Thomas Aquinas and Commentary:
THE CROWN OF THORNS Go forth, ye daughters of Sion, and see king Solomon in the diadem, wherewith his mother crowned him in the day of his espousals, and in the day of the joy of his heart. Cant. iii. n.
This is the voice of the Church inviting the souls of the faithful to behold the marvellous beauty of her spouse. For the daughters of Sion, who are they but the daughters of Jerusalem, holy souls, the citizens of that city which is above, who with the angels enjoy the peace that knows no end, and, in consequence, look upon the glory of the Lord ? i . Go forth , shake off the disturbing commerce of this world so that, with minds set free, you may be able to contemplate him whom you love. And see king Solomon, the true peacemaker, that is to say, Christ Our Lord.
Today we are called to shake off undue and excessive attachment to the external and visible world. Our minds must be emptied of and liberated from all that clouds our vision and distracts our gaze so that we make look upon the second Solomon, Jesus Christ our Lord and King.
In the diadem wherewith his mother crowned him, as though the Church said, Look on Christ garbed with flesh for us, the flesh He took from the flesh of his mother. For it is his flesh that is here called a diadem, the flesh which Christ assumed for us, the flesh in which he died and destroyed the reign of death, the flesh in which, rising once again, he brought to us the hope of resurrection.
Christ took on our flesh as one taking on and into himself the disease and sickness of man’s nature. And yet it is likened unto a crown for He considers it to be a jeweled and golden diadem of greatest value and worth the wearing. Falleness is a temptation to Him. But He will not fall for the temptation. Rather in human flesh he shall reconcile our nature and our humanity to God. He considers our flesh as a crown which He will gladly wear upon Himself, come what may. His persistent inhabitation of our flesh will mean that in Him we are being carried through the battle royale to find our true human nature once again. God alone in Christ can inhabit our nature and begin the process of recreation and redemption. He delights to wear the crown of our flesh and will invite us to wear the royal vesture also.
This is the diadem of which St. Paul speaks, We see Jesus for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour (Heb. ii. 9). His mother is spoken of as crowning him because Mary the Virgin it was who from her own flesh gave him flesh.
Suffering and death are taken on and into the hypostatic union of God and Man in one Jesus Christ. Suffering and death become occasions for the deepest dependence and reliance upon God. Only those of royal blood can suffer and die in proper fashion. Our Lord takes his royal blood from the Blessed Virgin Mary. She gives him royal blood that comes with the promise of a future kingdom. Suffering and death become part and parcel of Kingship. Suffering and death become the form and model for the new and royal life. Beginning with the soul and spirit and extending to the body, suffering and death are now virtues that bring a man to everlasting royal life promised to our Father Abraham.
In the day of his espousals, that is, in the hour of his Incarnation, when he took to himself the Church not having spot or wrinkle (Eph. v. 27), the hour again when God was joined with man. And in the day of the joy of his heart. For the joy and the gaiety of Christ is for the human race salvation and redemption. And coming home, he calls together his friends and neighbours saying to them, Rejoice with me, because I have found my sheep that was lost (Luke xv. 6).
The suffering and dying Christ rejoices to see the day of man’s turning home to God. Man beholds his king hanging on a Cross and his journey has begun when he realizes that the rule of suffering and death must be shared by Christ with his friends that they may return home with Him. Suffering and death are joy and gaity to Christ who gladly suffers as a King for his people. Christ rejoices in that He is beginning to find the sheep that are lost. He longs for the lost sheep that are nailing him to the tree. Tomorrow, perhaps, they shall repent and become citizens of his kingdom. The good thief at his side is already turning and repenting, and oh what joy fills the heart of the suffering and dying King. And there shall be more. What exquisite joy is imagined in the heart of King Jesus as he hopes for the conversion of so many sinners.
2. We can however refer the whole of this text simply and literally to the Passion of Christ. For Solomon, foreseeing through the centuries the Passion of Christ, was uttering a warning for the daughters of Sion, that is, for the Jewish people. Go forth and see king Solomon, that is, Christ, in his diadem, that is to say, the crown of thorns with which his mother the Synagogue has crowned him ; in the day of his espousals, the day when he joined to himself the Church ; and in the day of the joy of his heart, the day in which he rejoiced that by his Passion he was delivering the world from the power of the devil. Go forth, therefore, and leave behind the darkness of unbelief, and see, understand with your minds that he who suffers as man is really God.
The Jewish Church has handed over its Lord and Saviour for death. But the King knows that his suffering and death are necessary and essential for every man’s future life. Jesus rejoices to be handed over so that His love in suffering and dying might deliver the world from the devil. He needed to be freed and liberated from religious people who stood in the way of the royal journey that he was making. This liberation is not bad but good. Now King Jesus can do the work that He must do without the bother of silly interference. For the King of love to give himself entirely to his people he must suffer the loss of himself so that last ounce of its passion might be poured out to God for man. Divine Love or Mercy is thus embraced by the King who then gives this love to all others. This King knows that the Divine rule of sacred humanity will cost his life and that of all others. What a joy to leave himself behind that he might reign as King supreme in the hearts of his citizens.
Go forth, beyond the gates of your city, that you may see him, on Mount Calvary, crucified. (In Cant. 3 .)
Let us go forth to see this King who is God and Man suffering the Law of His own making. Let us know that He desires to die this death that the sin which tries to dethrone him might be conquered. Let us see how wise this King truly is. For he captures sin, death, and satan and catches them up in the net of his love. He escorts them to their desired ends. How beautiful and how brave is this King who will do this work for us, that in Him we might become the citizens of God’s Kingdom.
When we fast and abstain during the holy season of Lent, we do so in order to open up our minds and bodies to the more regular and habitual presence of Christ in our lives. Lent is a time when we ask the Lord to give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit (Coll: Lent I) we may obey Him always, follow the movements of his will and embrace his love. During Lent we put aside diversions, distractions and occupations that tend to deplete our spiritual energy and concentration. In it we pray that holy desire and longing for God’s presence increase within us.
Fasting is an exercise in cleansing. Before holy desire or spiritual longing can grow, we must be emptied of the many vices and bad habits that define our lives. St. Augustine puts it this way: The exercise of fasting will be effective only to the extent that we free ourselves from the desires leading to infatuation with this world. Take the example of filling an empty container. God means to fill each of you with what is good; so cast out what is bad! If he wishes to fill you with honey and you are full of sour wine, where is the honey to go? The vessel must be emptied of its contents and then be cleansed. (Serm. 1st John: Augustine)
The problem is that, by nature, we do not tend to want to rely on anyone or anything outside of ourselves. We do not want to be emptied in order to be then filled. The Credo of post-Christian America seems to be that we can make it on our own, by our efforts, pursuing our own desires. We are so full or ourselves that we ignore the need for self-emptying and God-filling. Self-fulfillment and self-maintenance seem to prevail in people’s lives. But this is of course is delusional and fatal to the intentions that God has for us. As C.S. Lewis says, God made us, he invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on gasoline, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. (Mere Christianity)
We need God because he is fuel and energy that makes the human machine run at its best. We cannot be filled by the Holy Spirit until we know that relying on our own energy means that we are running on empty. That is the point of the fast.
Being Made Better
Christ the Word did not come to affirm us. All creatures are made by Him to become better and more perfect, to reach the ends for which they were made. Clergymen who tell people that “God wants you just the way you are”are full of the devil. They stand against the laws of nature and they deny the power of Grace. Man is fallen. And, No, it is not a sin to hate the sin and love the sinner. Post-moderns caught in a prepubescent or adolescent prison, disguised in adult bodies, conflate the two. Evidently one is not permitted in the post-modern playground to hate certain sins. And yet if we do not hate our sins, we shall never be freed from them. We are made to eschew the evil and cleave to the good. We are made to be carried out of the one and into the other. Making excuses for our sins means that we shall continue to live as those who know not God and hew out for ourselves broken cisterns which can hold no water. (Jer. ii. 13) He who did cause water to gush out of the stony rock, desires to break and melt our rocky hearts into such contrition that works repentance unto salvation. (B. Jenks)
But Woe to the rulers and people of this land who call good evil and evil good, that put darkness for light, and light for darkness…(Is. v. 20) and who teach our children the same. They are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things. (Phil. iii. 18, 19)
God made us to become His sons and daughters. This means that He has made us for Himself. But we are all fallen and need the refashioning of our nature through Jesus Christ our Lord. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 St. John i. 8,9) Only sinners can be made better. This Lent let us claim and confess our sins truly and exhaustively that we might be made new through the love of the Lamb of God. In Him let us become vulnerable enough to be changed and transformed by His Heavenly Passion. Let us let Him remake us into His image, likeness, and pattern. And let us, Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. (Gal. vi. 7,8)
It is hard to see suffering as a positive or a good thing. Imagine trying to tell the families and friends who have lost a loved one through a violent crime that their suffering, pain, loss, and ensuing emptiness are in any way good. That would seem to contradict the truth and make matters worse.
But the Christian religion demands that we believe that good can come out of evil, hope out of despair, and love out of hatred. And yet the most common retort leaping out of the mouths of the wounded is that certain sins are unforgivable. Well, in point of fact, according to God, there is only one sin that is unforgiveable and that sin is the failure to forgive and to hope. All others sins are forgivable and must be forgiven if the Christian hopes to be saved. The only sin that will not be forgiven is the failure to forgive another and hope for his or her salvation. It doesn’t matter whether the forgiven repents and believes. That is really, in the end, God’s affair and not ours. What is key is that we forgive as God forgives us and hope for every man’s conversion and salvation. If we don’t we shall not be forgiven. On judgment day there will be no rooms for any ands, ifs, or buts about it. We must forgive, pray for those who have hurt and despitefully used us, and hope to meet them in Heaven in the arms of our Saviour.
On a very basic level we are enabled to do this when we look at ourselves honestly in the light of Christ’s love. Have we examined ourselves thoroughly enough so that we confess: Lord I am the sinner, the chief of all sinners, the chief, the chiefest, the greatest of all sinners. God be merciful to me the sinner? When we come to a deep sense of our own unworthiness and wickedness in the presence of the Lord’s incessant desire that His compassion, pity, mercy, and forgiveness should work themselves into our lives and us into salvation, we cannot help but transmit and impart this unmerited gift to others. Have we ever pondered on what God desires to do in and through us? Have we ever realized that His forgiveness and love are the roots and anchors of the new life that He has shared with us in His Son Jesus Christ? And do we remember that Christ desires even now to share His life with us that we might impart it to others? Through us who are members of His Mystical Body? Do we thankfully receive His forgiveness as what must be wellspring and fount of all godly living? Is that forgiveness the primary moving principle in our lives and relations with all other people?
Some years ago the famous Dutch Calvinist evangelist Corrie Ten Boom told the story of the day that she ran into an old enemy in Munich. During World War II the Germans had imprisoned Corrie and her siter Betsie in Ravensbruck Concentration Camp for hiding Jews. Betsie died. After the war Corrie went to Germany to preach forgiveness at a conference. When she began one of her talks, seated in the audience was one of the concentration camp guards. After the talk the man approached her and admitted that he had been a guard at the camp but had repented and become a Christian. He said that he knew that God had forgiven him. But, he said to Corrie, will you forgive me? She said:
And I stood there — I whose sins had every day to be forgiven — and could not. She wondered if the petition for forgiveness could wipe away the evil that led to her sister’s death.
It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.
For I had to do it — I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. "If you do not forgive men their trespasses," Jesus says, "neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses." ...
She said that she knew that forgiveness is not a feeling or emotion. It is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. "Jesus, help me!" I prayed silently. "I can lift my hand, I can do that much. You supply the feeling."
So she offered her hand to the man without any feeling and no small amount of coldness. She began to feel a warmth pervade her body and tears started to well up in her eyes.
"I forgive you, brother!" I cried. "With all my heart!"
For some time they held tightly each other’s hands. She said that she had never felt the presence of God in such a powerful way. (Corrie Ten Boom: How to Forgive, PBS)
Forgiveness. Are we prepared to receive it with deepest thanksgiving and gratitude this Lent? First and foremost we must open up to the forgiveness of sins, which we neither deserve nor merit. God’s love and mercy always overcome His judgment and justice in our sins. For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (St. Matthew vi. 14, 15)
Jesus Christ is the forgiveness of sins made flesh. How often have we betrayed, denied, and crucified His sway and rule, His desire and will in our lives? And still He longs to be so intimate with us that He forgives and waits for our return to Him. Will we repent and receive His forgiveness? Will this forgiveness conquer and subdue our judgment and condemnation of our enemies? Will our forgiveness become a love that hopes for their salvation? First we must obey and embrace it; in its wake will follow the warmth of its liberating energy.
This Lent let us pray for our enemies –those whom our sins have made our enemies, and those who have made themselves our enemies. Let us forgive them all, love Jesus in them and them in Jesus. Let us hope and pray that the Jesus in them will come alive as the forgiveness of sins and as love and hope for all others. Let us pray that with them we all may love to forgive because this alone will make us members of Christ's Mystical Body and the conveyors and transmitters of His salvation.
Ash Wednesday 2015
Today we begin our extended Christian journey into the spiritual environment of Lent. Lent will lead us to what is called the Easter Triduum- the memorial of the Last Supper, the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord, which will reveal to us the extent to which God’s love or charity will travel for our salvation.
In Lent you and I are called to humbly ponder, study, and explore God’s love at work in the life of Jesus Christ and our relation to it. For forty days we shall journey into a dimension, therefore, of repentance and contrition, of amendment and transformation. For forty days we must look into our souls. There we must locate and identify our persistent and habitual sins. We then name and claim them. We must offer our sorrow and sadness over them to God. We must beg for His merciful forgiveness and then for his healing power to eliminate them. We look into our souls and find the less commonly practiced vices too, express our sorrow over them and ask the Lord to subdue and conquer them.
For forty days we go up to a spiritual Mount Sinai in order to be confronted, challenged, and overcome by the Lord's truth, beauty and goodness. As we begin to submit to His nature, for forty days with Him we shall be tempted of Satan, knowing that as we repent of our former sins and negligences, the devil will desire to have us in new and exciting ways. Our temptations are occasions to cleave all the more resolutely and persistently to Jesus as we learn to die to the world and the flesh that the devil idolatrizes. So we must clear away the cobwebs of forgetfulness, cut away the thorns that persistently choke the birth and growth of virtue in us, and melt our hearts into a readier submission and docility to God's Word of love. We do this in order to open our eyes and enflame our desire for the love of the Crucified One who is dying to save us.
In Lent we admit who we are. In Lent we admit where we come from. In Lent we know where we must go and what path we must take. We are sinners. We come from nothing. We must go up to Calvary and then move beyond it with Jesus to become something completely new. We take the path that Jesus paves before us. Before us lies the straight road of human life offered and returned to God. The human life that leads the way belongs to Jesus Christ. He calls us to become a part of this life. He calls us into His offering and sacrifice. We go to Calvary to embrace that love in the flesh that dies so that we too may live through His dying love.He calls us to enter into death. He calls us beyond death into Resurrection and Ascension. To follow him, we must follow the straight line leading to God the Father.
Today we receive ashes on our foreheads. Today we remember that we are limited and finite, we are subject to corruption and decay, like the grass of the field. In acknowledging this reality we are encouraged to repent and believe the Gospel.Therefore, in this Lent let us begin to cultivate the life of faith, hope, and love. Trusting that God will be quick to hear the cries, sighs, and confessions of a contrite heart, let us be nourished on the Word of God. Let us read our Scriptures with greater zeal to learn. Let us partake of the Sacrament with a deeper desire to be filled with the real presence of God's wisdom, power and love.
Remember the opening words of T. S. Eliot’s poem “Ash Wednesday.” Because I do not hope to turn again.... He hopes not to turn back and into a world of sin, illusion, falsehood, and wrong. His poem repeats the penitent's plea: Let my cry come unto thee. We pray that our turning is towards God in Jesus Christ today. We pray that we shall no longer turn to right hand nor to the left, but towards Jesus that we might be taken onto the straight road of His pilgrimage to the Father. We pray that we may become a part of this life that alone can be a pure and spotless offering to God the Father.
Let us follow Jesus to his Cross and beyond, praying with Bishop Andrewes:
Lord I have sinned
But I am ashamed,
And I turn from my wicked ways,
And I return unto my heart,
And with all my heart I return unto Thee,
And seek thy face
And pray unto Thee saying,
I have sinned, I have done amiss, I have dealt wickedly,
I know, O Lord, the plague of my heart:
And behold I turn unto Thee
With all my heart
And with all my strength.
And now, O Lord, from thy dwelling place
And from the throne of the glory of thy kingdom in heaven,
Hear therefore the prayer and supplication of thy servant,
And forgive thy servant
And heal his soul.
St. Paul uses a word for love rarely employed among his contemporaries. It seems as if he carefully avoided any of those terms, and they were many, which make it easy to associate the supreme virtue with desires which spend themselves in their own satisfactions, and through instinctive in human nature, are often degraded by man's perversity. English people have never found a word entirely equivalent to St. Paul's term. Our word love stands for a wide range of feeling. It may represent merely animal desire, or nothing more than sentimental fondness for a person or thing. The love which is supreme is something higher and more comprehensive than mere affection. Passion may degrade, emotionalism may tend to a self-indulgence of feeling scarcely less harmful, while sentimentalism may become the specious bane of self-deceit...Facile indulgence in emotionalism is sentimentalism, [which is] love's counterfeit.
Those who attain the supreme virtue of charity will love their fellow men even when they cannot like them. Our liking for others depends upon the subtle influences of...class, education, and instinct. It is useless to suppose the we can like every one, or that we can like all people in equal degree. We need no be afraid or ashamed of our natural sympathies or repulsions, for when they are rightly disciplined they may serve high moral and social purposes. We are not enjoined to like but to love our fellow men. Love is shown in our readiness to treat others as those who with ourselves are children of One Father, and by a readiness to sacrifice ourselves for their welfare. It will hold a man to faithful service on behalf of the poor, the unhappy, the degraded, and inspire him to new energies in the endeavor to awaken even in the most depraved a conscious response to that love which is the source of man's highest happiness, and through which all may experience life's full satisfactions.
Love is the essential, dominant element in life. Faith, with its perception of realities beyond this world of time and space, is life's awakening to the infinite mysteries surrounding us, but without love it brings no contentment or peace. Hope bids men press forward to a greater good, with the conviction that the ideal is real and the only worthy end of effort, but, until love quickens it, hope can do no more than keep men true in a painful struggle after a goal far distant and only faintly seen. Love is sovereign over all. Love is the beginning and the end, for God is love.
The Christian Year in the Times, The Times...,London, 1930: Quinquagesima, anonymous.
Suffering in Christ
It is the bad habit of believing theologians to discount or desire to transcend the Sacred Humanity of our Saviour. Dabbling in dualism is an unfortunate consequence of the Fall. And while one need not exaggerate Christ’s human nature through which He suffered and died at the expense of that Divinity through which He molded and formed it, it is nevertheless important to remember that His flesh lives on in time and space. Some Christians cannot fathom this since they are possessed by an excessive determination to keep the uniqueness of Christ crucified and resurrected at a comfortable distance, lest, so they congratulate themselves, the Divine other become tainted and tarnished through extended human contact. They think themselves noble. They are more likely driven by fear. For should the Divine other be allowed to rule and govern their lives, they quake with trepidation at the thought of what it might cost.
And yet, the Christian must ask, what good is Christ if He is not dwelling in us and we in him? The world is replete with the histories of dead heroes who couldn’t save themselves or others. Another lost innocent yields doesn’t do a man much lasting good. If Christ is anything at all He is that Divine love or charity that longs to live in men’s hearts. He is that Word of Love which the Almighty Father always intended should move and define human nature, always being made flesh in human life. He is the Word of Love that is made flesh in all of creation as the meaning that rules and governs all things. And He is that Word of Love that longs to be made flesh in the hearts of new friends who through Him will find reconciliation with our Heavenly Father. Those who believe are very members incorporate in [His] Mystical Body, and the blessed company of all faithful people. (BCP: 1928, 83) The proof of this incorporation can be sustained only as believers habitually suffer and die through Jesus Christ’s Sacred Humanity. Only then can He begin to reign as King Supreme from the thrones of their hearts, as then...well yes,..the Divine Other so possesses the flesh His people, that he crowns their fallen creation with the victory of His salvation.
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? So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.
(St. Matthew xx. 14-16)
We have just completed our journey from Advent through to Epiphany tide. The season we have observed has been a time of expectation, coming, and manifestation. In it we saw that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we observed the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth. Now we turn to the period spanning between Septuagesima Sunday and Ascension Day. In it we shall see the work of God in the life of Jesus Christ for us. This period of time shows us that God intends that we should enter into the labor of our Lord Jesus Christ or the cultivation of His Grace in the vineyard of our souls.
So on the three Gesima Sundays prior to Lent – Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima – the Latin names for the seventy, sixty, and fifty days before Easter, we are reminded of God’s original vocation for us, dangers that bring about our Fall from God’s Grace, and preparation for the way or return. If Lent will be about a progressive death to the self, then the Gesima season’s theme will be about preparing for our deaths that will culminate on the Cross of Good Friday.
The theologians teach us that with God everything matters. And everything means the quality and type of every thought, word, or deed. And these three constitute the works that will enable us, in the end, either to die and rise or to die and drop. And that will depend upon whether we have begun to die and rise in this life, as the soul dies to sin and comes alive to righteousness. In the end times we pray that Christ will conclude that our lives have been a consummation of dying and rising through Him, because we have been habituated to those virtues that bring the old man on the old way to death and new man on the new way into everlasting life. But the Church has always known that radical conversion is a rare thing. And so she provides us with this Gesmina season in order to make a shrewd, judicious, and prudent effort at beginning the work of becoming the old man on the new way.
In his earthly sojourn, Christ Jesus was well aware of the dangers of becoming the old man who steps back onto the old and not the new way. Last week’s Gospel, used for The Conversion of St. Paul, comes from the Chapter immediately preceding this week’s and reveals Christ’s discomfort with St. Peter’s concern about the reward that would await the faithful. You will remember that St. Peter said, Jesus, Behold, we have forsaken all and followed thee; what shall we have therefore? (St. Matthew xix. 27) Jesus responded, Ye which have followed me… shall sit upon twelve thrones. But he adds that those who follow Him truly, have forsaken… all… for his name’s sake… and shall inherit eternal life. (Ibid, 29) He then concludes with (M)any that are first shall be last, and the last shall be first. (Ibid, 30) In today’s Gospel Jesus continues his teaching and moves on to tell the Apostles a story -or parable in order to illustrate his point. He wishes to warn the Apostles about the temptations that assault those who think that they are first – new men on the new way, when in all reality they will have to learn out of their own weakness and suffering how vulnerable they are to the habits of the old man on the old way.
Jesus teaches them the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard: For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. (St. Matthew xx. 1,2) It is only to the workers who are hired early in the morning that the specific amount of payment – one penny is promised. The householder goes out also at the third, sixth, and ninth hour and hires idle men, promising to pay them whatsoever is right. (Ibid, 3-5) Finally, … about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. (Ibid, 6,7) We should remember that the parable is addressed to St. Peter and his fellow Apostles. And what the parable is going to reveal, as Archbishop Trench reminds us, is that St. Peter’s question – What shall we have? – which compelled the need for the parable in the first place, was not a right one; it put their relation to their Lord on a wrong footing…bringing their obedience to a calculation of so much work for so much payment. There lurked, too, … that spirit of self-exaltating comparison with others....(Parables; 138) Jesus knew what was lurking in Peter and the other Apostles’ hearts, i.e. they thought that because they were the first to be called, they should be the first to be chosen, and given the first and foremost seats in the Kingdom of Heaven. In other words, they thought that because of they were first called, they were specially chosen, to reveal a unique and perfect faith, obedience, and surrender to Christ that would put them ahead and above all others as exemplars and models to be followed by those who came later and knew less. But Jesus perceived that the old man was retreading the old way instead of the new.
He unravels the potentially sinful thoughts of their hearts as His parable unfolds. So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. (Ibid, 8-12) The warning to St. Peter and all of us is that the old man on the old way is threatening always to rear his ugly old head of self-importance, pride, and hubris. This is the natural man who thinks that he should be paid first because he has worked longer than all others. This is the same natural man who thinks that his reward should be greater because he was chosen first. And finally this is the man who because he was chosen first and worked longer has produced virtue of finer quality and more durable substance. He thinks, in the end, that his good works have earned him a greater reward.
Jesus has this to say to the old man in danger of traveling down the old way – the man hired early in the morning. 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? So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen. (Ibid, 13-16) Jesus reminds us that the householder, who is really God the Father, is under no compulsion to invite mankind into the labor of salvation. Employment in the vineyard of the Lord is a privileged gift that far exceeds what we deserve, earn, or merit. The unemployed who are taken into the householder’s labor have no prior claim on him and are entitled to nothing. You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you. (St. John xv. 16) Furthermore they have agreed to one reward, just as St. Peter, speaking for the Apostles, did not question the equal seating on identical thrones in the Kingdom.
But the sin that is threatening to undo those who have borne the burden and heat of the day (Idem) is resentment or bitterness. What they do not want to do is to share an equal reward with those who came into the vineyard later than they. And yet the other workers took the job, promised only what was right, without any specific mention of the amount of payment for services rendered. They were thankful for the work and for whatever wage they might earn, since some employment with some pay was better than none. Archbishop Trench says that the workers who were hired later in the day reveal a true spirit of humble waiting upon the Lord, in full assurance that He will give far more than his servants can desire or deserve… and that God will not fail to show Himself an abundant rewarder of them that seek and serve Him. (Ibid, 141) So what those who were hired later in the day reveal is a humble trust and deep gratitude for a gift that they never expected to receive. Those who were hired at the eleventh hour reveal something even more moving to us. When the householder asks them, Why stand ye here all the day idle, they answer, Because no man hath hired us. (Idem) These are they who at present are ignorant of God and his saving power, wisdom, and love in Jesus Christ.
And so we must ask: Why is this so? Because no man hath hired us is the same as saying Because no man wanted us. We claim to be here because God wants us and has given us a job to do – namely, to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. (Phil. ii. 12) St. Paul likens it to running a race… in order to obtain an incorruptible crown. (1 Cor. ix. 24,25) He reminds us too that we must practice self-restraint, temperance, or moderation and buffet or tame our bodies, so that instead of being castaways we might lovingly welcome all others in Christ’s labor of love. Many are called but few are chosen. Let us pray that we may persist in that humility that makes us the last and least of Christ’s elect, always honored and privileged with the gifts He brings to us through them, no matter what time of the day they arrive. Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons