ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than
we to pray, and art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve…
(Collect Trinity XII)
The Collect for the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity expresses a truth that although commonly spoken is rarely remembered. And the truth it reveals is that it is God’s nature to be more ready to hear than we to pray because our condition is more often than not lazy or slothful in relation to our spiritual well-being. God hears in order to give, and what He gives is more than either we desire or deserve. The weakness of desire is entirely on our side. In desiring Him more, we shall begin to receive the pure gift of His mercy and the intensity of its approach.
The deaf and dumb man described in today's Gospel is an image of that spiritual condition that neither desires nor deserves what God longs to give. The man can neither hear nor speak. But just prior to the portion of the Gospel that we have read this morning, we meet a Syrophoenician woman who had no problem speaking up and begging Jesus to heal her daughter, who had an unclean spirit (St. Mark vii. 25). She may not have felt that she deserved anything, but that didn’t stop her from desiring morsels or fragments of that healing power that she knew could cure her demonized child. She was not a Jewish supplicant but a Gentile seeker, and so was provoked by Jesus who reminded her that [God’s] children should first be filled; for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and cast it to dogs. (Ibid, 27) But the response which Jesus anticipated and desired to elicit from her was brilliant. She said, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs. (Ibid, 28) Jesus told the woman that because of her faith and desire for the morsels and fragments of holiness that He carried into the world the devil would be expelled from her tormented daughter. So, the faith of a Gentile pagan realizes that she is rewarded with a gift that she desired but did not deserve. Her desire revealed a deep sense of God’s presence in Jesus which ran clean contrary to what the Jews should have desired also. Desire is love and love led the Syrophoenician woman to the light, which is the knowledge of God in Jesus Christ.
And now this morning we encounter a Jewish man who cannot so much as express his desire, let alone think about what he might or might not deserve. His friends, however, express his desireand so join in the acquisition of the gift that Jesus brings. We read: And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him.(Ibid, 32) Jesus is back in the land of the faithless Pharisees, the land of His own Chosen People, in the environment of religious folk, and yet here we find a man who symbolizes and embodies the Jews’ deaf and dumb relation to God. What ensues is not a conversation at all. Jesus had spoken to the Syrophoenician woman because she spoke to him. But here He finds silence in a man who is deaf and mute, and so a silent prayer is offered from Jesus to His Father. (Jesus always takes people where they are, and then leads them into healing and new life.) And so we read: And he took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed….(Ibid, 33, 34)
Jesus took him aside from the multitude. The noise, the commerce, and the talk of the Jewish world threatened Jesus always. They had forgotten the silence of the wilderness which should have been at the forefront of any Jew’s understanding of the Word that saves men in a radical isolation from all other gods. Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. (Psalm lxvi. 10) Jesus took him aside so that in solitude and silence, he might be more receptive of deep and lasting impressions, even as the same Lord does now oftentimes lead a soul apart, or takes away from its earthly companions and friends, when He would speak with it, and heal it, (Trench, The Miracles) This man needed to encounter God, in Jesus Christ, for the very first time.
With St. Paul, We are not sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; [for] our sufficiency [comes] from God. (2 Cor. iii. 4) My Grace is sufficient for thee. (2 Cor. xii. 19) The journey will be long, and He never promised that it would be easy. But if we desire and seek God, knowing that we have been deaf to His Word and are thus dumb because cannot hear so that we might speak, we must become babes in the hands of our Loving Saviour. We read that He put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue…. (St. Mark vii. 33,34) The difficulty involved in opening our ears and mouths to God’s healing is hard business. Jesus must share with us His hearing and His speaking. Thus, He places His fingers into the deaf man’s ears and touches His tongue. The basic and elementary nature of the actions is all significant for healing. Almost all other avenues of communication, save those of sight and feeling, were of necessity closed (Idem, Trench) to this man. Jesus must use the man’s seeing and feeling to stir his faith and belief that a blessing is immanent. Christ always comes to us where we are and makes use of what we have to lead us into deeper healing and sanctification. The man is a babe in Christ. Like a newborn babe, he sees and feels before he can hear and speak. Before the man can hear and speak, he must see and feel, with wonder and awe, the approaching God who will open his ears and unloose his tongue. Pseudo-Chrysostom tells us that, Because of the sin of Adam, human nature had suffered much and had been wounded in its senses and in its members. But Christ coming into the world revealed to us, in Himself, the perfection of human nature; and for this reason he opened the ears with His fingers, and gave speech by the moisture of his tongue. (Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, iv. 2)
Through His human nature, Jesus will identify Himself with the fallen condition of man. Having cured the man of his physical handicaps, He can now call the man to the pursuit of his spiritual good. Now the man can be taught what he should truly desire –the healing of his soul, which comes only by way of deepest sighing and groaning for what God alone can give. With St. Paul, we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body… [For] we hope for [what] we [do not yet]see…[and so] we with patience wait for it. (Romans viii. 23) And so, as the Venerable Bede teaches us, [Jesus] looks up to Heaven to teach us that is from there that the dumb must seek speech, the deaf hearing, and all who suffer healing. He [sighed or] groaned, not because he needed to seek with groaning anything from the Father…but that he might give us an example of groaning, when we must call upon the assistance of the heavenly mercy, in our own or our neighbours’ miseries (Ibid, 2). Jesus sighs or groans to show us that we must with deepest inward longing and desire ask the Lord to open our spiritual ears and unloose our spiritual tongues that so stubbornly and obstinately refuse to hear and speak of the truth that He brings. Jesus sighs or groans because He desires us more than we desire Him, and He longs to give to usmore than we either desire or deserve. (Collect)
The words of other men have initiated the miracle, but to become conscious of the power of God’s Word, we must come to know ourselves. Our Collect reveals the kind of miracle that we need. Pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy; forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord. (Collect) Within our souls we are conscious of past sins; the remembrance of them is grievous unto us, and the burden of them is intolerable. (General Confession: HC Service, BCP 1928) When we are given spiritual ears with which to hear the truth of ourselves, we begin to become conscious of the horror and shame of the past lives we have lived. Our consciences are afraid and seared; they quiver and tremble before the presence of God. We become almost as nothing. Thus, we realize, in the presence of God’s Word, Jesus Christ, that we need those good things which we are not worthy to ask. (Collect) We do not deserve to hear, and yet God desires to open our ears. We are ashamed to speak, and yet He slowly but surely gives us those words that can praise His Visitation.
So, we read next that Jesus saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.(St. Mark vii. 35) Jesus hears the Word of the Father. Jesus speaks the Father’s Word. The man now can both hear and speak. The deep impression of God’s heartfelt desire for his salvation now opens his heart to follow Jesus.
The miracle concludes: And he charged them that they should tell no man….(Ibid, 36, 37) The new miracle will take time to perfect. We must, without any fanfare, bragging, or boasting, patiently endure how God’s Word gives us the words sufficient for a deeper relation to Him. Jesus comes to welcome all men onto the journey of faith which He redeems and perfects. Now the difficult path to salvation must begin. Perhaps, we are deaf to God’s Word in Jesus Christ. Perhaps, we cannot speak of His truth. As Pope Benedict has said There is an inner closure that affects the person’s inmost self, which the Bible calls the “heart”. It is this that Jesus came to “open”, to liberate, so as to enable us to live to the full our relationship with God and with others. (Benedict XVI: September 9, 2012) Ephphatha, Jesus says, or Be Opened. Jesus longs to open our ears to the Word that He hears from the Father so that we too might exclaim He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak. (Ibid, 37)
And when Jesus was come near, He beheld the city, and wept over it,
Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day,
the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hid from
(St. Luke 19. 41, 42)
Many commentators, reading the lines which I have just rehearsed, form their interpretations of them based upon the literal reading of the Biblical text. So, they conclude that Jesus is weeping over an immanent and future destruction of Jerusalem, which came in the year 70 A.D. when Tiberius Julius Alexander sieged and sacked the city at the behest of the Roman Emperor Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasianus Augustus, destroying the Second Temple. Titus reportedly refused to accept the wreath of victory saying, there is no merit in vanquishing a people forsaken by their own God. The history of the sack of Jerusalem resulted in a diaspora or exile for the Jewish people which was not reversed until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1949.
But the meaning runs far deeper for the Church Fathers who chose the readings that we use today. To them the spiritual meaning is always the preferred, for this is what moves our spiritual lives, here and now. However, far from denying and discarding the literal and historical truth of the verses, they insisted rather that what Jesus said and did, in time and space, is given to us as an illustration for our spiritual nourishment and growth. In the words that we read today, we find the Fathers of the Church pointing us to a deeper apprehension of their use for our spiritual pilgrimage. We read that Jesus…wept, and thus, today, we must find significance in His tears.
Origen of Alexandria, the great 2nd Century Church Father, commenting upon these first few verses, says that Jesus weeps over Jerusalem first to confirm and establish those virtues which He desired should come alive in us. He writes, All of the Beatitudes of which Jesus spoke in the Gospel He confirms by his own example. Just as He had said ‘blessed are the meek’ He confirms this where He says ‘learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.’ And just as He said ‘blessed are they that mourn’, He also wept over the city. (Origen: Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers: iii, p. 341) St. Cyril of Jerusalem writes this: For Christ who wishes that all men should be saved, had compassion on these. And this would not have been evident to us unless made so by some very human gesture. Tears, however, are a sign of sorrow. (Ibid) St. Gregory the Great writes that the compassionate Saviour weeps over the ruin of the faithless city, which the city itself did not know was to come.(Ibid) And so three of the Fathers remind us that the Son of God made Man reveals and expresses God’s love and desire for all men’s salvation. As Man, God’s own Son urges us to shed tears, to mourn, and to weep over sin -our sins and the sins of others. This is how we must respond to our failure to embrace and cherish God’s love for us and His desire that we should wage war on our sins so that His virtue might come alive in our hearts and souls. In sum, the Fathers call us to consider our own salvation and how we failed too often to make a better use of the gifts that He gives to us for the sake of our ultimate joy and felicity in Heaven with Him.
Jesus in His own day wept over a faithless and hard-hearted Jerusalem. Jesus then blesses the virtue of tears. Blessed are they that mourn. (St. Matthew 5. 4) Of course, remembering that Jesus is God and Man, we might have trouble disentangling meaning from mystery. If He is indeed God, we know that God does not cry, shed tears, mourn, or express any kind of regret. God Himself is perfectly the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Heb’s xiii. 8) Given such, He is pure Love, Joy, Felicity, and Wisdom. Technically speaking, because God, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning (St. James: I, 16), it seems quite strange that God’s own Son weeps and mourns over Jerusalem.
And yet, mysteriously emanating from Jesus’ heart, there issues forth in the Son of Man a translation of God the Father’s Love that we can understand and cherish. Tears reveal a contradiction. What mother and father have not shed tears when their children fall or fail? What parent does not mourn when his son or daughter’s life contradicts the expectation of excellence? Jesus elucidates for us the Love of God the Father in the face of our willful and stubborn continuance in sin. His tears reveal that God the Father is not apathetic and uncaring but passionately desires that we might turn from our sin and return to Him. When the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive. (Ezekiel 18. 27) God’s Love made Flesh, Jesus Christ, reveals to us a Loving Father who yearns and longs for us to embrace His goodness and excellence! Through Jesus’ tears, Love responds to man’s rebellious spirit and mourns over what man chooses in place of God’s Love. Jesus knows that an obstinate heart shall be laden with sorrows; and the wicked man shall heap sin upon sin (Ecclus. iii. 27) Jesus feels our rejection of God’s Love. Jesus feels also how we stubbornly ignore and neglect the Love that He brings to us. A stubborn heart shall fare evil at the last; and he that loveth danger shall perish therein. (Ibid, 26) Jesus desires that we might take his tears as a trigger and catalyst for realizing and receiving God’s Love for us. With the prophet Ezekiel, Jesus knows that with repentance and tears, we can turn back to God. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. (Ezekiel 36: 26, 27) The tears of Jesus reflect and reveal God’s desire and passion for our salvation. Jesus weeps because He knows what we are bringing upon ourselves and He knows what we are losing by forsaking God’s Love. Blessed are they that mourn. (St. Matthew v. 4), Jesus insists.
The Love of God the Father is alive in the heart of Jesus Christ. Today, we experience that Love as what always mourns over our separation from Him. With the Church Fathers, we are challenged to see how our sin moves Jesus to tears. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. Let us then pray for tears and true mourning over our sins. Let us mourn over our obstinate refusal to experience the Love of God revealed in the tears of Jesus. Let us shed tears over our careless neglect and indifference to God’s Love. Let us mourn over our unfaithfulness.
But let us do more. True Love weeps over sin and then turns on it with righteous indignation. No sooner do we read that Jesus…wept than we read that He went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold therein, and them that bought; saying unto them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves. (St. Luke xix. 45, 46) If we appreciate Jesus’ tears, we must also know that, through Him, God expresses His Love in wrath against our sin. From our mourning let us proceed to righteous indignation. But rather than directing it against the outside world around us, or even against corruption and cowardice in the churches, let us direct our righteous wrath against ourselves, declaring veritable war on the demons and spiritual powers that so easily entice, distract, and draw us from Jesus’ visitation. Let tears and righteous indignation combine to destroy anything that separates us from the Love of God in Jesus Christ. God made us to grow and share His spiritual gifts, as we read in this morning’s Epistle. And this cannot happen until we have identified and conquered the demonic vices that inhabit our own souls. We cannot hope to be spiritually changed if we are still carried away by dumb idols (1 Cor. xii. 2) as St. Paul warns us today. God intends for the Holy Spirit of His Love to come alive in us and drive away all false gods from our lives.
Jesus is the Love of God in the flesh. He cares for us. Will we accept this Love today? Will we allow this Love to redeem us? Jesus wept over the destruction of Jerusalem because in it He saw the ruination of the human soul. But His tears did not stop Him from saving us. Out of the rubble of man’s sin He would raise up sons and daughters to God. Perhaps Jerusalem, and by interpretation, the soul, must be ruined and brought to death before it can find new life. Jerusalem is fallen. We are fallen. But, as St. Gregory says, God visits the wicked soul at all times, through his teaching, and He sometimes visits it by means of chastisements, and sometimes through a miracle, that it may learn the truths it did not understand…and moved by sorrow return to Him; or may, overcome by His Kindness, become ashamed of the evil it has done. (Sunday Sermons, iv. 344) Thank God for this and Rejoice! O Clap your hands together, all ye peoples: * O sing unto God with the voice of melody. For the Lord is high, and to be feared; * he is the great King upon all the earth. (Ps. xlvii. 1,2), the Psalmist exclaims today. Let us mourn, so that we may rejoice. We mourn, we repent, we turn to God, and He changes us, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye…. (1 Cor. xv. 52) Christ has died, Christ is risen. God is gone up with a merry noise, * and the Lord with the sound of the trump. (Ps. clvii. 5) Christ weeps over us that we may repent. Christ reveals God’s wrath against all sin and declares war on our sin so that He might finally conquer it on His Cross. With the renewed Love of His Resurrection, He longs for us to rise up and embrace the gifts of His Holy Spirit. Christ, the Love of God, is with us and for us. Let us let Him have His way within us today that we may rebuild the Jerusalem of our souls, and thereby reveal the city of God’s salvation to others.
Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.
(1 Cor. x. 12)
Last week we spoke about the Divine Providence of God and how we ought to be intent upon ordering our lives with the Divine Wisdom. This week we remind ourselves that His Wisdom is dead to us if it is not always God’s way of making good out of a bad situation. We must think about God’s always making good because the Christian journey is all about our ongoing assimilation to the goodness that Jesus Christ brings into the world. It is out of a bad situation because we are always in danger of forgetting that we are sinners who are always too capable of becoming worse. That God desires always to make us good and then better means that He intends to work His Word and Wisdom into our fallen state in order to save us. And for this work to be what God begins, continues, and finishes in us, we must always and honestly confess that we are in a bad situation so that we might turn and desire to be made better by His Grace.
Of course, some people would maintain that what I am recommending amounts to an insurmountable task for the common lot of men. If we cannot admit that we are in a very bad situation, then there isn’t much reason to desire what would make us better. Objectively speaking, of course, such is a recipe for disaster in any realm of life. The painter who doesn’t need and desire to paint a better picture won’t! The farmer who has no need or desire to raise more and tastier vegetables in a more efficient way won’t. The doctor who stops looking for cures for diseases will only ever prescribe medication management. So too, the Christian who doesn’t think that he needs to be made better will never see God’s Kingdom! For, when we are driven by our own reason and the limited natures, sooner or later we settle for less because we have ceased to believe that we can find more. What I am trying to say is that we are made for God and our hearts ought to be restless until they rest in Him. The Christian believes that man is made to know and love God forever. But he knows also that he cannot do any good thing without [God]…and that only by [Him] can he be enabled to live according to [His]will. (Collect Trinity IX)
Yet, many Christians fall into trouble when they fail to surrender their bad situation to God’s Grace. St. Paul reminds us of this danger in this morning’s Epistle. He gives us the example of the ancient Jewish people whom God had delivered from bondage and slavery to the Egyptians. He tells us that, all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. (1 Cor. x. 1-4) The clouds and the sea reveal to us the natural and spiritual limitations of fallen human nature. Fallen human nature, as experienced by the Ancient Jews, is limited and dragged down by the demands of the body and sensual temptations. Fallen human nature is constrained and held back from the clear vision of God’s Word, Jesus Christ, and so must move forward under the cloud of unknowing until the Incarnation. In faith, the ancient Jews must move forward, acknowledge their sinful alienation from God, and repent. In faith, the ancient Jews must hope also for the fulfilment of God’s loving salvation that would come to them at last in Jesus Christ. The clouds and seas reveal man’s powerlessness and yet at the same time God’s Grace that stirs the ancient Jews to hope for the promise of a much, much better situation.
And yet what do we read next? But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. (Ibid, 5) And why? They did not discern the spiritual meaning and purpose of the clouds. They did not unlearn their old natural and earthly ways. They thought that God was merely freeing them from temporal slavery and servitude to an earthly enemy. So, they fell into indulging the old bad situation of their sinful condition. They began to murmur, moan, groan, and complain, wondering all the while why God had delivered them from earthly slavery into what must have seemed a much worse earthy situation. Their obsession with earthly comfort then turned to lust, idolatry, and fornication. God fed them in the desert and the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play. (Ibid, 7) God began to make good out of a bad spiritual situation by calling them to become a spiritual people whose ultimate hope should rest in their coming salvation. They did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. (Ibid, 4) St. Paul tells us that the ancient Jews were fed spiritually by the Word of God, or Christ the Rock. He warns us that if like them we should tempt Christ we too shall fall and be destroyed. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. (Ibid, 12)
The ancient Jews were not mindful about how God was leading them forward through faith and hope into a much better spiritual situation. In this morning’s Gospel Parable of the Unjust Steward, Jesus teaches us how to move from a bad earthly situation into a much better spiritual one. In it, Christ tells the tale of an earthly businessman who had misused money lent to him by a wealthy creditor.
The creditor summons him to his office not only to dress him down but to fire him. He says, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward. (St. Luke xvi. 2) And without missing a beat, perceiving the storm clouds looming above, the earthly underling thinks fast: How can I make good out of this very bad situation? What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. (Ibid, 3,4) The unjust steward is proud, but he is also prudent. He knows that he can never repay the loan to his boss. Yet, he is determined not only to survive but to thrive. If the big boss won’t have him, he’ll at least respect him for having the wisdom and prudence to become a little boss. And more than that, he will not only make good out of a bad earthly situation for himself but for the big boss’ other debtors also. He’ll go into the debt-consolidation business! So, he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord? And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty. Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore. (Ibid, 5-7) The long and short of it is that the big boss is impressed. It is not clear that the big boss had much hope in ever recalling any of his loans, and so he praises the earthly prudence with which his steward has secured this financial settlement. And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely…(Ibid, 8)
Jesus concludes the parable by saying that the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. (Ibid, 8) Of course, Jesus tells the parable not to commend unjust stewardship. What is most instructive in the parable is the prudent due diligence and determination that can be found in the earthlysteward’s detection of the clouds and the need to reform and redeem his life in their shadow. Jesus suggests that unjust or fallen earthly man is often wiser than his spiritual counterpart when it comes to discerning the clouds and making the best out of bad situations. Like the unjust steward, we are in a bad situation, in that we can never repay our Lord, our spiritual creditor, what we owe Him. Like the unjust steward, we are unjust by reason of our spiritual negligence.
Monsignor Knox asks, Who is the Unjust Steward?...He is you and I and every one of us; we are all, as children of Adam, unfaithful servants who have been detected in our delinquency. By rights…we have forfeited every claim. (Pastoral and Occasional Sermons, p. 170) Under the clouds of our fallen existence, Christ insists that He cannot feed us until we identify with the unjust steward. We resist the comparison. But if we are honest, we know that we are tempted to be like the unjust steward with his unrighteous mammon. St. Paul reminds us there hath no temptation taken us, but such as is common to man. (1 Cor. x. 13) Perhaps the unjust steward is more common that we admit. Jesus says, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations. (St. Luke xvi, 9) Are we not all, by nature, the friends of the mammon of unrighteousness? Unjust mammon is that earthly treasure that is a friend to all men because we have some need of it to live. And the temptation to hoard and love money are common to man. Hoarding or loving it can only make us worse and never better! But perhaps we can use the temptation to make us all the more industrious and prudent in our pursuit of that better spiritual mammon that Christ the Rock has in store for us. God is faithful, who will not suffer [us] to be tempted above that [we] are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that [we] may be able to bear it. (1 Cor. x. 13) With prudence we shall discover that the way we escape and bear the temptation is by sharing the mammon of unrighteousness with all other men. The unjust steward helped his friends. So, why can’t we? Then, when we fail, or when we die, they -the poor and needy whom we fed because Christ the Rock has fed and clothed us spiritually, shall welcome us into everlasting habitations because we have allowed God to make the best out of our bad spiritual situation. (Idem)
O God whose never-failing providence ordereth all things
We concluded last week’s mediations with an exhortation to that zeal that turns back to and to accept with meekness the Engrafted Word that is able is save our souls. (St. James i. 21) Having learned that the Divine desire for all men is that they faint not, but rather feed continually on the living Word of God, we opened our souls to the ongoing nutriment that overcomes sloth. We prayed fervently that the love of God might, graf in our hearts the love of His name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and…keep us in the same. We prayed that the same providence that ordereth all things in heaven and earth, might rule and govern our lives zealously. Its actualization, we learned, would depend upon our willful desire and longing for its ongoing and effectual operation.
But what is this never-failing providence that we pray should overcome things hurtful to our pious zeal? Providence comes to us from the Latin providentia, and it means looking or seeing into. In former times the word was used to describe God’s knowledge of all things –past, present, and future, in the eternal now of His perfect vision. Some theological controversialists used it to defend the Divine nature against the claims of others who maintained that God can and does change His mind. The doctrine of Divine providence insists that God knows the present condition of all created life in all ages and simultaneously. Perhaps a simpler way of putting it is that nothing ever has or ever will escape His all-penetrating gaze and censorious vision and knowledge. Nothing escapes God’s seeing and knowing, because his never-failing providence orders all things in heaven and earth. Whether men acknowledge it or not, God’s thinking of all things is present to and determinative of everything that ever has, does, or will happen. What happens in the universe is subject completely to God’s will at all times. Even evil itself –a rejection of God’s Wisdom and Will, much to its own rage and resentment, ends up having meaning only in relation to God!
We might find this view of Divine providence not a little bit intimidating. The all-seeing eye of God, the surveyor and judge, might startle and frighten us. This is a good and healthy spiritual thing! Post-modern, materialistic Christians have become too used to treating God like the conceptual aider and abettor of temporary healing and earthly comfort. They gather and fancy presumptuously that God’s chief role and function in the universe is to overcome any physical or material impediment to human happiness and comfort. Of course, what they have forgotten is that familiarity breeds contempt. Spiritual familiarity –that tendency to presume upon God’s approval of our present choices and habits, betrays an arrogance or hubris that can never admit of the need for God’s Grace and His promise of salvation. The so-called Christian who has become overly familiar with God, uses Him as a tool and instrument for fulfilling human desire over and against the Divine Will.
Such a spiritual disposition is not, of course, one that God intends for us to embrace. God does indeed see and know all things. His ever-present gaze sifts, weighs, and measures the devices and desires of [all human] heart[s], or the intentions and motives of men’s hearts and their voluntary choices. Not only does He see, but also He knows; not only does He know, but also He judges and discerns where men’s voluntary choices situate them in relation to His Divine Love and Wisdom. God is nothing if not fair. St. Paul reminds us: Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. (Gal. vi. 7,8) What we will to think, say, and do shall, in the end, be summarized perfectly as what is one with or alienated from God’s love…forever.
What we should want, then, is for the Divine Wisdom to bring us to the knowledge and love of God forever. First, we need to discern or come to know God’s vision for all things and how He intends for them to be used. What I mean is that we should discover the forms and natures of created substances. Next, we must learn how to use them appropriately. St. Paul reminds us this morning that we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. (Romans viii. 12, 13)Providence, again, is the vision or knowledge by which God the Spirit enlivens, orders, rules, governs, informs, and defines created life. It is the Divine Wisdom which we must discover and perfect as knowledge becomes virtue in our everyday lives.
The author of this morning’s Old Testament lesson tells us that man best begins to open up to it through the fear of the Lord. All wisdom cometh from God and is with Him forever. (Ecclus. i. 1) We ought to fear God’s wisdom because it alone leads us to fulfill God’s intentions and purposes. An acorn is made to grow into an oak tree. Fire rises and burns. Water fertilizes to grow or cleanses to purge. Man is made to know the natures of all things and to return them to God through Love and Wisdom. Through knowing God’s Love or Wisdom, we come to will the Good. The fear of the Lord is that healthy state that admonishes and cautions us before we make any rational decision. Whoso feareth the Lord, it shall go well with him at the last. (Ecclus. i. 14) The fear of the Lord is a salutary reminder that we ought to use the creation only in God’s service now so that it may go well with us in the end. It is a salubrious sense of God’s omnipresent vision and desire for us. For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. (Isaiah lvii. 15) The fear of the Lord engenders that humility of heart that wills the good. The fear of the Lord is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate. (Prov. viii. 13)
God’s providence is His Divine Wisdom. St. Thomas, quoting Aristotle, says it belongs to the wise man to order….The name of the absolutely wise man, however, is reserved for him whose consideration is directed to the end of the universe, which is also the origin of the universe. That is why, according to the Philosopher, it belongs to the wise man to consider the highest causes.(SCG i. 1) The wise man rules his earthly life through the perfection of intellectual virtue. The wiser man knows that it belongs to the gift of wisdom to judge according to the Divine Truth. A man judges well what he knows. (Eth. i. 3, ST, ii, ii, xlv. 1) Divine Wisdom has become incarnate in the life of Jesus Christ. Christ the Word of God has borne the burden of human sin, lifting it from ignorance into knowledge by Divine Wisdom and lifting into righteousness by Divine Love. Wisdom made flesh now, as always, desires to rule and govern our lives. It teaches us that we should be debtors not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. (Romans viii. 12). Rather, the Divine providence intends that we should be illuminated and liberated by Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Cor. i. 24), remembering that if we through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, we shall live. (Romans viii. 13) Mortifying the deeds of the body is the means to a higher end.
In this morning’s Gospel, the wise man is compared to a good tree that bringeth forth good fruit. (St. Matthew vii. 17) The good fruit are the virtues that grow up out of a body tamed by the soul that serves the Spirit. Ιf the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. (Ibid, 11)
In the face of Divine Wisdom, we must ask ourselves this morning these questions: Do I habitually acknowledge the never-failing providence that orders all things in heaven and earth? Do I fall down before God because my creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life depend upon His providence? Do I desire that His Wisdom might enter my soul and crucify all things hurtful that distract and delay my adhesion to His will? Do I remember that I was born to be a child of God’s omnipotent Wisdom through the fear of the Lord, seeking, knocking, and asking? As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. (Romans viii 14) The Spirit of Wisdom cries How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge? Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my Spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you. (Proverbs i. 21-23)
Today’s lessons do not merely teach us about vision or even willing a limited good. William Law reminds us that we are not the Christians that Christ intends because it is neither through ignorance, nor inability, but purely because you never thoroughly intended it. What we intend is moved by what we know and love. So, we pray, We humbly beseech thee to put away from us all hurtful things, and to give us those things which are profitable for us….(Collect, Trinity VIII) God knows that we are surrounded by wolves in sheep’s clothing. They intend to keep us focused on spurious earthly plagues that have all the potential to possess us as false gods. But Christ intends that we become the good fruit of the spiritual harvest that His Word alone yields in our souls. Our destination is Heaven, and if we hope to reach it, we must embrace His Spirit with zeal and prudent application. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: