He that is of God heareth God’s words…
Last week you and I were meditating upon the freedom or liberation that comes to us in Lent through the life of Jesus Christ. You will remember that our Gospel lection for the day presented the miracle of the five thousand. Five thousand men with their wives and children had been following Jesus- behold we go up to Jerusalem, listening to His words and observing the miracles that He performed on many- blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it. (St. Luke xi. 28) In Jesus, they came to see God’s power at work in the world, and so were arrested with curiosity. But they were seekers. Only the restless and unsatisfied are seekers, searchers, knockers, and askers. A woman cannot cure her daughter of a vexing demon, and so she searches for the cure. The people in last week’s Gospel are hungry for the Word of God that Jesus proclaims. They follow Jesus and once their souls are fed so too are their bodies. They are fed doubly- in the body and the soul as we plead in today’s Collect.
The five thousand-plus people who followed Jesus showed us that true freedom comes when the soul seeks out spiritual and heavenly things first. True freedom is found when the soul searches for spiritual joy and happiness. True liberation is found when man can be united to that which does not perish and is not corrupted. St. Paul likens true freedom to the generation or birth of God’s promises in the world. True liberation is found when we are born again in the spirit. After that, the body’s needs can be met. But only after that. Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. (Matt. vi. 33)
Lent is about freedom. Freedom is found when we walk with Jesus, follow Him, hear His words, and allow them to sink into the depths of our souls. To live in the freedom that Christ brings, we must be searching for God as what is other than anything that we find in the creation. If we have all the answers and have figured it all out, this is not the journey for us. If we spend our time in cynicism, suspecting all others of sinful motives, and judging them, mostly to protect us from facing ourselves, this is no journey for us. If we live well and are unthankful, this is not the journey for us. To embark on this journey, to find Christ’s freedom, we must open to God’s Grace- that power, wisdom, and love that we neither desire nor deserve. To find Christ and His freedom you and I must be open to the power of God that is not constrained by and limited to the conditions that we place upon Him. For if we subject God to our own constrictive rules for what, where, and when of His presence, we become like Christ’s enemies in today’s Gospel.
We follow Christ to find our freedom. Today we learn that Christ’s enemies accuse Him of being a sinner. Christ tells them and us that he that is of God hears God’s words. (St. John viii. 48) Blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it. (Idem) One who hears the Word of God is not only searching but finding what is other than himself. Christ longs for us to hear and embrace what He receives from the Father. In His openness, He embraces Absolute Goodness and Truth. If I tell you the truth, why do you not believe me? (Ibid, 46) Jesus hears the Father and keeps His Word. Jesus keeps it and shares it. But His enemies say are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon? (Ibid, 48) Jesus’ enemies accuse Him of being a Samaritan- an outsider, a product of mixed racial parentage, an alien. And they are correct. Jesus is an alien and an outsider. He is, in a way, of mixed parentage; His Father is Divine and His mother is Human. But it does not follow that He has a demon. For Jesus is what He hears, what he keeps, and what he tells. He receives and imparts God’s Word. His enemies cannot abide this because they fear His intimacy with God. They cannot bear Him because they believe that God’s Word is theirs by right and appointment through the priestly ministration of their religion.
Jesus tells us this morning that He does not have a demon but has God. He receives God so completely that God’s will is His life. He honors what is coming to Him as the Other, the Only Other who alone creates and redeems human life. Jesus Himself seeks, in His humanity, the Divinity of God. He seeks not His own glory but rather what His Father’s Wisdom and Love can show of the Father’s glory through Him. Jesus hears God’s Word and imparts it to all. Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death. (Ibid, 51) He who keeps the word that I receive and AM will not see death because God’s ever-approaching and present Word is not death but life, it is not sin but goodness, it is not error but truth.
Do we, with Christ, search out and seek after what the Only Other, God, offers to us? Have we even begun this journey? Have we admitted that there is something to find, something to encounter outside of our sinful and sorry selves? Perhaps we are content with Christ’s enemies to cynically judge and condemn, to question motives, and find demons. Our God is a distant God, we claim. Our God is a curious concept or idea. For us to find true freedom in Christ, we must see that the Father expresses Himself to us in His Son. Christ comes into the world to present to us Who He always is. Before Abraham was, I am. (Ibid, 58) The everlasting Son, the Word without beginning, articulates in Himself the Father’s will and way. But we must give ourselves to Him. It is of no use to rely upon ourselves any longer. It is futile for us to think that our earthly offerings---the blood of goats and calves in olden times, money and status in our own, can save us and help us. It is only the life of Christ, a life perfectly open to the Father, that can save us. Christ The Son of God in the flesh perfectly translates the Word of God into human life and becomes the tabernacle in which we can begin to hear the Word of God and keep it. (Idem)
CHRIST being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. (Hebrews, ix. 11)
The journey into freedom that we make in the tabernacle of Christ is neither easy nor always pleasant. Being open to God means dying to the self. The Son of God made flesh dies to all -the world, the flesh, the devil. God’s Word is always embraced by Jesus and now will be expressed in suffering and passion. We go up to endure the Word of God communicated to us through passion and crucifixion. Passion means to suffer, to endure, to take on, and to withstand. Because Christ insists upon hearing the Word of God and keeping it, He will be rejected and killed. He is determined to fight God’s battle against sin, death, and Satan, come what may! He fights it even in death. Death will take on new meaning in Jesus. We go up to Jerusalem and the bloody sacrifice and death of Jesus will express God’s Word of love to our hearts and souls from His Cross.
Under the tabernacle of Christ’s Passion, we shall begin to experience the fact that somehow in Christ all false gods and our delusional pleasures will die a hard death. In Christ, their powerlessness will be revealed, and their hold on us will be demolished. They will be silenced. For they are, in the end, meaningless. He is not open to them but to God. They will try to stop Him, and Christ-as-man will die. But He will turn the tables on them that resist His Omnipotent Love; they will perish. In Christ, under His tabernacle, we will be put to death also, not forcibly, but as we open our hearts freely to Him. In us, our sins must be put to death also so that the Word heard might be kept and articulated in our lives. Richard Hooker says this about the effect of Christ’s unbreakable bond with the Father even in death:
The Creator of the World…the Wisdom of God [has] become such a Spectacle, as neither Men nor Angels can behold without a kind of Heavenly astonishment, we may hereby perceive there is cause sufficient, why Divine Nature should assume Human, that so God might be in Christ, reconciling to himself the World. (Hooker’s Laws, Book V…)
We travel with Christ, under his tabernacle up to the Cross. This spectacle of the dying Son of God in the flesh fills us with heavenly astonishment. It seems all wrong, but Christ insists it must be Right. It appears utterly evil, but Christ insists it must be Good. It strikes us as an unclean oblation and Christ says that it is pure and spotless. This heavenly spectacle is the doorway to God’s Kingdom. We enter through Christ’s death. We begin to die in and through Him. Behold, I make all things new. (Rev. xxi. 5) Our selfish objections will be felt as nothing compared with the Love of God made flesh. Our religious pretensions will seem vain and fruitless. The life of man without God is over. The horizon of new freedom is opening before us in the death of our Saviour.
Before Abraham was, I am. Therefore, took they up stones to cast at Him: But Jesus hid Himself, and went out of the Temple. (St. John viii. 59 We discover that the Creator of the Universe is unmasked as the Redeemer. St. Augustine says, But Jesus acts as a man, as one in the form of a servant, as lowly, as about to suffer, about to die, about to redeem us with His Blood; as He who is the Word in the beginning, and the Word with God. (St. Augustine: Tractates xlii, xliii) The Spectacle of God’s Omnipotent Love in death will undo us. God’s love persists. Love never dies. (1 Cor. Xiii. 10) God in Jesus embraces patience against earthly power. Patience is revealed as God’s Power of Passion. With patience Christ exhibits God’s Passion for us -the Heavenly Spectacle of irresistible freedom that reconciles the world to Himself.
But praised be the LORD, who hath not given us over
for a prey unto their teeth. Our soul is escaped even as a bird out of the
snare of the fowler; the snare is broken, and we are delivered.
(Ps. cxxiv. 5,6)
Easter Tide is all about eschewing those things that are contrary to our profession and following all such things as are agreeable to the same. (Collect Easter III) Easter Tide teaches us that we have been admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s religion. (Idem) So, in this holy season, we undertake the hard labor of dying to our old selves to be formed in the new Resurrected life of Christ. We die to ourselves as we petition God to show [us] that are in error the light of [His] truth. (Idem) In Easter Tide, we pray that the Holy Ghost will not give us over as a prey unto the teeth of Satan and that Christ will give us a way to escape out of the snare of the fowler. (Idem) Satan is the fowler who intends to trap us like birds of prey in his net. But Jesus intends to invite us into His Resurrection, as He leads us from sin to righteousness, from death to life, and from Satan’s temptations to His victory over all that might separate us from our foreordained communion with God the Father forever.
Our Resurrected Lord Jesus Christ invites us into a relationship that will ensure our deliverance to the Kingdom He shares with our Heavenly Father. To enter this relationship, with St. Peter, in this morning’s Epistle, we must come to discover ourselves as strangers and pilgrims (I St. Peter ii. 11) in this fallen creation. This means that we must become aliens to this world, to the creation and its spirit-killing sin. St. Peter insists that the starting point is to
abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; having [our] conversation honest among the Gentiles: that whereas they speak evil against [us] as evil doers, they may by [our] good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. (Idem)
We must say no to any inordinate lust that is not of God. Isaiah the Prophet says that for the iniquity of [our] covetousness was God wroth…smote [us in times past]…and hid [Himself](Is. xviii. 17) Our sinful selves had forgotten the secret things that belong to the Lord our God (Deut. xxix. 29). But Jesus reveals to us the hidden things of God so that as born-again Christians, by the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ we might become strangers and pilgrims to this fallen world.
St. Peter reminds us that we must be cuttingly candid about the hidden spiritual warfare that threatens to envelop us if we forget God. David, the Psalmist, reminds us If the Lord Himself had not been on our side…when men rose up against us. They had swallowed us up alive, when they were so wrathfully displeased at us…The deep waters of the proud had gone even over our souls. (Ps. 1-4) David claims that the troubled sea…[whose] waters cast up dirt and mire, in which is…no peace, always threatens to devour and drown our souls if we forget God’s Hidden Power. When we struggle to be faithful to God we are hindered and even harassed by those who have no fear of God before their eyes. (Rom. iii. 18) We shall be assaulted by a blasphemous and brutish generation, that set their mouths against Heaven, out of [whose mouths] belch forth impieties and impurities, to dishonor God who made them, to grieve the souls of his servants, and to spread the contagion of their ungodliness. (B. Jenks: P.P., p.240) David knows that Satan and his human friends are his enemies. David flees to God’s strength in all humility. Praised be the LORD, who hath not given us over for a prey unto their teeth. Our soul is escaped even as a bird out of the snare of the fowler; the snare is broken, and we are delivered. Our help standeth in the Name of the LORD, who hath made heaven and earth. (Ibid, 5-7) David believed that the hidden, Invisible God alone had the strength and love to deliver him. David believed that God alone could chase away the birds of prey that would [ensnare and] devour God’s Sacrifice in his heart. David trusted that God alone could drive out the unclean beasts that would trample down the plantation of God’s Grace in his soul. (Jenks, 224) David knew that the Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. (Ps. lxvi. 11)Against the clear and visible threats of his earthly enemies, in the meekness of his heart, David humbled himself before God, for that continual proneness which was in him to sin against His Maker and Redeemer, that made him so unlike to God, and so contrary to what His holy laws required him to be. (Jenks)
David was a stranger and pilgrim in this world. He looked forward to the fulfillment of God’s promises in His Son, Jesus Christ. Christians know that the benefits of Christ’s Resurrection promise to deliver us all from our sin. But for that power to liberate us effectually, we must declare spiritual war on this world and its ship of fools. Fools trust in themselves and their own fallen reason. He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool. (Prov. xxviii. 26) A fool despiseth wisdom and understanding. (Prov. i. 7) Fools rejoice when they should lament and mourn when they should rejoice. Because they are at home in this world and not strangers and pilgrims in it, they trust only in what they see and perceive. Because they are earthly minded, they say to themselves that surely God doesn’t care about this or that. They are like the fool who hath said in his heart there is no God. (Psalm xiv. 1) They have forgotten that God is everywhere and cares about everything since He is the author of it all!
Whither shall I go from thy spirit?
or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there:
if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
even there shall thy hand lead me,
and thy right hand shall hold me.
(Ps. cxxxix. 7-100
David mourns when he forgets the Invisible God and that he is truly a stranger and pilgrim to this world. David’s heirs, the Apostles, who witnessed Christ’s Resurrection, must trust in the promises of God’s Invisible Wisdom, Power, and Love.
We are summoned to be moved by faith from death into the fruitfulness of Christ’s Resurrection. We are being moved into goodness. But the journey does not end here. St. Thomas Aquinas writes:
Now, by His Resurrection Christ entered upon an immortal and incorruptible life. But whereas our dwelling-place is one of generation and corruption, the heavenly place is one of incorruption. And consequently it was not fitting that Christ should remain upon earth after the Resurrection, but it was fitting that He should ascend into Heaven. (Idem)
The Resurrection is all about a transition to from what is good to what is better. (Idem) In the Resurrection, the Apostles and we see the revealed and unhidden glorified state of Man on route home to Heaven. He tells us that the wise Christian will be sad for Jesus’ return to hiddenness. For, by sadness of evil, man is corrected. (Easter III: TA) Christ leaves us in the flesh for us to repent in spirit. Unless we mourn over what our sins have done to God’s Word made flesh, the Resurrected Christ cannot begin to make us better for His Kingdom. Thomas reminds us also that Christ is risen from the dead and become the first fruit of them that slept. (1 Cor. xv. 20) The movement from darkness into light is the first fruits. A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father. (St. John xvi. 16) Jesus Christ, the eternally begotten Son of the Hidden but Living God, must return to God. As the Apostles became strangers and pilgrims to this world, with them we must learn to follow Christ back to the Father, invisibly, in Spirit and in Truth. (St. John iv. 24)
Being strangers and pilgrims in this world is just the beginning for St. Peter and his friends. Abide in me, and I in you. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. (St. John xv. 4, 5) Christ is preparing to ascend to the Father. If the Hidden Christ begins to be born in the hidden recesses of our believing and hoping souls, He will make us better. We must never be at home or at rest in this world. Our journey is like a woman with child. A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you. (Ibid, 21, 22) The expectant mother is sorrowful over what is yet hidden, that her newborn babe will be born into the world. If we wisely endure all suffering and sorrow, as strangers and pilgrims in this world, for joy that the hidden Christ is being born in our souls, we shall see Him again in Heaven forever in immortality and with incorruption.
The end that we seek is the consolation of the hidden Divine Presence. Being strangers and pilgrims, we hope for what we see not but with patience wait for it. (Romans viii, 24) What is hidden consoles us. I will see you again, and you will rejoice. (St. John xvi. 22) With St. Peter, if we wisely and joyfully embrace the Hidden Christ who ascends to the Father, we shall be occupied with well doing, [that we] may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men, and not using [our] liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. (Ibid, 13) Believing in Christ’s Hidden Nature, as strangers and pilgrims, here and now, our weeping and lamenting shall join the hope that our sorrow shall be turned into joy. (Ibid, 20) With well doing, Christ’s hidden victory over all our sin and suffering makes us better.! Then others shall be astonished that the hidden love of the Invisible Godin the Spirit of the Resurrected Christ is carrying us all to Heaven, no longer as strangers and pilgrims, but those who are at rest and made the best for home in His Kingdom.
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 from the slavery of sin. Our lections for the 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 by Satan as we are. He resisted the temptations to sin through an act of free will that rejected slavery to all false gods. On the Second Sunday of Lent, we reduced ourselves to becoming loyal dogs which eat of the crumbs that fall from Jesus’ table because our freedom is found in faithful submission to God alone. And last Sunday, we learned that eating and digesting the fragments from Christ’s table means establishing the habit of hearing and keeping God’s Word which alone can free us from bondage to all demons. In sum, then, we are undertaking a difficult and daunting labor of liberation from all that separates us from the knowledge and love of God. The problem is that we become obsessed with our own good works and not with faith in God’s Grace. We are tempted to forget that believing in God’s promises alone liberates us to walk 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 salvation. For these Christianized Jews, following the Law seemed more important than faith in Christ, God’s own sacrificed Lamb and our Redeemer. They believed that circumcision, dietary regulations, and the ceremonial Jewish Law were necessary for salvation freedom. So, in effect, the ritual traditions of Judaism competed in their hearts with faith in Christ and the work of His Grace. The result was that Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit were subject to the Law. But St. Paul knew that devotion to the tradition of the Law could neither free nor save a man. If the Jewish Law had been able to save a man, there would have been no need for Christ’s dying on the Cross to save us all!
St. Paul uses an allegory drawn from the life of Abraham to show that these Jewish Christians 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 the slave of Abraham’s wife Sarah. She produced the bastard-heir Ishmael for Abram. 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 not strong enough to trust in what seemed naturally improbable, if not impossible. They were too earthly-minded and in bondage to this world. They thought that the only way for Abram to sire a son would be to mate with Sarai’s slave girl Hagar. Abram did so and Ishmael the son of the bondwoman was born. But Abram and Sarai’s premature jumpstart on fulfilling God’s promise was wrong-headed. Abram and Sarai were enslaved to their own human ingenuity and the good work they thought they could conceive. They had not found the freedom that is the fruit of faith in God’s Word. 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 in God’s Grace, they would eventually sire Isaac in their old age. They learned that faith and not human ingenuity is the virtue that trusts in God’s power to fulfill His promises.
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. Because they were more consumed with reason and human wisdom and not with God’s supernatural power in Jesus Christ, they were enslaved to the flesh. 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 allowing their flesh to enslave 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 were in bondage to Abraham’s obedience to God as the father of the Law and did not see their slavery. They could not see that the Law given to Abraham’s descendent Moses was the Law of Sin and Death. They could not see that the Grace of God in Christ alone could hear the Law, endure its Sin and Death, and conquer both.
But St. Paul is not content to leave it at that. He takes another turn in his allegory that he hopes will eradicate Jewish bondage to the flesh. 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 distinction between being a Gentile or Jew who is still enslaved to the Law of Sin and Death. St. Paul has added insult to injury. He tells the Jewish Christians that though they are by birthright the children of promise and the New Jerusalem to come, they look much more like the earthly children of Arabia, and that their cherished Mount Sinai is no better than 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 the elements of nature and her laws. They do so because all men are born slaves to sin.
They can become Christians only through the freely willed act of faith in God’s promises. 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 and freedom. Mary, young and innocent, who was barren in the sense that 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 are found in God’s own Kingdom.
My friends, this Sunday in Lent is called Mothering Sunday, Refreshment Sunday, or in Latin, Laetare Sunday. The Latin is 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 faith. 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 like Hagar and Ishmael. When this world’s natural attachments, human expectations, and earthly hopes consume us, we imperil and threaten the free operation of faith in God’s Grace. The problem is not with the world but with Christians who are too enslaved to it and thus are not being made free through faith 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…is 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. To allow that work to begin, we must freely desire that God’s Grace in Christ might become the Law of our lives. We should go up with Christ to die on His Cross. 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 enslaves us to the old Law of sin. For this reason, we must pray that Christ may be formed in us. (Idem) As we follow Him up to the Jerusalem of His Cross, we must abandon ourselves to faith in His desire to conquer the Law of Sin, Death, and Satan. Abraham believed God and it was counted unto him for righteousness. (Rom. iv. 3) Jesus believed that only by the pure sacrifice of His whole life to God, in enduring Sin and Death, could He conquer them both and turn Sin to Righteousness and make Death the seedbed of the New Life. Jesus’ victory over Sin and Death alone opens the way to New Life and freedom with God our Heavenly Father.
Cast out the bondwoman and her son. (Gal. iv. 29) Will we journey from earth to heaven, from Mount Sinai to Jerusalem in Jesus? Will we faithfully follow Him up to His Cross to find that as He pours out His Blood for us, Sin and Death have no power over Him? Will we approach the Gateway to Heaven, to Jerusalem which is above…free…[and] the mother of us all, and which earnestly longs to free us by Law of God’s Love in the Heart of the Crucified Wounded Healer? In Christ on His Cross, we believe that our bondage to Sin and Death is conquered. Sin could not stop Him, Death would not keep Him down, and Satan was rendered powerless. His Cross alone leads us to freedom.
WE beseech thee, Almighty God, look upon the hearty desires of thy humble servants,
and stretch forth the right hand of thy Majesty, to be our defence against all our enemies;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The point of our journey up to Jerusalem in this holy season of Lent is not only to see with spiritual eyes what the love of the Word [that] was made flesh and dwelt among us (St. John i. 14) does but also to hear the same Word. 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 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 embrace the power of His love. The Word of God in the flesh is not only educational but spiritually transformative.
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 reading 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 insists that the Father longs to hear from us. Earthly fathers hear their children and care for them. 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) Then on the heels of this, Jesus comes upon a dumb or mute man. Here is a man 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 that 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. Jesus never treats 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 him. The devil’s one aim is to divide men from God and men from other men. His spiritual aims are as present to our world as to that of the New Testament. Thus, what we must desire from Jesus is that Divine mercy which alone can overcome and banish those demons, which threaten to ruin our spiritual lives by leading us to despair of communion with God and our neighbors. 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? Praise God! 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 drown out his questions with a barrage of verbal attacks on Jesus. Where are they, you might ask? They are in the hearts and souls of those who attack Jesus for the miracle He performed on the deaf man. 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. Yet, while they might lead moral and upright lives externally and visibly, 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! One miracle is not enough. They need proof that he is not demon-driven. 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 interest in healing the deaf and the dumb. His design is to divide all men from God in Jesus. The devil is determined to bring men to despair of all spiritual healing, sanctification, and salvation. Satan cannot endure the man’s entry into the world of words through the Word of God made flesh. Satan’s singular intention is to overcome the love that moves Jesus the Word. Jesus’ love brings men to the good healing that God intends, 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 reveal the absolute in ill will and dare to disrupt the operation of Mercy in Jesus. Their malice, jealousy, and hatred cannot endure the spiritual goodwill, generosity, and love that Jesus the Word 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)
The deaf and mute who is now able to speak is silent and, no doubt, curious about what his healing has provoked. He wants to receive the miracle humbly as an expression of God’s love but is tempted to suspect Satan’s mischief. The deaf-mute man has entered the dangerous world of words. Look and listen to what he sees and hears! He does not hear men who are awe-inspired in the presence of God’s goodness. He does not hear the silence of men made mute because God’s strong man is lovingly speaking healing on earth. Rather, he hears men who are threatened by God’s love in the heart of Jesus Christ. Jesus anticipates their feverish malice.
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)
Many men may be liberated from unclean spirits but forget that God’s Grace alone brings mercy. Because they have been overcome by God's Strong Man and deprived of the armour [of their own good works] in which they trusted, their souls are in danger of greater demonic possession. St. Cyril reminds us that
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. (Cyril: PG 72, col. 699.)
Jesus reminds us that He that is not with me is against me. (Ibid, 23) Healing is spiritual and if we ask for it, it shall fill our empty and fleshly hearts to walk as children of the light. (Eph. v, 8)
Jesus calls 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 in Jesus Christ is all about a relationship. Hearing the Word of God means thankfully receiving God’s healing Grace to conquer us who were sometimes darkness but are now light in the Lord. (Eph. v. 8,9) In Jesus, we hear of His intention 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 banish the devil. We need to ask for His ongoing healing. 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 Christ who longs to break the power of those demons whose envy is the tribute that mediocrity pays to excellence. (F. Sheen) We are weak, but Christ is strong. If we pause for long enough to ask the Father for Christ’s healing power, His strong love will vanquish and overcome all our demons. Then, with goodwill and gratitude, we shall welcome Jesus’ healing power in others and ourselves.
As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his foolishness.
The season of Lent is nothing if it does not confuse human wisdom and turn man’s expectations upside down. For what the lections of this Holy Season attempt to show us is that the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He takes the wise in their own craftiness. (1 Cor. iii. 19) And again, as Isaiah records, therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people…for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid. (Isaiah 29. 14) In Lent, we learn that the Wisdom of God revealed in the human life of Jesus Christ often challenges and overturns the wisdom of this world. And I don’t mean to say that human wisdom or reason is destroyed, but rather man’s reason is stretched to the point of meeting and embracing God’s much higher and greater Wisdom.
In last week’s Gospel, we read of a real challenge and trial that Christ underwent to resist the reason of this world and to embrace God’s Wisdom. You will remember that the Spirit led Christ into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. And there we learned that Christ resisted Satan’s temptations and banished him. The Wisdom that we gleaned from that Gospel is that Jesus Christ, God as Man, faced evil, resisted it, and in the end, overcame it. Man’s wisdom walks in step with the devil; it thinks that it can use the Divine Spirit for worldly ends, that it can make God subject to its whims and idle curiosities, and that it can be as absolute as God. (RDC. Lent I) What Jesus Christ reveals to us is that true Wisdom is God’s will and that the new humanity which He longs to offer us involves suffering, struggle, and sacrifice. The devil strives to sever Jesus and us from God’s will and way. He longs to hide us from ourselves, caging us into the world of our own vain imaginations and concealing us from God’s way of liberation and healing. He longs to hide us from the Wisdom of God, from seeing and knowing that the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding. (Job xxviii. 28)
Jesus came down from Heaven to reveal God’s Wisdom through His human nature for our benefit. He came down to bring us back to the fear of the Lord so that the Divine Wisdom might be born in our hearts from above. But if we heed the message of today’s Gospel, we learn that there is another dimension still that must be added to our fear of the Lord if God’s Wisdom is to come alive in us. This is the character of desire. From our limited earthly passions and desires, we learn to fear the Lord. What we should desire is the Wisdom that His mercy gives birth to in our hearts and souls.
In this morning’s Gospel, we see how alien, unfamiliar, and even foreign God’s Wisdom is to most men. Jesus had departed from Jerusalem and from His own people who would not receive the Wisdom that He came down to impart. The ancient Old Testament prophesied of the Jews’ pride. This people draweth unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. (Matthew xv. 8) God’s Wisdom had found no place to germinate and grow in the hearts of the religious Jews of Jesus’ day.
Even Jesus’ disciples seemed hard-hearted and dimwitted. Jesus said:
Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man. (St. Matthew xv. 18-20)
God’s Wisdom cannot touch and transform those who do not desire Him from their hearts. Those who come to need it realize that their earthly reason and good works provide no lasting health and happiness. Today, because He did not find any need for what He offered from His own people, Jesus left religious Jerusalem for the frontier territory where Israel bordered the land of the heathen. Perhaps the Wisdom that He carried would find seekers and searchers amongst the Jews’ ancient enemies.
What Jesus finds confounds the reasonable expectations of both the Jewish Scribes and of His own Disciples. God’s Wisdom was first revealed to them. That a pagan woman’s understanding of it should have shown up the Jews’ blindness and resistance to it must have seemed wholly irrational to the Jews. So we read:
Behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. (St. Matthew xv. 22) Canaan means place of submission, humiliation, and lowliness.
From an alien and barren place, so it seems, Jesus hears the cry for God’s Wisdom and Mercy. At first, Jesus seems deaf and unmoved by the plea. St. John Chrysostom writes that The Word [seems to have] no word; the fountain [seems] sealed; the physician withholds His remedies. Perhaps there is something in this desperate cry that moves Jesus to silent prayer. Wisdom is quick to hear and slow to speak…(St. James i. 19) Jesus is not ignoring the Samaritan woman. Rather, He will allow her to pursue Him with deepest passion and longing. He allows her to pursue her desire with persistence. He did, after all, come to this place for a reason, most Divine in His intention.
The Apostles were irritated. His disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. (St. Matthew xv. 23) The disciples long selfishly to have Jesus for themselves. Jesus seems to rebuke her. I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (St. Matthew xv. 24) Jesus proclaims that the Jews first were called by God and were given the promises because they should have known themselves to be His lost sheep. She will insist that the Gentiles too were promised a share in it all! She establishes her claim by showing that she knows and feels deeply that she too is lost. Jesus tries and tests her faith. I will wound and I will heal, saith the Lord. (Deut. xxxii. 39) St. Augustine describes His method in these words:
He is no unkind physician who opens the swelling, who cuts, or cauterizes the corrupted part. He gives pain, it is true; but he only gives pain, that he may bring the patient on to health. He gives pain; but if he did not, he would do no good. (Aug, Serm. xxvii)
Jesus applies God’s Wisdom and severe Mercy to this serious seeker. She bears the pain of her daughter’s demonic possession. She needs the God’s Great Physician. Her daughter’s disease has become her own. Then she came and worshipped Him, saying, Lord, help me. (St. Mattew xv. 25) Jesus feels her longing for what He has come into the world to give. Jesus is fueling her passion for God’s own cure and remedy. It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs. (St. Matthew xv. 26) He seems to insult her. She takes it as a welcome provocation. Already filled with Divine Wisdom, she responds, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table. (St. Matthew xv. 27)
She is one tough Gentile woman! She cannot be stopped. Her poverty of her spirit is beautiful. She knows that she is alien to Israel’s promises; she claims neither right nor privilege to God’s Word and Wisdom; she knows herself as a powerless creature in the presence of God’s own Word and Wisdom. She knows that she is one dead dog who can be healed by God’s Mercy alone. She turns to the sole source and origin of all healing. The Wisdom in Jesus is what she will have. Yes Lord, unlike your own lost sheep, I am a dead dog. But, surely, even such a dead dog as I can find in you that Mercy that is great enough to let me eat of the crumbs that fall from your table reserved for your lambs. God’s Wisdom is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Ps. xlvi. 1) Jesus honors in this Gentile woman what He could not find in His own people or His disciples. O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. (St. Matthew xv. 28)
Take note of this heathen woman’s wisdom. I wound and I will heal. (Idem) This woman finds no help in this world’s medicines. She knows in herself that what she needs comes from Heaven alone. They that are whole need not a physician but they that are sick. (St. Luke v. 31) This dead dog knows Heaven’s Cure and will have it from Jesus. Archbishop Trench reminds us that most people would have turned away in anger and despair from Jesus’ Wisdom. (Notes on the Parables…) But this woman is bereft of any human arrogant resentment. She is self-consciously powerless. She knows the power of Almighty God in Jesus Christ. Many would count this woman a fool in the face of what seems cruel mockery from Jesus. But this woman knows better. Here we find a truly liberated woman, full of wisdom, courage, and persistence!
Where is the wise person?...Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. (1 Cor. i. 20, 21)
The woman of Canaan was a fool for Christ. She knows that she has no power of herself to help herself. Her faith knows that both outwardly in her body and inwardly in her soul Christ can defend her from all adversities that may happen to the body and all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul (Collect, Lent II). This alien woman, a dog, will humbly and thankfully receive the crumbs that fall from Christ’s table being called not unto uncleanness but unto holiness. (1 Thes. iv. 4)
Oftentimes, our Savior denies our initial petitions. He seems to say No to us. But Christ longs for us to seize the Wisdom of His Love and Mercy. This woman and we must respond My own strength, Lord, thou knowest…is weakness and…not to be trusted. (B. Jenks) To this woman’s great humility and faith, Jesus says Be it unto thee, even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. (Idem, 28) We too should persist with humility and faith to find Christ’s healing.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: