Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate.
Be not wise in your own conceits. (Romans xii. 16)
Thus far in the season of Epiphany, we have been invited to see and perceive the manifestation and revelation of Divine wisdom, love, and power in the life of Jesus Christ. We have followed the Star that draws and summons the soul’s eye to origin and source of all truth and meaning in human life. We have seen his star in the east, and art come to worship him…(St. Matthew ii. 2) We have learned that out of eternity’s consecration of time in the life of the young Jesus, divine wisdom informs and defines the new life that will save all men. Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business…(St. Luke ii. 49) We have gleaned also that this life is made to be redeemed as new and potent spiritual wine that is always being made out of the simple and elemental fragments of created existence. But thou hast kept the best wine until now. (St. John ii. 10) Love, wisdom, and power reveal themselves to us in Epiphany as marks of Jesus’ intention to do even greater things than these. (St. John xiv. 12) And the greater things than these will involve not only what God does in Jesus Christ then and there, but what Jesus will do in us here and now. Epiphany is not only about vision but is also, and more importantly, about the redemptive power of God’s Grace in your life and in mine.
The image of the transformation that Epiphany brings to us is pictured this morning in Jesus’ encounter with a Roman Centurion. A centurion was a professional officer in the Roman Legion who commanded roughly one hundred men. He, like the soldiers under his rule, would have been a celibate –Roman soldiers were not permitted to marry until active duty was completed. So, perhaps for the Roman Centurion in this morning’s Gospel, the military unit formed a kind of family for him –soldiers and servants who were the subjects of his paternal care. And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. (St. Matthew viii. 5) Capernaum was the home of Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Matthew the tax collector. It also housed a Roman garrison, and thus today’s Centurion. Oddly enough, the pagan Centurion approached Jesus and addressed him as Lord. Jesus responds and says, I will come and heal him. (St. Matthew viii. 7) But the Centurion protests, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. (St. Matthew viii. 8) Perhaps he had heard of Jesus’ power from others; maybe he had witnessed the miracles.
In any case, prior to his appeal the Centurion would, no doubt, have known of Jesus’ reputation. We surmise that he must have had some knowledge and experience of Jesus. He must have had a deep sense also of the holiness attached to Jesus’ person. At any rate, he ranked himself as unworthy to have the Lord come down to his house to heal his servant. Jesus was all-holy; the Centurion counted himself as not near such a state of spiritual life. Thus, in humility, he begs Jesus to speak or send His Word only, that his servant might be healed. Only humility can gain from Christ the transformative power of God’s Grace. Clear-headed about his own moral and spiritual weakness, emptied of any pretense to self-importance, disappointed by his own prudence and cleverness, the Centurion’s heart becomes the space that feeds on Faith, looks forward with Hope, and rests in the Love he does not yet possess. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. (St. Matthew viii. 9) This Centurion knows that though he possesses earthly authority, beyond that, he has no access to heaven’s power. In the earthly domain of Caesar, he has the power and authority to command, and he is obeyed. He speaks and it is done. Yet, notice how he says: I am a man under authority. He implies that he too must obey and submit himself to a higher authority. He is Caesar’s soldier.
But he has seen one whom he believes is greater than Caesar and whom he must come to followin a greater way. His sense of the all-holiness emanating from the Person of Jesus commands him to seek out and find Jesus in faith and belief. Jesus has more power and authority than any earthly king. He believes that Jesus is in possession of that Divine power that alone is sufficient to heal his servant. So, with his own feeble desire, he reaches out to One with the power to love and to heal. He believes too that Jesus is in possession of the Divine wisdom, with the truth which will set men free. The overwhelming otherness then that the Centurion finds in the person of Jesus will begin to transform him. He believes and knows; he knows and he seeks; he seeks and he finds. The manifestation and revelation of his own condition and of God’s nature in Jesus carry this pagan Centurion from self-knowledge to faith, and through faith to hope, and in hope to the healing of love. He is moved out of weakness and powerlessness into the redemption that Christ brings. The Epiphany revelation that we find today is twofold. First, we learn of the powerless state of sinful man. Second, if we claim it ourselves, in all humility, we discover God’s response to it in Jesus Christ.
The faith that Jesus finds in this Centurion’s soul is what He came down from heaven to grow. St. Augustine reminds us, this faith is of such a nature that it says, if then I a man under authority have the power of commanding, what power must Thou have, whom all powers serve? The Centurion’s power is earthly and thus limited. The power he perceives in Jesus is the source and origin of all power, can transcend all time and space, overcome all barriers and hurdles, and touch and move the world as it did in the beginning. Speak (or send) the Word only, and my servant shall be healed. (St. Matthew viii. 8) God spake the word and they were made; He commanded, and it stood fast. (Psalm xxxiii. 9) The Centurion Roman believes that he must supplicate and obtain this power through faith. He will secure and experience the loving power of God by opening to it in hope. When Jesus heard this Centurion’s confession of faith, He marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. (St. Matthew viii. 10, 11) What Jesus finds is a faith that does not hold back in contemplation with wonder, but one which earnestly desires and seeks out the loving power that He carries into the world. What Jesus finds is the prayer that every man must make if he will secure the sanctification and salvation that God longs to bring into human life.
This is the message of our Epiphany-tide. But it comes also with a real warning. Jesus says that the Centurion’s gentile faith is sound and on the way to the Kingdom. He tells us too that the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (St. Matthew viii. 12) What He means is that there are too many Christians who never seek out the healing power of God with all humility. What he means is that those who think that they are the children of the kingdom, are not. Why? Because they are good and, evidently, have no need for the healing power of God in Jesus Christ. These are they who keep God at a safe distance. These are they who have never admitted and confessed their own limitations. These are they who have never admitted their own need for God’s Grace in all of their lives. These are they who have never discovered that spiritual state that we find in today’s Centurion.
Jesus says, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. (St. Matthew vii. 7) Salvation is for the humble. Salvation is for the needy. Salvation is for those who know that they are weak and who know that God alone in Jesus Christ can make them strong! Our Centurion had a vision of God at work in Jesus Christ, and with humility, longed to benefit from its power for his suffering servant. From the ground of humble self-emptying, he reached out with every fiber of his being to procure the power that moved the heart of Jesus. Touched by that power in the poverty of his soul, his faith found healing, not only in the life of his servant but within himself. His servant was healed. But he too was healed because his faith was enlarged as he made room for Jesus in the inn of his soul and had a place where Jesus could lay his head. He was healed because his hope was strengthened, and his love was not disappointed. In the Centurion we find a miracle even more significant than that of his servant.
Be not wise in your own conceits, but… condescend to men of low estate. (Romans xii. 16), St. Paul says this morning. He means that we should, with the Centurion, bow down, and realistically discover in the suffering of our loved ones our powerlessness to heal and save them. He means that from this low and humble seat we ought to seek out God’s mercy with all faith, hope, and love. Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof, but speak the Word only and my servant shall be healed. (Idem)
Today we must ask ourselves, Do we find and discover ourselves truly in the Epiphany illumination that reveals our own deepest need for Christ the light? Are we pouring out our complaint to Christ? If so, with the Centurion, we shall experience the effective power of our loving Saviour, who says, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant, [and his own soul], were healed in the selfsame hour. (St. Matthew viii. 13) May it be so with our souls in His healing mercy. 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 join our eyes to the objects that we seek to know and understand. And this 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 sense and perceive the loving power through which we all can be changed in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye. (1 Cor. Xv. 52)
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 confesses what it does not have but desires to obtain and enjoy. Think about it. When you first were drawn to someone who intrigued or interested you, you did not yet know that person in any intimate or deep way. You had faith and confidence that there was something mysterious, deeper, and concealed that you wanted to investigate and discover more fully. Your faith pursued the object of your desire in order to seek out and find a hidden reality, a deeper meaning attached to the one you trusted was interesting enough to get to know and maybe even love!
God works in the same way. He intrigues us by calling us forward to search out Him out 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 and trust that something beautiful and meaningful is waiting to be disclosed by Him. 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.
In Epiphany tide, our faith seeks to find and know God’s wisdom and love. Yet what confronts us on the first three Sundays in Epiphany is confusion. In our Epiphany readings, we find ignorance and uncertainty as necessary precursors to enlightenment and knowledge. Not knowing and spiritual darkness seem to crush our faith. The Wise Men ask 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) We believe but where is He, that we may know Him? They believe and trust that an extraordinary star calls them to find an unusual king. They carry sacred gifts with mystic meaning because they believe that this king is calling them forth out of darkness and into His own marvelous light.
Ignorance, uncertainty, and even confusion compel those who love God to search more diligently for His truth. Last Sunday we found that Joseph and Mary were alarmed and frightened at the prospect of having lost their son Jesus. They sought Him out of confusion and bewilderment. Their faith drives them to search for Jesus, but their love is threatened with fear and terror. They hurry back to Jerusalem because they trust and hope that Jesus is somewhere safe. They seek Him out but are then 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 knows that there is a deeper 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 and strange Son.
Jesus is the wisdom of God that is not self-evidently or clearly understood at first glance. Jesus is also the power of God who comes to 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 remembers the Divine love that His infant kingship inspired in the Three Wise Men. She recalls the Divine wisdom that rebuked her worldly fears and distrust. Now she seeks to enlist His Divine power to furnish a Sacramental event with added bliss. She cannot help but verbalize what Her Son surely knows! Son, they have no wine. (St. John, ii. 3) The Mother knows that Her Son can overcome all manner of earthly deficiency. Here, she believes He should do so. Mary thinks that this is justified since Jesus is not amongst the elites of Jerusalem but with the ordinary middleclass people of the relatively insignificant town of Cana in Galilee. If He is to be about His Father’s business, then, surely, He can make more wine for those who, perhaps, cannot afford it!
Jesus knows better, and thus rebukes Mary. Woman what have I to do with thee? Woman, why are you involving Me in this? What does this have to do with Me and thee? (Ibid, 3) The rebuke is needed because she does not ask Him a question like Son, what should we do for they have no wine. She seems to demand Divine Intervention. Jesus will have none of it. He exclaims Mine hour has not yet come. (Ibid, 4) Mary felt, once more, the overwhelming sense of her ignorant earthliness. She does not yet understand Her Son in relation to herself or others.
Yet, Mary believes she must accept Jesus’ rebuke in order to learn from His loving correction.Whatsoever He says, do it, (Ibid, 5) she commands the others. Mary has accepted the Lord’s chastening. She has been humbled. She directs the others correctly. Jesus responds. Fill 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 has not come down from Heaven to perform earthly miracles on earthly men for earthly joy and happiness. Here, He does not merely produce new earthly wine at an earthly wedding for earthly men who had already drunk too much in an earthly manner. Were this all that He had done, drunk men wouldn’t have known the difference. Mary wasn’t drunk. Neither was the governor of the feast. Mary saw what Jesus did in response to her humble subjection to Him. The governor tasted the difference.
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 longs to bring new spiritual wine into our fallen 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) The Blessed Virgin Mary had to be converted. She had to learn not that they have no wine but that I and We have no wine. We must believe and know that we must become those new bottles that are in need of being filled with Christ’s new wine.
Jesus insists Mine hour is not yet come. (Ibid) Jesus performs a miracle. Jesus provides. But first we must trust in Him. Whatsoever He says, Do it! He might provide wine, or He might not. He might open blind eyes, or He might not. Whatsoever He says, we must do it. We need to obey Jesus. His Hour does not yet come until we go up to His Cross of His Love and beyond. Then a very new kind of wine will pour forth from His hands, His feet, and His side that He has received from His mother and is moved by His Father. The Sacred Gift of Mystic Meaning will be found in the Blood that alone is the new wine that gives new life to a fallen world that with the governor of the feast can taste the difference!
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 us whenever we come to Holy Communion. 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 this wine is the Sacred Blood that resurrects us from sin into righteousness and from death into new life. Because Christ always saves the best wine until last, we believe that this wine only and always gets better and better.
We must receive it as that Sacred Gift of Mystic Meaning whose power never ceases to astound us with His Amazing Love. This wine is fortified for us the more we feel the effects of its strength pumping lovingly from 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. Like the water made wine in this morning’s Gospel, may this fortified wine made blood infuse our hearts with the power that opens our eyes to our Saviour’s Love for us, and 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)
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 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, revelation, or shining forth. In the Eastern Orthodox churches, 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 shining forth of His vision and understanding of human life in Jesus Christ. In Christ the Light, then, we are called to see, grasp, and comprehend how this world is a trial run or preparation for eternal life in God’s Kingdom.
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 shines forth today is an Epiphany that helps us to follow Jesus back to His Father’s Kingdom. Today’s revelation teaches us what is most important in human life and for what each and every one of us is made.
In this morning’s Gospel, we read that 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 Jesus will soon remind both his mother and stepfather. Today, the family had traveled up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover. When they began to make their journey home, Joseph and Mary did not realize that Jesus was missing from the assembled clan. Ancient Jewish families traveled as a tribe and thus the entourage would have been large. The adults often entrusted their young ones to older family members and friends as they made their respective journeys.
As Mary and Joseph traveled ahead with the adults, they trusted that Jesus was with the extended family. They thought that they knew where Jesus was. But, as we know, it turns out that they did not. They did not know where he was physically. As it turns out, they did not know where he was spiritually either! Where someone is spiritually is of utmost importance in revealing and shining forthto us the state of his soul and the character of his spirit. Joseph and Mary did not yet understand where Jesus Christ must always be inwardly and spiritually. Perhaps the same is true for you and for me.
A whole 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 theirkinsfolk 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. Perhaps He had been attacked, beaten, hurt, or wounded. Perhaps He had managed to get Himself lost. 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), they could not afford to lose Him. They might have been struck by a crisis of conscience. Perhaps they should have been more careful and watchful. They could not afford to lose Jesus. We cannot afford to lose Him either.
But, as we learn, Jesus is never lost. 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 were looking in all the wrong places. They did not know His whereabouts, because they had forgotten where Jesus is always spiritually. 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 who was searching out God’s will for His future would be. But Jesus would have been pursuing this with more earnest eagerness and desire. After all, He would be called the Son of the Most High. (Idem)To learn of this great vocation, He humbled Himself before the rabbis and theologians in the temple in order to discover His future mission and ministry. He would listen. But he would also question. In turn, He would call them down into His humility so that they might discover the wisdom and stature that informed His character. In Christ, the Doctors of the Temple began to see where this unknown boy from an obscure family and an insignificant village dwelt truly and spiritually.
Mary and Joseph were amazed to find their son in the Temple, but their astonishment was 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 reveals to us that Mary and Joseph did not understand that where He was physically was all-important for where He is always spiritually. He chastises them gently but firmly. 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 Heavenly Father’s business first and foremost? 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 this means that HE is everywhere! Where is He 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 know WHERE I am at all times and for eternity! 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 ought to find 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 the Father’s 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. He even desires that where He is, we might be also. (St. John xiv. 3)
So where are we spiritually today? Have we left Jesus behind or have we lost Him? We cannot have lost Him if we have never found Him! And we can never find Him if we are not seeking and searching for Him, like Mary and Joseph! A friend of mine recently told me that he did not get much out of religion. I responded: How could you? You have never looked for it! You are too busy with other things! If you seek and search for Truth, you will find it. If you find it, you will discover that the Way, the Truth, and the Life is Jesus Christ! In Jesus, you will find the Way, the Truth, and the Life of God the Father. What does this mean? In the Human Life of God’s own Son, the Father reveals Himself andshines forth. Jesus Christ is the Epiphany of God the Father!
We need to stop asking where Christ is and start seeing what Christ is doing. Oswald Chambers asks: 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 wants to speak with us and to have a relationship with us. Christ wants the Father’s Business to become our business! Christ wants our chief occupation to be taken up with God and His desire to bring us back to Himself forever!
Dear friends, today let us see that the business of the young Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem is to show us the Father. And let us never forget that if we follow Jesus, we shall see that the business of the Father leads to the Cross. At the Cross, we find the True Light of Epiphany. The Light that Shines in the Darkness is the Light of that Love that will suffer all things so that God’s Work might be done. We may not grasp it yet. But, perhaps, with the Blessed Virgin Mary, we can ponder all Jesus’ sayings in [our] heart[s] (Ibid, 51), until, through Him, on the First Day of the Week, the new Light of Resurrection begins to dawn on all of us as the reward for them that must be about the Father’s business. (Idem)
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons