, she would not provide seasonal themes in her lectionary that remind man of the dangers that accompany his spiritual journey. We have just emerged from the season of light-- that of Epiphany, in which the brilliant vision of God’s love and good will in the life of Jesus Christ is made manifest. The Church, being conscious of man’s tendency to view the approaching Lent like a deer in the headlights, has formulated the period between Epiphany and Lent with caution. You see, the Church knows that man is likely to fall into resentment, and so to become hardhearted. She knows that her sheep are easily dissuaded by theories of good works and comparative goodness, and so she has given to us the Gesima Sundays, between the season of Epiphany-vision and that of Lenten mortification.
So today we begin the Gesima Season- comprised of Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima Sunday, named from the Latin words meaning seventy, sixty and fifty days prior to Easter. In this season the Church reminds us of the temptations and dangers that most commonly thwart and interrupt the Christian’s preparation for the coming Lent. In Lent the Christian is called to see and experience the suffering and death of Jesus Christ in a life-changing way. So in this Gesima-Season Mother Church calls us first to cultivate and nurture those habits of mind which will ensure that we are effectually and suitably susceptible and vulnerable to our Saviour’s Passion for us.
St. Paul helps us this morning by comparing our Gesmina-Season work or labor that we undertake with running a race. In our Epistle, taken from his First Letter to the Corinthians, he compares us to athletes or runners who are in training and will compete to win the prize. Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. (I Cor. ix. 24) St. Paul appeals to our competitive spirit and attempts to convert the passion and zeal associated with it to the demands and conditions of running a spiritual race. If we are faithful to our calling, we all should be seeking for one prize or one reward, he says, which is eternal life. And so we are called to temper and moderate our bodies’ physical passions that we might better reach the goal of our striving. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. (I Cor. ix. 25) We must remind ourselves that because we seek a spiritual and eternal prize- which is eternal salvation, and that this is our chief and even sole preoccupation, our physical natures- appetites, impulses, feelings, emotions, and desires, must be tamed and then subordinated into the service of our soul’s good. What and how much we eat and drink, what we need or desire should serve only to enhance and promote our spiritual fitness for running the race that is set before us. Thus we must embrace the virtue of temperance. St. Ambrose says that what we observe and seek most in temperance is tranquility of soul. (De Offic. i. 42) So if our passions and appetites are moderated and tempered to the good of our souls, we shall not be torn between the false gods of the external and visible world and the one true God. St. Paul says that people whose loyalties are divided and who worship others gods do it to obtain a corruptible crown (I Cor. ix. 25) –they seek earthly rewards and treasures of impermanent meaning and unlasting significance. But we Christians run to obtain an incorruptible crown –a gift and prize of eternal worth and lasting importance. So we are called not to run blindly, erratically, pointlessly and capriciously. Since we know our end, we should moderate and temper our physical lives in such a way that best suits us to pursue our spiritual goal or end.
But our Gesima-workdays are not merely exercises in individual and personal spiritual running. The portion of St. Paul’s Epistle that we have read this morning is preceded by his defense of having given his life for the sanctification and purification of the Church or the Body of Christ. He embraces the virtue of temperance and keeps his mind focused on his end lest that by any means…[having] preached to others, [he himself] should be a castaway. (1 Cor. ix. 27) His running to obtain the incorruptible crown is no exercise in self-promotion but part and parcel of imparting to others what he has received freely from Jesus Christ. He desires that the free gift of God’s Grace, that moves and defines his life because of his faith in Jesus Christ, should move others also, and not that any should think that redemption and salvation can be earned by good works. And the point is nicely made in today’s Gospel Parable. For there we read that:
…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. 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. And they went their way.
Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.
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. (St. Matthew xx. 1-7)
As Archbishop Trench reminds us, the Parable is offered in response to the question which St. Peter asked in the preceding chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel. Peter had said, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore? (St. Matthew xix. 27) Jesus had promised to His faithful Apostles…twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Ibid, 28) He had also promised that others who had forsaken all…would receive an hundred fold…and…everlasting life. (Ibid, 29) But he concluded his promises with the very words that finish today’s Gospel parable. But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first. (Ibid, 30) So today’s parable is offered by Jesus as a warning about that kind of spiritual attitude that might very well make the first last, least, and thus unsuitable for salvation.
The parable teaches that some, like the Apostles, who were already industrious workers, at fishing or tent making, would be called first and promised one penny for their labors. Others would be called later, this time out of idleness, and with no more specific promise of payment than whatsoever is right [or just]. (Ibid, 4,7) When the workday was over, the Lord of the vineyard would instruct his steward to pay the laborers. But notice this interesting detail. We read that steward was to pay the laborers beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. (Ibid, 8,9) Jesus desires to reveal a danger here for those who were called first into the labor of His vineyard. What do we read? 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, 10-12) It appears that the first are in danger of having a problem with the last. They are moved by envy and jealousy and so begrudge the other workers the same reward or prize which they have received. But the Lord rebukes them with these words: 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 it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? (Ibid, 13-15) Archbishop Trench tells us that that if those who were first hired …forget…that the reward is of Grace and not of works, and begin to boast and exalt themselves above their fellow laborers, [they] may altogether lose the things that they have wrought; while those who seem last, may yet, by keeping their humility, be acknowledged first and foremost in the Day of God. (Trench, Notes on the Parables, p. 140) The first are meant to welcome the gift of Grace for themselves and for the last man who can join their happy labor. The last are meant to imitate the first. Both are to be moved equally to humility and gratitude in the face of God’s free gift of Grace, as they share in the labor of sanctifying love.
Some commentators have said that the reward of one penny is meant to symbolize the eternal and incorruptible reward of salvation. Archbishop Trench thinks this is wrong, and I think he is right. If the one penny symbolizes salvation then it would appear that the first workers, or the men who are full of resentment, bitterness, envy, jealousy, and a begrudging spirit, are saved, since we read that they received every man a penny. But such a sinful disposition can never land a man in Christ’s Kingdom. So the one penny must symbolize God’s Grace. If it is received as what is never enough because we think that our good works and hard labor entitle us to more, it will not have been received in the right spirit. We will then be intemperate in all things, comparing and contrasting ourselves with others according to earthly measures of earning and compensation, always on the brink of envy and jealousy, and thus on the way to perdition. If, on the other hand, God’s Grace is received humbly and gratefully as what we neither desire nor deserve, as what far surpasses anything that earthly effort and industry can earn, as the free Divine gift zealously at work in our hearts because through temperance our passions and appetites are right with the world, then we shall be honored to be called the last and the least, privileged to be seated under the feet of God’s Elect. Amen.
You can only apprehend the Infinite by a faculty that is superior
to reason, by entering into a state in which the Divine Essence
is communicated unto you."
Illumination and enlightenment are the themes of Epiphany tide. Επιϕανια is the Greek word for Epiphany, and it means manifestation or revelation, showing forth or shining forth. For Christians it refers to the disclosure of God’s love, wisdom, and power in the life of Jesus Christ---the Divine Life calling and summoning all men to the centrifugal center of reconciliation and communion with God. It is like the sun that opens the eyes not only to sight but understanding, whose rays inspire the human mind to discover and elicit the meaning and definition of existence. The illumination or enlightenment which comes from God through Christ to all men relates not only to our vision but also to the power that can change us. Through it men are invited to participate in the life of God beginning here and now.
Yet the light through which Christ manifests and illuminates God’s life is not easily apprehended. If it could be, reason would acquiesce and adapt to its nature quickly, perhaps as swiftly as it assents to the proposition that two plus two makes four. But, as Plotinus reminds us, a faculty greater than reason is needed to pursue this truth, discover its meaning, and enjoy its power. That faculty is called faith, for faith alone admits what it does not have, but desires to obtain and enjoy. Think about it. When you first fell in love, you did not yet have or possess the one you pursued. You had faith and confidence that there was something mysterious, deeper, and concealed that you wanted to embrace and cherish. Your faith pursued the object of your love in order to seek out and find a hidden reality, a deeper meaning attached to the one you trusted was meant for you! God works in the same way. He intrigues us by calling us forward to search out His meaning and desire with confidence that the truth is there to be discovered, as He progressively reveals Himself from the heart of His inner being. We can find Him only if we believe that something most beautiful and meaningful is waiting to be disclosed and explained. If all that there is to know about Him were revealed externally, visibly, and instantaneously to the human mind, there would be no place for a faith that follows and a love that grows.
So in Epiphany tide our faith seeks to find and know God’s love. Yet what confronts us on the first three Sundays in Epiphany is confusion. In our Epiphany readings we find ignorance and uncertainty as a necessary forerunner to enlightenment and knowledge. In them, unarticulated belief and faith seem to hover over not-knowing and spiritual darkness. Where is He that is born king of the Jews? We have seen His star in the east and have come to worship Him, (St. Matthew 2. 2) the Wise Men ask. We believe but where is He, that we may know Him? Their faithful conviction or belief tells them that a star is leading them to see God. And so they carry sacred gifts with mystic meaning fit only for the One they believe is calling them forth out of darkness and into His own marvelous light.
Confusion and uncertainty compel those who love God to search more diligently for His truth. Last Sunday we found an example of the same kind of confusion. Joseph and Mary were alarmed and frightened at the prospect of losing their son Jesus. So they sought Him out of confusion and bewilderment. Their faith drives them to find Jesus, but their love threatens it with fear and terror. They hurry back to Jerusalem because they believe they have lost Jesus. Their faith moves on but they are astonished and amazed with where they find Him and with what He is doing. With exasperation they exclaim to Him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us, behold thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing. (St. Luke 2. 48) They are perplexed further by His answer: Why is it that ye sought Me? Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business? (Ibid, 49) Mary and Joseph understood not the saying which He spake unto them. (Ibid, 50) But Mary believes that there is a truth she must learn. And so, she kept all these sayings in her heart. (Ibid, 51). In Mary’s heart there is a desire to learn the deepest truth from her more than enigmatic Son.
Jesus is the wisdom of God that is not self-evidently or clearly comprehended at first glance. Jesus is also the power of God, who will transform the world. In today’s Gospel, now some years later, it would appear that Mary, having kept Jesus’ sayings in her heart, believes that she understands Her Son. Today we find her with Him at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. The wedding party has run out of wine. She has sensed the Divine love that His infant kingship has manifested; she has discovered Divine wisdom through His child-like rebuke of her worldly oversensitivity.; now she seeks to enlist His Divine power to furnish a Sacramental event with added bliss. She cannot help but verbalize what she knows He perceives. Son, they have no wine. (St. John, ii. 3) The Mother believes, evidently, that Her Son’s mission and ministry is to overcome earthly deficiency with Heavenly provision. If He is to be about His Father’s business, then He ought to jump to it by making new wine! Jesus knows better, and thus rebukes her: Woman what have I to do with thee? – or – Woman, why are you involving Me in this? –or another – What does this have to do with Me and thee? (Ibid, 3) The time to perfect what He receives from and shares with His mother is not yet. Mine hour has not yet come. (Ibid, 4) No doubt Mary felt, once more, the overwhelmingly powerful sense of her own ignorance and incomprehension. She does not yet understand Her Son in relation to herself.
Yet, Mary knows that faith and love must accept His rebuke in order to learn. Whatsoever He says, do it, (Ibid, 5) she commands. Jesus says, Fills the waterpots with water, (Ibid, 7) and the servants obey. Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, and saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now. (Ibid, 8-10)
Jesus does not merely produce new earthly wine at an earthly wedding for earthly men who had well drunk in an earthly manner. Were this all that he had done, drunk men wouldn’t have known the difference. With an increase of quantity, taste buds become numb to the quality of the draught. But we read that the governor of the feast realized that the additional wine was of a vastly superior quality than all that they had hitherto drunk! So not only has Jesus made new wine through the power of his Heavenly Nature, but He has enabled at least one of the well-plied drinkers to taste the difference! What has transpired is not only the transformation of water into wine, but the extreme conversion of one drunken man whose senses are miraculously revived and rejuvenated to know that a miracle has been performed on him also!
Of course, today’s miracle is a sign and symbol of what Christ always intends to do with us. If we are in search of miraculous earthly solutions to earthly deficiencies, we are far too drunk on earthly things to see how Christ the Light brings spiritual power into our lives. Christ Jesus is the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Cor. i. 24) He comes to put new wine into new bottles (St. Mark ii. 22) that the wine may change and transform those who believe into those who know and receive what the drink of His love can bring into their lives. Faith obeys, and love grows. Faith surrenders to what Christ can do and then seeks to grasp His meaning as His Love carries a believer into understanding. Woman, what has this to do with me and thee? Mine hour is not yet come. (Ibid) Jesus performs a miracle, but only as a preparation for the best wine that will be saved until last. The best wine is reserved for His Mother Mary and for those whose faith leads them to the Cross of His Love. That wine will pour forth from His hands, His feet, and His side as what is received from His Mother and shared with all others –the Sacred Gift of Mystic Meaning found in the Blood that alone can give new life to the world.
We believe that Jesus saves the best wine until last. For us, the new wine of Christ’s miraculous sacrifice on the Cross is poured out for whenever we come to into Holy Communion. By a Divine operation we believe that heaven miraculously infiltrates and transforms the earth as God transforms us from sinners into saints. We believe that the wine that we shall drink in the Holy Eucharist can become for us the all-healing, curing, redeeming, and sanctifying Blood of Christ’s Love for us. We believe that its movement to us and within us can open our eyes more and more to the love and passion that promises our salvation. Thus, when we drink of it we discover a Love that never ceases to be poured out on our behalf. Because Christ always saves the best wine until last, we believe then that what He is accomplishing can only get better and better. It should always be that Sacred Gift of Mystic Meaning whose power draws us ever more deeply under the rule and sway of His unstoppable Love. This wine is fortified for us the more we feel the effects of its strength pumping lovingly through the eternal heart of Christ Himself and into our own. This is the fortified wine made blood that infuses Love in the heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who now knows and understands her Son. May this fortified wine made blood infuse our hearts with the same Love so that we too may know and understand our Saviour’s plan for us, that with the poet, we may heartily exclaim,
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,/
Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine.
(Agony: George Herbert)
THE LAW OF HOSPITALITY.
Given to hospitality. (Rom. xii. 13)
IN this Epistle, which is altogether full of moral precepts, we are exhorted to great hospitality, to which four motives ought chiefly to move us. Firstly, the command of the Lord. Secondly, the example of the Saints. Thirdly, the loss which is sustained by not exercising hospitality. Fourthly, the manifold advantage in its exercise.
We are exhorted to great hospitality because the Lord enjoins it. Human beings are rational creatures. They have the capacity to understand and to will. This is how they are created in the Image and Likeness of God. Thus they must perfect these capacities if they are to be one with their Maker. And thus as God commands, a man must see the good in it and assent to it voluntarily. He is inspired to do so with more zeal when he sees the effects of it in the lives of the Saints. Studying the loss of it shows to him a poverty that will attack his life if he avoids it. Studying its expression, he sees that advantages issue forth in spiritual bounty, and so the exercise of it is essential to salvation.
The law of nature teaches us that we expect to be treated by others in a way that respects our being and our integrity. So we expect one thing. If we do not treat others according to the same law, we are hypocrites and the truth is not in us. To be subject to one law from others but to then exercise another law upon others is to live a divided and irrational life. The law of nature bids us to be subject to one law as receivers and givers. One law then is expressed in grateful receiving and in generous giving.
(2) By the old law: Is it not to deal My bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? (Isa. Iviii. 7)The stranger, the fatherless, the widow, that they may eat within thy gates and be filled. (Deut. xxvi. 12)
The Old Testament contains the Revelation of God’s Desire or Will for Man on the way to salvation. If we hope to be on the way to salvation, we must choose to obey God’s commands. God here exhorts us to love our neighbor. He reminds us that our neighbors are those who share the Image and Likeness of God with us. He reminds us that we are to be kindly affectioned not only to those of the Household of God but to the fatherless, widows, orphans, homeless, hungry, thirsty, and so forth. This is because God loves them as much as He loves us. He wants them as much as He wants us. God will ask us on the great Day of Judgment if we have ‘done it to the least of these His brethren.’ What will our answer be?
(3) By the new law: Be not forgetful to entertain strangers. (Heb. xiii. 2)
When we entertain strangers, we may be entertaining angels unawares. Few Christians take in strangers. They are afraid of earthly calamity but they are not afraid of eternal calamity when they shall be judged for having hoarded their riches for themselves and their pet projects –including the Church! Let us endeavor to entertain strangers.
The quotation comes from the Disciples walking on the Road to Emmaus. They invite Jesus to remain with them, though they do not know who He is. We must do the same with new people we meet. We must invite them to sit down with us and have a talk. We must know that Christ is in them. They may not know it, but we do. Our walls of safe and concealed respectability need to be broken down if we are to be transformed by strangers who give us an opportunity to perfect God’s Grace in our hearts.
(2) That we should protect our guests from harm. I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly; with these men do nothing, for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof. (Gen. xix. 7, 8) Whence we may learn that it was a patriarchal custom to protect guests from violence. Scripture gives us the example of protecting our guests from harm.
Not only are we to entertain angels unaware but we are to offer them the protection and refuge from a world that is bent on harming them habitually, a world that can offer them no faith, no hope, and no love.
(3) That with joy and gladness we should minister abundantly to their necessities. Pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant. And Abraham said, Make ready quickly these measures of fine meal; and Abraham ran unto the herd. (Gen. xviii. 3, 6, 7) This history teaches us how with joy and gladness we ought abundantly to minister unto strangers.
We ought to be hospitable because it gives us opportunity to minister God’s Grace to others, to share the Gospel truth, the impart mercies and kindnesses from the heart of God to others, so that they might know that there is a God in Heaven who loves them and longs for their salvation.
III. On the third head it is to be noted that three evils are incurred by those who are unwilling to exercise hospitality.
(1)They are here punished by the Lord. Others, indeed, received not strangers unknown to them, but these brought their guests into bondage that had deserved well of them. And not only so, but in another respect also they were wise; for the others against their will received strangers, but these grievously afflicted them whom they had received with joy. But they were struck with blindness. (Wis. xix. 13-16)
Scripture teaches us that those who are not hospitable to strangers will suffer and perish. If we do not treat others with generosity, kindness, compassion, pity, and hospitality, we shall be punished either here, hereafter, or at both times.
(2) They shall be confounded in the judgment. I was a stranger, and ye took me not in. (St. Matt. xxv. 43)
This is not a pious platitude. It is a promise. If we have not done this, we shall be judged. Being kind and hospitable to our friends is exactly what the heathen do. If we have not been kind to strangers, aliens, outcasts, and foreigners, we shall be judged unworthy of Christ’s Kingdom.
(3) They shall be shut up in an evil habitation. Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. (St. Matt. xxv. 4)
If we have not be hospitable to the least of these Christ’s brethren, we shall be damned.
In this illustration we find Jesus asking the Samaritan woman to give something to Him. She is tempted to think that He is too great to be waited upon because He is a Jew and she an outcast and alien. Yet, interestingly enough, Jesus uses her to show us that we are called to give back to Him because He is on our level and one with our nature. When we give back to others, we honor and worship the Christ in them. We gain Grace by ‘doing it to the least of these His brethren.’ We learn that Christ will break down all barriers between Heaven and Earth, and that Heaven’s children are made to be ministered to by the people of the earth.
(2) By doing this we frequently entertain Saints and Angels. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. (Hebr. xiii. 1)
We might be entertaining those whose special prayers and graces can benefit us reciprocally. Emissaries sent from God have a blessing to bestow upon us. They wear disguises but we must see that they are sent from God to assist us in our salvation.
(3) By doing this, we shall be received into an eternal, heavenly, and glorious habitation. I was a stranger, and ye took me in Come, ye blessed children of My Father, inherit the Kingdom. (St. Matt. xxv. 33, 34)
Christ comes in all sorts of guises. Are we ready to make a substantial return on what He give to us by giving to others? In other men’s hearts He is dying to come alive through the operation of our kindness and hospitality.
O LORD, we beseech thee mercifully to receive the prayers of thy people
who call upon thee; and grant that they may both perceive and know what things
they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Collect Ep. I)
In Christmas Tide we directed our mind’s eye to the new birth of Jesus Christ in our hearts and souls. And so now in Epiphany Tide our eyes are opening as Christ the Light begins to illuminate and enlighten us about the character of the new life which God desires us to live. Epiphany comes to us from the Greek word, epifaneia, and it means manifestation or striking appearance. In the Church of the East, Epiphany is called Theophany, meaning the vision of God. So this season is all about contemplating the Light of God, which is the manifestation or striking appearance of His vision and understanding of human life in Jesus Christ. In Christ the Light, then, we are called to see, grasp, and comprehend what is the pure and perfect will of God for us.
Today we move from Jesus’ birth as recorded in the Christmas narratives and the Epiphany visitation of the Three Wise Men to the only record of Jesus’ adolescence, where we find Him in the Temple at Jerusalem. We know nothing of the period between Jesus’ infancy and His sudden appearance in the Temple at the age of twelve, and then between today’s manifestation and the beginning of His adult ministry. St. Luke, alone, chooses to record a singular event from Jesus’ childhood. Yet what is revealed and manifested in it is an Epiphany that informs our further journey after Jesus in this season. It will help us to understand the vocation and calling which each of us has by way of incorporation and perfection in the Mystical Body that Jesus is beginning to form and create out of His relationship with our Heavenly Father.
In this morning’s Gospel we read that the Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. (St. Luke ii. 41-43) St. Luke is in the habit of identifying Joseph by his first name, since he was the foster-father but not natural Father of Jesus. Jesus’ natural Father is God the Father, as we shall learn soon from Jesus’ own lips. So the family had travelled up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover. That Joseph and Mary did not realize that Jesus was missing as they began their return to Nazareth should not surprise us. Ancient Jewish families included the many members of an extended clan who customarily travelled together. The adults often entrusted their young ones to elder cousins as they made their respective pilgrimages.
Yet still there is profound spiritual symbolism in the fact that Jesus’ earthly parents were blinded to His absence from the travelling clan. Even when He was safe and secure under the roof of their own home, did His parents understand where Jesus truly was? Could it be that His spiritual whereabouts were as yet hidden and concealed even from those who had first-hand experience of the Angelic Prophesy of His nature and destiny? Perhaps in Joseph and Mary we find incomprehension because they did not yet understand where Jesus Christ must always be inwardly and spiritually.
So one day passed before Mary and Joseph realized Jesus’ absence. We read: But they, supposing Him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought Him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found Him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking Him. (Ibid, 44,45) Jesus’ parents were concerned about His physical whereabouts. They might even have intuited that their son was about His spiritual business but in physical and natural proximity to His near-relations and family members. Surely if their Son was to be great…called the Son of the Highest…the heir of…the throne of His father David (St. Luke i. 32), He might be expected to respect and honor His family by shedding His Light first on kith and kin.
But, as we know, such was not to be the case. Mary and Joseph returned to Jerusalem and spent three days trying to find their child. Evidently –by reason of the time it took them to find Him – they did not know where to look. They did not know His whereabouts, because they had never really known where Jesus was spiritually. And this would be in no small measure due to the religious vision and knowledge of Judaism in their own day, bound and determined as it was by the Law that proscribed nearness to God by way of the Jewish familial blood tie. But finally, after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. (Idem, 46, 47) Jesus was where a young Jewish boy searching for the fulfillment of God’s promise was most likely to learn about it spiritually. Being a child, He humbled Himself before the theologians in order to discover His future mission and ministry. But that didn’t stop Him from questioning them, and thus provoking a dialogue which in turn elicited amazement at His understanding and answers. Jesus had come into the midst of the scholars and doctors of theology, and then called them down into His humility so that they might discover the wisdom and stature that informed His character. He was literally no-one from no-where who then transformed the Temple through His familiarity with His Heavenly Father. In Christ the Doctors of the Temple began to see God’s own Light.
Mary and Joseph are amazed to find their son in the Temple, but their astonishment is not sufficient to overcome their frustration. Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? Behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. (Ibid, 48) Jesus retorts with a gentle but firm rebuke: How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? (Ibid, 49) In other words, Why were you seeking me? Did you not know that I must be involved with my Father’s affairs? Joseph and Mary understood not the word, which He spake to them. (Ibid, 50: Wycliffe) They who were willing to entrust Him to the care of His cousins could not entrust Him to the care of God! And He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but His mother kept all these sayings in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man. (Ibid, 51,52)
Where is Jesus? This is the question that confronts us on this First Sunday after Epiphany. Or perhaps it would be better to ask: Where are we in relation to Jesus? Jesus is always about His Father's business and that might take Him anywhere. Where He is physically? is the wrong question to ask. His question to the Doctors of the Temple and to us is: Where are you spiritually? The same question was implied in His answer to His mother: Why did you seek me? For you should have known where I always am. That His parents did not understand His answer is part and parcel of every man’s need to discover what Jesus is doing and where we are in relation to Him. Wherever He is, Jesus is always with our Heavenly Father. Jesus doesn’t move; we do! He is where He has always been, with the Father and doing His work. He was with God from before all beginnings, as the Creative Word through whom all things were made. (St. John i. 3) He was with God from the moment of conception until His Ascension to the Father, disclosing the Father’s will as the Redemptive Word made Flesh busily working out our salvation. He is with God today in our Gospel lesson, preferring to entrust His life to our Heavenly Father’s business rather than to hurry back to meet the expectations of His earthly parents. And even now through His Spirit He longs to shed His Light on us, that where He is, there we might be also. (St. John xiv. 3)
So where are we spiritually today? Are we waiting for Christ the Light to keep up with us in our earthly meanderings? Do we expect Jesus to be where we are, at our beck and call, being subject unto us before He surrenders Himself to the Father’s will for us? Are we supposing that He should heal every earthly wound, forestall every kind of human suffering, and thus magically heal and transform our lives without any conditional cooperation on our part? In other words, are we expecting Christ not to redeem and sanctify but overcome and annihilate our human natures? That would be insulting to God’s expectations for us as creatures made to be reconciled to Himself through faith which must suffer to find its reward.
We need to stop asking where Christ is and start focusing on what Christ is doing. What He is doing is always being about His Father’s business. This is the business that we are called to get into. I must be about my Father’s business is Jesus’ work. He calls us to enter into His labor. Oswald Chambers challenges us to ask if we are employed in it. Are you so identified with the Lord’s life that you are simply a child of God, continually talking to Him and realizing that all things come from His hands? Is the Eternal Child in you living in the Father’s house? Are the graces of His ministering life working out through you in your home, in your business, in your domestic circle? (My Utmost: Aug. 7) Christ desires to continue to be about His Father’s Business in us. Can we honestly say that our chief occupation is our Heavenly Father’s Business?
Dear friends, today let us enter into the labor and work of the young Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem. Let us, in conformity to Christ, attend [to our] Heavenly Father’s business, and to make all other business give way to it, (Comm. M. Henry) that we may both perceive and know what things [we] ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil the same. (Collect) And should we fail to acquire immediate answers and solutions to the confusions and perplexities that accompany our journey in Christ, with the Blessed Virgin Mary, let us with deepest faith and trust keep all [His] sayings in [our] heart[s] (Ibid, 51), until, through Him, [we] shall [increase] in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man. (Ibid, 52) Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons