More on the Fall
Any man who thinks that the Genesis account of Creation and the Fall is a fable crafted for the simple-minded should be silenced by what follows on the heals of Adam’s first transgression. Interestingly enough, what ensues is not a violent Divine punishment for man’s disobedience, but an inquisition. It is, as it were, a working out of the problem of man’s sinning in relation to the Divine Truth. And the interrogation is couched in the context of an eerie calm that alone can facilitate rational discourse. You can imagine the whole of creation silencing itself in order to listen in on God’s questioning of Adam! There is something about sinning that brings silence to all else in the world as the soul endures the punishment of its own willing. In the silence, then, shame grows and the soul is driven to hide from the object of its crime. Man is born good. His nature is good. Why? God has made it. Man has never at any time made himself. His existence is dependent and derivative. If he had made himself, he would have remembered it. And besides, if he had made himself he would have had to be in possession of himself before he made it, which is absurd.
So, man is made. There was a time when he was not. He came into being because Being so willed that it should be. His being and wellbeing are the effects of a cause much mightier than himself. When he sinned, he took a perfectly good nature and abused it. You can only corrupt something that is potentially good. You cannot corrupt pure goodness. That would be like saying that you could corrupt God. And you cannot corrupt something that is pure evil. That would be like saying that you could corrupt what is pure corruption. Of course, there is no such thing as pure corruption. Even the devil knows that God is God, and that knowledge is good. You can only corrupt what is good by nature though not good by necessity. In other words, you can only corrupt a good nature by deforming it or by choosing to disregard God’s ideal intention for it. The creature is not good by nature –only God is that! The creature is good by reason of his will. So the creature must continuously choose the good of its nature in accordance with God’s plan for it.
Adam corrupted himself. He came to realize what he had done. He sought to hide the evidence of his sin from God –the evidence being himself. So we read: They heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden. (Genesis iii. 8) The elements and nature are not disturbed or disrupted by man’s sin; why should they? They remain faithful to the contours, lines, and limitations of their respective forms. Sin hasn’t affected the elements. (Sin cannot have any effect upon nature, except by way of a once-removed effect. Sinful man can relate now to nature sinfully.) The only physical alteration to the environment is the cooling of the air, perhaps an image of nature’s removal from man’s selfish idolatry. In any case, man senses that the atmosphere has changed. His surroundings seem hostile and even adversarial. They cannot and will not aid and abet him in his sin. Man is on his own.
Yet, he cannot bear to face God, and so he hides himself. That he thinks that he can hide from God reveals the corruption wrought by his willful idolatry. Evidently, he actually believes that the trees are now of such substantial tangibility that they can conceal him from God! When man disregards the Spirit of God in the world and worships the material and physical, his remembrance of the Maker’s nature is lost. Pure Spirit is less real to man now that he has begun to worship and appropriate material creation for himelf –away from and outside of God’s plan for it. Now man believes that the Spirit of God is as avoidable or embraceable as any other creature. His perception of God is material. He supposes that he can conceal or hide his being and knowing from God. Matter has been given the power to protect man from God. He has delusions of grandeur. He prays, no doubt, that God will leave him alone. He imagines that God won’t much care, couldn’t be bothered, is wholly uninterested in the finite details of his choices. He minimizes what is maximal to God. God cares about everything. God made everything. Why wouldn’t He care about all He has made? God has made all things down to the atoms, molecules, and so forth. Also, He sustains all things. He even leads all things through to their appointed ends by the movement of His Mind and Heart. To say that everything matters to God merely emphasizes the immediate proximity of the Maker to the meaning of all matter that He has made. The wisdom of God is what is nearest to any creature’s perfection. What is most important to God is the creature’s form or meaning.
And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? (Genesis iii. 9) God questions Adam not because He needs to inquire after Adam’s physical whereabouts, but because he wants Adam to articulate the nature of his newfound spiritual condition. He means, where are you spiritually? What is moving and defining your soul today, Adam? Tell me; confess the truth. Where are you in relation to me? Adam must answer for himself, and the self-confessed truth shows that where he is, is in mental and volitional alienation and separation from God. His answer comes in response to the Divine Presence; it is a relational confession. He perceives God’s nearness: I heard thy voice in the garden. He begins to feel the punishment of freedom from the Divine protection and governance: I was afraid. He experiences the temptations that assault the soul no longer clothed with God’s holiness and righteousness: because I was naked. He is afraid also because for the first time he hears God’s voice as what he has chosen to reject, or as what, even if for a fleeting moment, he has decided to circumvent. God’s voice is his Word; his Word is the commandment that defines and governs every creature’s meaning and purpose in the creation. God’s voice or commandment is essential for the harmonious unity of every particular with the whole. Man now knows himself as alienated from the Word that alone can ensure any future participation in the creation he has dishonored.
It might well be that the author of Genesis is describing here the genesis of conscience. Conscience comes to us from the Latin word conscientia, and it means knowledge or awareness. Here, specifically, it means an awareness of one’s being in relation to the truth. Adam has separated himself from the Divine goodness; it stands against him. He hides himself from God because now he fears God’s judgment of his sin. His being has become as nothing. Nothingness is not only nakedness before the Maker, but powerlessness. It is the state out of which man was made; the difference now is that man knows and experiences its raw and primal impotence. So he experiences a non-being that he was never made to endure.
But hiding from the Divine Truth is a kind of suicidal wish that God, in his Divine Mercy, will not tolerate. The naked truth must be not only endured but in some new way formative in man’s journey back to God. So the dialogue between man and God continues. God in His mercy will allow that, at least. Without it, God would deny the integrity of the rational creature and His own power in relation to it. That evil has been actualized for man does not mean that God's goodness cannot overcome it through man's return to his senses. The future will be dangerous, difficult, and daunting. But God’s intention for man remains unchanged. Man ought to be reconciled with God. It is just that, for now, man must take the long road back to God.
So then, brethren, we are not the children of the bondwoman, but of the free.
(Gal. iv. 21)
The theme for the Fourth Sunday in Lent is liberation and freedom. And our lections for that past three Sundays have been leading us up to this point. On the First Sunday in Lent, we learned that Jesus Christ was tempted like as we are, yet without sin. (Hebr. iv. 15) What we found, I hope, was that the first step on the road to freedom was Christ’s willingness to be tried and tested as we are. We are tempted, and so was He. He resisted the temptations and desires to do the same in and through us. On the Second Sunday of Lent, we learned that when we become faithful and loyal dogs which need the crumbs that fall from the Jesus’ table, we shall discover a humility that opens our hearts to God’s healing power. And last Sunday we learned that eating the fragments of Christ’s Word is meant to grow into a persistent habit through which our hearing and keeping the Word move and define us. In sum, then, we are undertaking a difficult and daunting work or labor that will lead us into freedom. The problem is that we become obsessed with our own good works and not with the faith in God’s Grace. We are tempted to forget that it is faith in God’s promises that liberates us and sets us on the road to true freedom.
St. Paul is very much aware of this pernicious proclivity in the human heart, and he addresses it head-on in this morning’s Epistle. In his case, what he finds is that Judaizing Christians are threatening the spiritual freedom of his flock. Judaizing Christians were early believers who taught that strict adherence to the Jewish Law was essential to the success of salvation. Being Jewish, God’s chosen people, and the Elect were more important to them than faith in Christ’s redemptive power. They believed that circumcision, dietary regulations, and the ceremonial Jewish Law were necessary for salvation. So, in effect, moral and ritual customs were as essential to them as faith in Christ and the work that His Grace. The end result was that Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit were put into a kind-of Old Testament strait-jacket and put on only when they did not conflict with the Law. But St. Paul knows that devotion to the tradition of the Law can never sanctify or save a man. He uses an allegory drawn from the life of Abraham to show these Jewish Christians that they were behaving more like slaves than the free children of God. He uses the illustration of Hagar and her son Ishmael. You will remember that Hagar was Sarah’s slave-girl. She produced the bastard-heir Ishmael for Abraham before the time that he learned to trust fully in the Lord.
Prior to the conception of his children, when Abram was old, God promised him that he would sire an heir and that he would be the Father of children more numerous than the stars in the sky. (Gen. xv. 5) And so Abram and Sarai his wife got to thinking. They were old, childless, and beyond the age of conceiving a child. It was not that they had no faith, but their faith was weak and thus determined by the laws of nature. They were too earthly minded. And so they thought that in order to obey God and sire a child, Abram would have to mate with Sarai’s slave girl Hagar. So Abram did so, and Ishmael the son of the bond-woman was born. But Abram and Sarai’s natural and human solution to the problem of siring children was not God’s will for them. Abram and Sarai were enslaved to their own human ingenuity and the good work which they thought followed. But God had other plans for them and would elicit from them a faith in His promises that would make them the spiritual father and mother of many nations. Because of their increased faith, they would come together eventually and be made the parents of Isaac in their old age. What they learned was that faith in God alone generates true freedom from a fallen and limited earthly existence.
So St. Paul tells us that the early Jewish Christians were behaving more like Ishmael the son of the slave woman than Isaac the son of promise. And this because they were consumed with the Jewishness of Jesus and not with His liberating nature as the Son of God. But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. (Ibid, 29) The early Jewish Christians were caught up in the flesh and not the Spirit. For St. Paul, these Jewish Christians saw Jesus as the apex, apogee, and acme of their own obedience to God through the [Law of] the flesh. They saw Him as the fulfillment of a long history of ceremonial obedience to God through the Law. But they did not see aright. What they could not see was that Christ had transformed the Law of commandments and observances into the Law of mercy, love, and transformative desire by becoming the truest expression of the new Law of Love in His own flesh.
But St. Paul is not content to leave it at that. He takes another turn in his allegory that he hopes will smother and suffocate Jewish ethnic and racial pride. He tells them that though Hagar was the slave mother of the slave child Ishmael –and thus of all the Arabic people, she is no different from the earthly children of Israel. A better translation than our Authorized Version reads that Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. (Gal. iv. 25) For those who desire to be under the [old Jewish] law (Ibid, 21), there is no practical distinction between being an unsaved Gentile or an unsaved Jew. St. Paul has added insult to injury. He tells the Jewish Christians that though they are by birthright the children of Jerusalem, they are actually proving to be more the spiritual children of Arabia and that their coveted and cherished Mount Sinai is actually, in spiritual terms, an Arabic hill! As Monsignor Knox says, Mount Sinai, in Arabia, has the same meaning in the allegory as Jerusalem; the Jerusalem which exists here and now; an enslaved city, whose children are slaves. (The Epistles and Gospels, p. 100) Both Jews and Gentiles live in bondage to nature and her laws or to the elements of this world. In other words, all men are born slaves and can become Christians only through faith in God’s promises. The historic Jerusalem is in bondage and can only find freedom in the spiritual Jerusalem of God’s kingdom. For, Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. (Ibid, 26, 27) Sarah, well-stricken in years and barren by reason of nature’s laws, through Abraham’s faith, became the mother of promise. Mary, young and innocent, who was barren because she knew not a man, became the mother of the promise’s fulfillment in Jesus Christ. The faith of both looks forward to promises that are to be enjoyed in the liberation and freedom that is above creation in God’s own Kingdom.
My friends, this Sunday in Lent is called Mothering Sunday, Refreshment Sunday, or in Latin, Laetare Sunday. The Latin from the ancient introit to the Mass is Laetare Jerusalem: O be joyful, Jerusalem. Today we are called to remember that our salvation comes to us only through faith in God’s promises. So as we continue our Lenten journey up to the Cross of Christ’s love, Mother Church desires to bring us out of slavery and into the freedom of new life. When we live as children of the bondwoman…born after the flesh…and in bondage, (Gal. iv. 23,24) under the elements of the world (Gal. iv. 3) doing service unto them which by nature are no gods (Gal. iv. 8), we are enslaved to Hagar and Ishmael. When this world’s natural attachments, human expectations, and earthly hopes consume us, we imperil and threaten the free operation of God’s Grace in our hearts. The problem is not with the world but with Christians who are too enslaved to it and thus are not being made free from above. This problem is not new. And, so, as St. Paul rebuked the ancient Galatian church long ago, he admonishes and reproaches us today. My little children, I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you….(Gal. iv. 19
Jerusalem which is above…free…the mother of us all. (Gal. iv. 26) For Christ to be formed in us, we must allow Him to work His redemption into our hearts. Let us remember that the earthly man, be he ever so pious, swithers, vacillates, hesitates, and halts, thinking all the while of what God’s gift of salvation might cost him. As Oswald Chambers writes: Some of us are trying to offer up spiritual sacrifices to God before we have sacrificed the natural. (M.U….Dec.10) The Law of Nature binds us to the old Law of sin. Sin’s hold on us must be confessed before true faith in God’s promises can have their effect. When we count the cost, we weigh and measure salvation over and against earthly gain and loss. Our father Abraham never counted the cost. Abraham believed God and it was counted unto him for righteousness. (Rom. iv. 3) The Blessed Virgin Mary never counted the cost. And her faith so filled her with all of God’s Grace that His promise was conceived in her womb and born into the world. The five thousand in today’s Gospel never counted the cost; their faith followed Jesus, and they were fed and filled.
If we would not count the cost, we must sacrifice the Ishmael in all of us today. Will we see that we must sacrifice the slave to nature in all of us so that we might become free man through faith in God’s Spirit? With St. Paul will we become sons of the freewoman through the deepest trust in the promises of God? If we do, it will cost us nothing less than everything. But such will seem a very small price to pay when faith’s reward will be the love of Jesus carrying us into perfect liberation that yields perfect joy in the Jerusalem which is above…free…[and] the mother of us all. Amen.
Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.
(St. Luke xi. 28)
The point of our journey up to Jerusalem in this holy season of Lent is not only to see and behold with spiritual eyes the love of the Word [that] was made flesh and dwelt among us (St. John i. 14), but also to hear the same Word. So we go to Jerusalem to hear what the Word of God in the flesh has to say to spiritual sickness and disorder and then also to spiritual hardness of heart, obduracy, and ill will. What Jesus says or does not say is all-important for a true understanding of the salvation into which He is drawing all who will desire it. For when the ears of sinful men are opened to the Word of God, not only can they learn of His will but also they can desire the power of His love. So the Word of God in the flesh is not only educational but spiritually sanctifying.
Our theme for this Sunday is spiritual hearing. Our understanding of it is found in this morning’s Miracle of the Dumb or Mute Man. Prior to the reading of this passage from St. Luke 's Gospel, the Apostles had been hearing Jesus’ discourse on petitioning God the Father in prayer. Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. (St. Luke xi. 9,10) Jesus reinforces the Father 's desire to meet men’s needs by reminding them that, If [they], being evil, know how to give good gifts unto [their] children: how much more shall [the] heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him? (Ibid, 13) And then on the heels of this, Jesus comes upon a dumb or mutant man. Here is a man, He shows His disciples, who can neither hear, nor speak, nor ask. The dumb cannot speak in any rationally coherent way but can only laugh, cry, holler, and groan. If he had been suffering from this physical disability alone, his chief handicap would have been that physical deafness which prevents a man from uniting rationally with the world around him through speech.
But, what we find is that there is a more insidious reason or cause for this man’s inability to hear and to speak. He was possessed of a demon. Jesus was casting out a demon and it was dumb. (Ibid, 14) The real sickness that afflicted the deaf and dumb man was demonic possession. Otherwise, Jesus would have performed a bodily miracle only. But this man’s sickness was psychic and spiritual. Thus, Jesus expels a demon. He does this, no doubt, to teach His Apostles and us something about the nature of that evil which threatens both to possess and to overcome any man in this life. And so He will never treat the symptoms of spiritual disease and sickness alone, but will rather attack and overcome the source and origin of the evil. This man can neither hear nor speak because the devil has possessed and sickened him. The devil divides men from God and men from other men. His spiritual aims are as present to our world as to that of the New Testament. And thus what we must desire from Jesus is that Divine power which alone can overcome and banish those demons, which threaten to rule our spiritual lives by leading us to despair of communion with God. And it came to pass, when the devil was gone out, the dumb spake.(Ibid, 14)
Yet, receiving the healing of one demon is never enough. We read that when the deaf mutant was healed, He spake. (Idem) And yet what did he say? Nothing. No sooner has one demon been banished from the life of the healed man who desires to speak –to thank Jesus and to ask questions about how he should now live the new life that had been given to him, than other demons worse than the first threaten to interrupt his expression of gratitude. Where are they, you might ask? They are in the hearts and souls of those who attack Jesus for His miracle of mercy. But unlike the demon that possessed the deaf and mute man, these demons are concealed. They are so hidden within the souls of the malevolent attackers that they don’t even know what they are saying. The demons have so effectively inured and acclimated these men to sin that they don 't even recognize that they are possessed! These men believe that they are religiously related to the world around them through their piety and good works, and yet while they might lead moral and upright lives, their words reveal that their hearts are far from God.
So once Jesus has healed the demon-possessed deaf and dumb, the people wondered. But some of them said, He casteth out devils through Beelzebub the chief of the devils. And others, tempting him, sought of him a sign from heaven. (Ibid, 14-16) See how far wickedness has advanced in the lives of these men! Jesus responds to them: Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth. If Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? (Ibid, 17,18) Jesus makes it clear that the devil has no desire to overcome and banish himself. He wishes rather to divide men from God and from all other men. So, on all levels, the devil is determined to bring men to despair of all spiritual healing, sanctification, and salvation. Satan is not divided against himself but against God. He has no interest in the love that moves Jesus. Jesus’ love brings men to the good healing that God intends for all. And Satan is enraged.
Jesus continues. If I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your sons cast them out? therefore shall they be your judges. But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you. (Ibid, 19, 20) Romano Guardini tells us that Jesus replies: Don’t you see how I war against Satan? How can you say that he works through me, which is the same as saying that we join forces to found one kingdom? (The Lord, Regnery, p. 119) Those who attack God’s healing power are Satan’s demonic friends who frantically attempt to set up a kingdom of appearances and disorder. (Ibid, 117) [Jesus’ enemies] have blashphemed against the Holy Ghost [by turning] against the heart of God; Jesus is saturated with the essence of God. To accuse Him of working through the power of Satan, is to touch the absolute in ill will. (The Lord, Regnery, 120) These men are possessed by ill will and the mortal sin of envy. Their malevolence, jealousy, and hatred cannot bear to endure the spiritual goodness, health, and healing that Jesus brings into the world. Jesus proclaims that He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth. (Ibid, 23) Christ Jesus has come to scatter, confuse, confound, and destroy Satan’s Kingdom, which may not be divided against itself, but will surely be divided and conquered by His love.
The deaf and mute who is now able to speak is silent and, no doubt, curious about what his healing has provoked. He might be tempted to receive the miracle humbly as an expression of God’s love or suspiciously as an act of Satan’s mischief. The deaf and mute man has entered into the dangerous world of words. Look and listen to what he sees and hears! He does not see men who are awe-inspired and thus dumdfounded. He does not hear the silence of those who are now mute themselves because God’s strong man is at work in the earth. Rather, he sees and hears men who cannot be touched by God’s love in the heart of Jesus Christ. Jesus anticipates their impulsive rejection of His love. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. (Ibid, 24-26) Most people cannot bear God’s healing presence in the world because their hearts are hardened. Because they have not been overcome by God's Strong Man and deprived on the armour [of their own good works] in which they trusted, their souls are in danger of greater demonic possession. St. Cyril says this about Jesus’ accusers and all who will not be overcome habitually by God's Strong Man, Jesus Christ: The devil finds their hearts empty, and void of all concern for the things of God, and wholly taken up with the flesh, and so he takes up his abode in them…[So their] last state is worse than the first. And so, the dog has returned to its own vomit, and the sow that has washed to her wallowing in the mire. (Cyril: PG 72, col. 699.)
Jesus’ final words in today 's Gospel call the healed mutant forth into a promising future with God. Yea, rather, Blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep it. (Ibid, 28) Hearing the Word of God means not merely opening up to a one-time miracle. Hearing the Word of God means following the miracle back to the heart of Jesus. In Jesus’ heart we discover His desire to take the armour in which we have too often trusted and to scatter the spoils. (Ibid, 22) Jesus is the strong man who will establish His love in us and scatter the devil. We need His intervening power at all times. For, as Calvin says, Let us not then suppose that the devil has been vanquished by a single combat, because he has once gone out of us. On the contrary, let us remember that…he has knowledge…of all the approaches by which he may reach us; and that, if there be no open and direct entrance, he has dexterity enough to creep in by small holes or winding crevices. (Calvin’s Comm’s; Vol. xvii)
Today, let us hear the Word of God in Jesus Christ who longs to beak the power of all demons who would divide us from God. For, The Word of God is disillusioning; it penetrates and unmasks our fantasies and lies; puts the finger on our devils; it shatters our illusions. (Par. Serm) Then we shall remember that we are weak but Christ is strong. Christ is God’s strong man. And if we shut our mouths for long enough and enter into His still presence, His strong love will vanquish and overcome all of our demons. Amen.
Thomas Aquinas on Lent II
My daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. (St. Matt. xv. 22)
MORALLY by this demoniac is understood a sinful soul and here are noted two evils which a man acquires through deadly sin. The first is, that he is possessed by a devil; the second is, that he is grievously vexed.
Every literal historical fact of Scripture can be understood on a higher plane, as allegorical or spiritual in meaning. The Gospel for the Second Sunday in Lent is no exception. A Syrophoenician woman approaches Jesus. This woman is a stranger and foreigner to Israel’s promises. She is considered unclean and beyond the pale of the salvation that God promises to Israel. She knows nothing about the nature of relating to the one true living God of the Jews. Her daughter is ‘grievously vexed by a devil’. Foreigners are those whom we think cannot be sanctified and saved by God’s Grace. Unclean people are notorious sinners –drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes, poor people who are poor by no one’s fault by their own, all of whom are beyond the pale of God’s Grace. Ignorant pagans are likewise beyond the pale. They all might just as well be possessed. But, if we are Christians, so too might we. Mortal sin has possessed all of us. Or it might be more accurate to say, in it the devil has possessed us. In it the devil torments us also, that is if we recognize that we are possessed.
I. On the first head it is to be noted, that a sinful soul possesses seven devils.
The noonday devil is the plague that strikes at noonday. Man is able to resist it by steadfast reliance upon God’s Grace. Man can resist the noonday devil when he ‘dwelleth under the defense of the Most High…and abideth under the shadow of the Almighty.’ (Ps. xci.) The plague that strikes at noonday is the sin of sloth, acedia, lethargy, or spiritual fatigue. A restless sentiment of ingratitude and discontent leads the soul to need to know more, know too much, and know what it is not necessary to know. The excessive desire for knowledge leads to that kind of despair that renders a man incapable of faithfully serving God.
Excessive greed or covetousness can lead a man to the possession of too much, which in turn means that he is possessed by an excess of the wrong things. Avarice leads a man to hoard mammon. In turn, mammon possesses the avaricious man. The greedy or covetous man is unable to hear the language of God and thus is dumb and cannot proclaim the goodness of the Lord.
Asmodeus desires Sarah, Raguel’s daughter, and slays seven of her husbands. Tobias causes him to flee to Egypt where Raphael binds him and renders him impotent. The excessive desire to rule others and to usurp God’s power to judge them is a diabolical possession in which a man longs to be as God and to dominate others through human power, influence, and appeal.
Excessive desire for carnal pleasures possesses a man and renders him blind and dumb. He cannot see the difference between the creature and the Creator. He worships the creature. The creature becomes his god and thus he is blinded and can no longer see God. He is unable to see and know the truth. His soul is darkened by the dominating powers of lust. Sincere love is lost. He is dumb and thus cannot speak the language of true love with sincerity.
Excessive irritation at another’s man’s success or accomplishment, borne of envy, possesses a man and moves him to violent anger and retribution. The cruelty of doing harm to others is a fierce devil. It has moved beyond the realm of evil thoughts into evil deeds against one’s neighbor. Those possessed with anger and fury might be truly beyond their capacity to know their sins. Others have moved into the possession by a long and established accommodation to envious vice and ensuing rage.
Excessive detraction and distraction amount to sewing discord, disrupting, and dividing. The detractor is possessed by the need to divide people from God. The distractor detracts the Saints of God away from receiving God’s blessings with gratitude. The detractor exaggerates evils in the world and in the lives of others. The divider imputes false sins and inaccurate vices to others.
Desperation is an expression of despair. To be possessed by despair means usually that a man does not hope in the effectual operation of God’s healing goodness. Desperation leads men to embrace all kinds of temporal solutions to their spiritual problems. Desperation leads men to abandon Jesus Christ because they have not found sufficient evidence of Grace operating in their lives.
Today, dear friends, let us examine our hearts through the study of these vices. Let us ask ourselves if we are in any way sinning in the ways that St. Thomas Aquinas describes. Possession might be glaringly obvious in our lives. Or possession might be subtle and nearly imperceptible. Desperation, detraction, violence, carnal pleasures, manipulation, avarice, and sloth afflict us all. Let us examine our souls and confess our complicity in these sins. Amen.
He is no unkind physician who opens the swelling, who cuts,
who cauterizes the corrupted part. He gives pain, it is true, but
he only gives pain, that he might bring the patient on to health. He
gives pain, but if he did not, he would do no good.
(St. Augustine: Sermon xxvii)
Last week we contemplated the temptations that Jesus withstood on our behalf in order to draw us deeper into His love for God our Heavenly Father. And I pray that we came away with a real sense of His desire to serve God alone and to fulfill His will for us. This week we shall come to see and grasp the nature of sin and our powerlessness over it. I pray that we shall come to learn that all sin whether subtle or palpable threatens to control us. I pray too that we shall find deliverance from it through persistent and humble submission to the Lord’s judgment of our condition and His provision of a cure.
This morning we read in the Gospel that Our Lord Jesus Christ comes to the coasts of Tyre and Sidon.(St. Matthew 15. 21) He comes to the borders of the pagan Gentile world –a place which had only heard of Him and the promises made to God’s chosen Jewish people. Christ always journeys to the borders of paganism, alienation from God, potential despair, and immanent unbelief. Why? Because it is there that He finds those most in need of His judgment and cure. It is interesting that he had just finished a discourse on how sin originates in the inner man’s heart and soul. He said, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. (St. Matthew xv. 8) Jesus saw that the religious Jews of His day upheld the form of religion without ever coming to discover their heartfelt need for its true substance.
So, Jesus will come upon a foreigner –a Syro-Phoenician woman, to reveal to His Apostles just what kind of person is most rightly related to Him. She was close enough to observe that the Jews had brought those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatics to Jesus for healing. (St. Matthew 4. 24) Because His cure was so swiftly efficacious, she was determined to have it also. She did not waste any time, for we read that she cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. (St. Matthew 15. 22) She comes not for herself, but bears the burden of her daughter’s illness within her heart. Her daughter’s misery is her misery. She will learn that Jesus’ misery is our misery. She cries out for His mercy, but we read that He answered her not a word. (Ibid, 23) Jesus is silent. As St. John Chrysostym writes: The Word has no word; the fountain is sealed; the physician withholds His remedies. (Homily LII: Vol X, NPNF:I)
Jesus will elicit more from her in order to teach us about true faith that desires His Grace –the suppliant posture of the earnest seeker who would secure His benefit. The Apostles cannot see what Jesus is doing. They have been with Him for some time, have witnessed what He can do, but prefer to keep Him for themselves, so that seeing, they see, and do not perceive. (St. Mark 4. 12) Like many Christians, they settle for the Jesus whose presence is comforting but whose power is not needed. Send her away, for she crieth after us. (St. Matthew 15, 23) As far as they are concerned He might heal her daughter or not; their chief end is to be rid of this pestiferous nuisance. Theirs is that heartless granting of a request, whereof most of us are conscious; when it is granted out of no love to the suppliant, but to leave undisturbed his selfish ease from whom at length it is exhorted. (Trench: Gospel) And yet, Jesus will not let her go so easily. He will engage her, for He knows that in her heart there is a faith that will draw out His power to overcome the weakness that she shares with her daughter.
Jesus’ first response is: I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (St. Matthew 15. 24) In St. Mark’s Gospel He says, Let the children first be filled. (St. Mark 7. 27) In both He means that His mission is first to the Jews because they are the children of Promise. Jesus, the Great Physician begins to open this heathen woman’s spiritual swelling. The Apostles are silent. She is neither daunted, nor disheartened, nor disturbed. She needs more in Jesus than any of His Jewish brethren. The wounded alien moves closer to Jesus. The more acute the disease, the greater the need for urgent care. Then came she and worshipped Him, saying, Lord, help me. (St. Matthew 15.25) Jesus neither commands nor promises anything. From His heart, He is already ministering healing to her. As Calvin writes, We see then that the design of Christ’s silence was not to extinguish the woman’s faith, but rather to whet her zeal and inflame her ardor. (Calvin’s Comm’s. xvii)
Jesus was at first silent. and then discouraging. Now He seems to respond with derision and condemnation. He cuts into her wound. Jesus says, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs. (St. Matthew 15. 26) Jesus calls her a dog. It is a derisive term that the ancient Jews used when referring to their Gentile neighbors. But if we pay close attention to what Jesus is eliciting from this women, we might rather conclude that He is mocking the Jews! He knows that this woman believes strongly and that her faith will put His faithful Jewish followers to shame.
This foreign outcast and polluted Gentile is on a journey after Jesus. She is going up to Jerusalem with Him in heart and mind. She needs Him completely. She hangs upon every word that comes out of His mouth and she will not let Him escape her desire. She will follow Him, and whatever He says about her she will thankfully receive as the truth. She believes Jesus is God’s truth. She responds: Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table. (St. Matthew 15. 27) She perceives Jesus’ severe mercy and tough love. She may not be a lost sheep. But neither are Jesus’ disciples at this point. So, have it your way, I am a needy dog! She exclaims. Dogs need masters. Jesus can become hers. I am the last and least, like dogs that sit at their master’s feet. But a dog belongs to its master. He is beneath but not out; he is under but not forsaken. He depends absolutely upon the master’s care. So she says, Let me be a dog. If you are the master, I shall eat of the crumbs that fall from the table that you have prepared for your chosen people. The crumbs shall be all that are needed for my daughter’s healing. As St. Augustine says, It is but a moderate and a small blessing I desire; I do not press to the table, I only seek for the crumbs. (Serm. xxvii, vol. vi. NPNF) In whatever state you discern me to in, Lord, let it be true. My daughter is sick, and if I am a dog, let me at least eat the morsels of mercy that fall from your table. I believe that ‘thou hast the words of eternal life.’ (St. John 6. 68) What you give us may be crumbs, but Lord, evermore give [me] this bread. (St. John 6. 34)
With her words, this woman conquers Heaven and Heaven’s Lord. Jesus says, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. (St. Matthew 15. 28) Jesus cauterizes her wound, and she and her daughter are healed. She has heard the Word about Jesus; she has found God’s Word in Jesus; she has hammered away at this Word until she is not only heard but healed. This woman’s faith demanded not that the Word in the flesh come down with her in person to heal her daughter. This woman’s faith knew that the Word could easily retrace the distance she traveled to find Jesus. In faith she was stirred to seek out the severe mercy of God in Jesus Christ. St. Mark tells that that when the woman was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed. (St. Mark 7. 30)
With our opening St. Augustine reminds us that [Christ] the Good Physician gives pain, it is true, but he only gives pain, that he might bring the patient on to health. He
gives pain, but if he did not, he would do no good. (Idem) And so we must be willing to endure the pain of hearing the hard truth about ourselves from the Saviour. He comes to judge, discipline, and correct us that we might be emptied of sin before His healing power fills us with righteousness. Matthew Henry warns us that there is nothing got by contradicting any word of Christ, though it bear ever so hard upon us. But this poor woman, since she cannot object against it, resolves to make the best of it. ‘Truth, Lord, yet the dogs eat of the crumbs…. (Comm. Matt. xv.)
With the example of the Syro-Phoenician’s faith and humility let us press upon Jesus to be fed by the crumbs that fall from the His table. In all humility, because we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves, let us resort to Jesus zealously to secure those crumbs and fragments of sanctity that will heal us spiritually. For, as the Venerable Bede writes: If, after the example of the Caananite woman, we continue resolutely in our praying, and remain of fixed purpose, certainly the grace of our Maker will be with us to correct everything in us which is wrong, to sanctify everything unclean, and to make serene everything which is turbulent. He is faithful and just, so that he will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from every iniquity, if with the attentive voice of our mind we cry out to him who lives and reigns with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for all ages and ages. (Hom. i. 22) Amen.
Thomas Aquinas on Lent I
CHRIST AN EXAMPLE IN FASTING.
THE FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT. (FROM THE GOSPEL.)
When He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He was afterward an
* hungered. (Matt. iv. 2.)
S. AUGUSTINE says that it is the highest religion to imitate what we worship, so that, when Our Lord fasted, we ought to imitate Him in fasting.
We worship God Almighty. We worship the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. We worship the Word made Flesh, Jesus Christ. Worship unites us to the object of worshiping. Our object is Jesus Christ because He is the Way to the Father. Through Him, we worship. Thus through Him, we learn to find our reconciliation with God.
I. On the first head it is to be noted, that the Lord commanded us to fast in a fourfold manner (1) By Himself, to Adam and Eve in Paradise, when He commanded that they
should fast i.e., abstain from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and eat it not.
Fasting and Abstinence are enjoined upon man by God at the beginning. Man is not made to know and experience evil. His nature is not equipped to conquer the one and embrace the other. When He tries ‘to be as God’, he dares to tempt fate and to digest both good and evil. Evil is nothingness, objectively speaking. But it is ‘nothingness’ only to God. God alone can treat it as such. Man cannot endure it. The best that man can do is to obey God, open up to His Grace, and remain satisfied with not knowing evil. If man tempts God by trying to digest both good and evil, he is forever caught between the two. Each becomes a false god.
(2) He commanded it by the Law of Moses It shall be a Sabbath of rest unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls by a statute forever. (Lev. xvi. 31)
Fasting is enjoined by God. Moses hears the Word of God and obeys it. In the post-fallen Jewish world, the Sabbath is given to man so that he might return to God in contemplation on a regular basis. Fasting is essential to the soul’s vision of God, fear of the Lord, and obedience. Fasting tames the body to serve the soul and tames the soul to serve the spirit. Thus man is made right with God.
(3) God commanded it by the Prophets: Sanctify a fast. (Joel ii. 15) (4) God commanded it by the Apostles: In hunger and thirst, in fastings often, (2 Cor. xi. 27) whence he is a manifest transgressor of the precepts of grace who is unwilling to fast.
Fasting is commanded by the Prophets and the Apostles. God commands them to command us. Fasting is sometimes self-imposed by following them and sometimes the effect of other men’s meanness. In either case, we embrace it gladly in order to find our utter and absolute dependence upon God.
II. On the second head it is to be noted, that Our Lord taught us that there were four things necessary in fasting.
(1) That we should be cleansed from all sin.
When we fast we study our lives and discover our sins. Then we confess, express sorrow, and desire to be filled with the virtue that will overcome our sins.
(2) That we should conceal our fasting from the applause of men.
Fasting is a private affair. We ought to fast in secret before our Heavenly Father. Then, He shall reward us openly. The intimate relationship that we can expect from our God gives us a spiritual reward for our labors. Applause of men is needed by those who are not content with God’s approval and assistance.
(3) That we should fast with long-suffering and perseverance.
We must be patient. God will not heal of our sins immediately. We must commit to a long term pilgrimage after His mercy. We must be determined to persevere while accepting His counsel and prescriptions for our sinful state.
(4) That we should overcome the temptations of the Devil.
Fasting is really all about saying ‘no’ to Satan and the ways in which he rules and governs us.
As Christ fasted when He was baptized, so also he who wishes to fast well ought first to be cleansed by penitence and confession: But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head and wash thy face. (St. Matt. vi. 17)
We need not appear unto men to fast since their response is, at best, of secondary importance. Christ was anointed before He fasted. We ought also to anoint our heads and wash our faces prior to our fasting.
As Christ sought the desert when about to fast, He showed to us that when we fast and do good works we must hide ourselves.
from the praises of men: When ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance that thou appear not unto men to fast. (St. Matt. vi. 16)
Only insecure and immature Christians need to find their approval amongst men. What we must see is that our fasting is an adult custom which brings us into the presence of God’s saving power. We need to be right with God.
As Christ fasted forty days and forty nights, so should we: Subdue your flesh with abstinence from meat and drink as far as your health will permit. (St. Augustine)
The soul cannot come to see God’s wisdom and will clearly until the body is sufficiently subdued to the soul and the soul to the spirit. Fasting enables us to come to have a clearer vision of God’s truth and how that truth ought to be embraced in our heart.
As Christ did not give way to the temptation of the Devil, so too must we resist the Devil: Man shall not live by bread alone Get thee hence, Satan (Idem); Son, when thou comest to the service of God prepare thy soul for temptation. (Ecclus. ii. 1)
Temptation is necessary for us so that we might reject evil and cleave to the good. Christ Himself welcomes us into His temptations. He urges us to participate in the three-fold testing of Satan and to overcome the evil one through a deep desire to cleave to God’s wisdom and love. When we are called into God’s service, we shall be tempted. We want to be strengthened by God’s Grace. To do so, we must be fasting and praying.
Dear Brethren, in this Holy Season of Lent, let us go into the wilderness to fast and to pray. Let us ask the Lord to give us a clearer vision of ourselves in relation to Him. Let us confess our sins and be truly sorrowful over them. Let us desire to embrace Christ’s victory over them. Amen.
William Law: The Spirit of Love: 2.
Look at all the Variety of Creatures; they are what they are for this only End, that in their infinite Variety, Degrees, and Capacities, they may be as so many speaking Figures, living Forms of the manifold Riches and Powers of Nature, as so many Sounds and Voices, Preachers, and Trumpets, giving Glory and Praise and Thanksgiving to that Deity of Love which gives Life to all Nature and Creature.
(The Spirit of Love: ii. i. 4, William Law)
There is a strange suggestion that the finite creation holds within itself the infinite secrets of God. Here, of course, infinite simply means a number of finite truths that is beyond our counting. That it is beyond your numbering means simply that we can never stop discovering the truths about nature…at least as long as we shall live. It is a wonderful finite attempt at imitating the infinite! But see how nature is another Book of Revelation like the Holy Scriptures. The Holy Scriptures reveal the infinite truths awaiting discovery concerning man’s relationship with God. Nature or creation contains similar infinite truths about things other than man. Nature longs to be given a voice. She longs to have the truth that she contains within herself revealed and articulated through the reason and word of man. Man alone is able to lend a voice to the creation. Nature is silent in herself but is given the opportunity to speak through sounds, voices, preachers, and trumpets found in the language that the mind of man elicits from her. The newfound articulation begins with primitive sounds and noises. Next, there comes a voice or audible impression. In following, there is a sermon or preacher of it all. Finally, there is music or trumpets. Man begins with what is crude in sense perception, refines the impression in imagination, develops a knowledge of it in reason, and then sings out its truth through spirit. The process itself is an act of praise because what has begun with God is now returned to Him through the whole of human nature –beginning with the body, moving into the soul, and then rising up into the spirit. God has given all life to the creation and now she finds meaning and even beauty through man’s articulation of the truth, beauty, and goodness found in her! The senses move and inform the imagination; the imagination feeds the mind; the mind inspires the heart. The whole of the creation is experienced fully as man uses his whole being to discover and describe God’s truth in creation. That the secrets are identified as infinite truths means that there is always more of God’s truth, beauty, and goodness to be found and appreciated in man’s thankful heart.
For every Creature of unfallen Nature, call it by what name you Will, has its Form, and Power, and State, and Place in Nature, for no other End, but to open and enjoy, to manifest and rejoice in some Share of the Love, and Happiness, and Goodness of the Deity, as springing forth in the boundless Height and Depth of Nature. (Ibid, ii. i. 5)
Man is fallen. Nature is not. Nature is made to reveal the creature’s purpose and end, i.e. to reveal and manifest God. Nature is made to enjoy and rejoice in God, which is to say that it praises and lauds the Maker in the acts of realizing its ends and finding perfections. Of course, such perfections are imperfect imitations of God’s own being. When the imposed laws of Nature move creatures to find imperfect perfection the creature is said to show forth love, happiness, and the goodness of Deity. The love of God is expressed in the multifarious forms of creaturely life that exist singularly and in relation to one another. The happiness of God is revealed in the creatures’ abilities to strive towards perfecting their forms in matter in order to become substances. The goodness of God is manifested in the creature’s instinctive submission to God-given laws. Each creature in particular and all in general disclose the care of God, the joy of God, and the ordered discipline of the Divine Nature. God’s love moves all things, takes joy in so doing, and brings them all to their appointed good end.
Now this is the one Will and Work of God in and through all Nature and Creature. From Eternity to Eternity he can will and intend nothing toward them, in them, or by them, but the Communication of various Degrees of his own Love, Goodness, and Happiness to them, according to their State, and Place, and Capacity in Nature. This is God’s unchangeable Disposition toward the Creature; He can be nothing else but all Goodness toward it, because he can be nothing toward the Creature but that which he is, and was, and ever shall be in Himself. (Ibid, ii. i. 6)
In the creation and preservation of all things, God reveals His nature –to each a degree of His Love, Happiness, and Goodness. Each reveals the attributes of God according to a limited and particular finite capacity. A rock reveals the love, goodness, and happiness of God by revealing mere being that must be moved in order to be changed or altered. A tree reveals the love, goodness, and happiness of God by manifesting being and then the power of reproduction and begetting. Mere being now becomes reproductive being. Birds and fish reveal the reproductive capacity through the separate but combined efforts of male and female. Animals reveal the same but in coming together. Man too reproduces but adds love and reason to the mixture and then ascends into an intellectual imitation of God’s thinking. God is only Goodness toward every kind of creature by degrees in each state, place, and capacity. God is only Goodness because He is Goodness. His Goodness lends itself to each form of finite goodness. So creatures derive not only their being from God but also their respective goodness, which is the perfection of form and the actualization of substance.
Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.
(St. Matthew 4. 11)
On Ash Wednesday you and I entered the Holy Season of Lent in which we began our journey up to Jerusalem with Jesus. Behold we go up to Jerusalem. (St. Luke xviii. 31) We are invited to go up to the holy city of Jewish Kings. We are invited to go up to the City of Man in order to discover what its citizens do to the Love of God in the flesh. We are called to study and explore the unusual life of this man Jesus, who claimed to be the Son of God. In this holy season we pray that our eyes may be opened to the Divine love working its way into the redemption of the world through Him. Jesus calls us forward so that our faith might discover His desire to save us through His suffering and death.
But what is the nature of this desire that leads to Jesus’ suffering and death? We begin to learn something about it this morning as we go into the wilderness with Him. The dessert or wilderness is a symbol of man’s alienation from God. But this alienation was not intended by God at the beginning. God made man out of nothing, and promised him a happy life in the Garden of Eden if only he would obey the rule of God’s goodness. The garden was full of potential procreant being and knowledge that could generate man’s perfection. But man, in Adam, chose to contrive a world without the rule and governance of God’s goodness. Man desired to judge what was good and what was evil for himself. And so before he was exiled and banished from the Garden externally and physically, his soul had forsaken God inwardly and spiritually. Choosing the absence of God’s rule means spiritual exile from Goodness. The absence of Goodness is evil. Man chose it and couldn’t handle it. But God, who never forces himself on a rational and free-willing creature, allowed man to reap the rewards of his own sin. In choosing to disobey God, man exiles himself and must relate to his Maker distantly and remotely through suffering and death.
Jesus Christ desires to enter into the wasteland and wilderness of the man’s exile in order to carry all men back to God and his Goodness. So God’s love in Jesus Christ identifies with man not only in conception, birth, infancy, childhood, and adolescence but also with the temptations that the devil brings to every adult who lives in potential spiritual alienation from God. That alienation can be confronted only in the solitary isolation of the dessert. So we read: Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred. (St. Matthew iv. 1,2) The Spirit leads Jesus because as St. Thomas Aquinas says, Christ wished to strengthen us against temptation, warn us that no man is safe or free from temptation, and to give us a way to overcome temptations through confidence in His mercy. (Summary, Summa…iii. xli. 1)
And so God’s love in the flesh, Jesus Christ, desires to endure the temptation of every man. My son, if thou come to serve the Lord, prepare thy soul for temptation. Set thy heart aright, and constantly endure. (Ecclus. 2. 1) Jesus desires to be fully man and so will be tempted to deny the redemption of human life through God’s love. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. (St. Matthew 4. 3) God’s Love in the flesh, is, after all, in the flesh. Jesus the man is exhausted, physically spent, and desperately hungry. The Devil, who desires to divide and separate, tempts Him then to direct Divine Love to the satisfaction of earthly hunger. But being the Son of God in the flesh means that Jesus is first and foremost the Son of God in the Spirit. Blessed are they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness. (St. Matthew 5.6) Jesus desires to save all men by living first to God through suffering and death to Himself. He knows that, It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing. (St. John 6. 63) Human beings can overcome the temptation to put earthly needs and riches first only by desiring the good of their souls. Man shall not live by bread alone, Jesus retorts, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. (St. Matthew 4.4) Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto thee. (St. Matthew 6. 33) Jesus will reveal that the Word of God is the only true food and nourishment for the human soul. He desires to become God’s broken bread and the poured out wine. Jesus welcomes us into the Truth that God’s Word provides us with food and real nourishment.
But the devil is determined to undo Christ’s desire. If he cannot conquer Jesus’ hunger for Divine nourishment with earthly bread as he did with Eve and the fruit, then he will play upon the vanity of His spirit. Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. (St. Matthew 5. 6) If the pull of earthly appetite cannot bring Jesus down, perhaps the Divine desire will miraculously lift Him up! By throwing Himself down from the pinnacle of the Temple, Jesus can prove that God is His loving Father. If Jesus is determined that heavenly food and nourishment should govern Him, let Him sacrifice the flesh to the Spirit and thus prove that He is the Son of God. Alright then, deny the human, throw it down into death and let God revive you! Human nature that sacrifices itself ascetically to God’s will is always tempted to vainglorious wonderworking. The Ascetic in every age tends to exaggerate the miraculous. Cast thyself down! the devil exclaims. Jesus responds, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. (St. Matthew 4. 7) We will fall into the hands of the Lord, and not into the hands of men: for as His majesty is, so is His mercy. (Ecclus. 2.18) Love’s presence in the human nature of Jesus needs no signs and wonders to prove that He is the Son of God. Jesus will become God’s broken bread and poured out wine solely on the basis of faithfulness to God. Jesus desires to embrace unmerited suffering and death in order to plant the seed of new life. There will be time enough for miracles. But the greatest miracle will be witnessed in His uninterrupted desire to carry human nature through death into new life. To do so, He will teach us that the soul must honor and uplift the body. The Centurion standing at the foot of the Cross will see that the one lifted up in death is the Messiah: Truly this man was the Son of God.
Still the devil does not let up. Jesus has been provoked to idolatrize the body and then the soul. Now the devil will remind Jesus that He is the Word of God through whom all things were made. Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. (St. Matthew 4. 8,9) Jesus is tempted now to sever Himself from the human body and soul altogether. But Jesus is Love in the flesh. The love of God in this Man’s heart has come down from Heaven to redeem the whole human being. The devil tempts Jesus to abandon His manhood and be as God, from the earth’s highest point and yet apart from God. Jesus is tempted to sever Himself completely from God and to become the sole measure of all things. It is the temptation to know as God knows by His knowledge for the sake of the self alone. Romano Guardini imagines Satan asking, What are you going to do with all your greatness O Word of God? Squander it on the paltriness of the poor or the stuffiness of the pious? (The Lord, 30) Jesus responds definitively, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. (St. Matthew 4. 10) Jesus teaches us that the body and soul are made to be ruled and governed by God’s good spirit.
Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him. (St. Matthew iv. 11) Jesus submits His earthly hunger to the Father’s Word and Will as the body is tamed by the soul. Jesus overcomes potential vainglory by sanctifying the soul in honoring His body. Jesus is God’s Everlasting Word and so by the Holy Spirit the whole man submits to the Father’s will. And so in the barrenness of the desert, in the space and place of struggle with temptation, a new clarity emerges. God has given His angels charge concerning Jesus; they minister to Him only after He has willfully defeated Satan by keeping all of God’s ways. (Ps. xci. 11)
We do well to remember that it is through Christ’s human nature that the devil is defeated. St. Thomas tells us that Christ resisted all temptations by quoting the authority of the Law, not by enforcing His power, ‘so as to give more honor to His human nature and a greater punishment to His adversary, since the foe of the human race was vanquished, not as by God, but as by man’, as St. Pope Leo says. (Summa, III, xli. iv. contr.) In His human nature Christ says ‘yes’ to God. He is tempted to sever Himself from the Divine desire to save us. Yet His Human Nature, moved by His Divine Passion, will bear our griefs and carry our sorrows; [He will be] wounded for our transgressions…bruised for our iniquities, that by his stripes we [might be] healed. (Is. liii. 4) Jesus shows the devil and us that what He embraces, He embraces willingly and by reason of His human desire. So the devil vanishes, and Christ quietly and humbly walks down from the mountain, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, very God and very Man, clothed completely in our frail human flesh determined to wear it completely into suffering, death, and beyond. Temptations will assault throughout Lent. Jesus desires to overcome them in us this holy season. Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons